What Do You Really Want to Be Good At?
We all take on different roles as we grow through life.
We start with being someone’s child, someone’s grandchild, then a student, and a friend. As we progress, we take on a profession or job, and we play such a role for most of our adult life.
Along the way, we pick a few more roles—a spouse, a parent, a colleague, a community member, a citizen.
We may also add a few interests, like gardening, playing a musical instrument, painting, traveling, or any other thing that strikes our fancy.
There is nothing wrong with playing many roles and doing as many things as we want.
The question is: How many of these activities and roles do you want to be really good at?
Why am I asking this question?
Because as we take on more roles, we start taking shortcuts, we do things half-heartedly, and we rush through the present in anticipation of the future and what we need to do next.
In our attempt to focus on quantity and volume, we lose quality—and more importantly we sacrifice enjoyment, and peace of mind.
The simplest (but not easiest) way to get back to peace and joy is to eliminate the unimportant roles, and focus on the most important stuff. This can be a very effective way in improving the quality of what we do.
But what if we can’t eliminate a lot of the things on our plate? What can we do about it?
A good approach is to define—ahead of time—how good do we want to be at something.
Ideally, we want to be the best in everything we do. And that’s admirable; we might be able to achieve it, when we reach the point of focusing on just a few areas of life.
But when we’re not sure yet, we can work with this simple idea:
We don’t need to be really good at everything we do. We can determine how good we want to be in each area of life.
As I think about the roles I’m playing right now, and the things I’m doing, I can classify them into the following levels of competence that I can work with.
Levels of competence
Look into the things you do and determine how they fit into the scope of competence below.
Really good (Excellent)
At this level, we want to be the best.
High quality requires highly concentrated effort. This means we can only do a few things on this level.
As an example, I’m focusing on two areas right now to be the best in: Investing and writing. I really want to be good at both.
I have the skills and the experience, but my attention has been scattered lately, and that’s why I feel I haven’t been doing my best. It’s time to just do these things really well, and then consider the other roles.
Think about a couple of things you want to do well, and make them your top priority. If you don’t get to do anything else on a certain day, it won’t matter because you worked on your top priorities.
This level is where we want to do something, and give it a decent effort. But we’re not too concerned about being the best.
Currently, my good activities include:
- Playing the piano: I just want to play decently.
- Learning Spanish: I want to be able to understand and communicate clearly in Spanish.
- Keeping the house clean and neat: I’ll do basic cleaning tasks on a regular basis.
I’ll give these tasks a decent amount of consistent effort. But they will come after my main priorities have been dealt with.
Get by (Minimal)
On this level, we want to do the bare minimum to get the results we need.
My examples of areas where I just want to get by include:
- Moving the blog from Wordpress to Jekyll with the minimum technical knowledge required.
- Scanning and digitizing documents and shredding paper. This is mechanical and I can just do a few each day, or every other day, with minimum effort.
Look into your life and the things you do. What areas do you want to be really good at? What tasks do you want to be average at? And what actions you’d want to do at a basic level of effort and knowledge?
These distinctions will make your life much easier, and help you prioritize your time and attention.
Factors to consider
Once you prioritize your roles and activities, it’s time to define, for yourself, the quality and nature of the effort you’ll put into each skill level.
Your own standards: Because your priorities are as unique as you, your metrics for success, and progress, are your responsibility. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.
Time: Another factor to consider is time. Our standards and priorities may change over time. And that’s more than fine. We can change direction, change our standards, or change both.
Uncertainty: We may not be fully clear about each step we want to take, and even our standards might be a bit murky. That’s okay. All we need to do is start with what we know in this moment. Practical experience will guide us through the steps after—as long as we keep going.
Beyond competence: intimacy
There are roles that cannot be quantified. Our familial and social roles fit into this category.
We all aspire to be the best human beings we can be. We want to have the best relationships we can have with our [loved ones] (/what-you-owe-your-loved-ones).
In these situations, we just do the best we can, and let go of perfection.
We don’t want to focus on skill levels, but we can focus on the depth and quality of the relationship with the people we interact with.
Certain relationships are more important than others.
When it comes to relationships, we can prioritize our attention based on the desired level of trust and intimacy.
A few relationships will be deep and meaningful. Other relationships might be casual or cordial. When we know our place in each relationship, we won’t be disappointed.
With activities and relationships, there will be times when we realize that a certain action (below basic skill level) or relationship (not deep, or cordial) doesn’t fit into our competency or intimacy spectrum. The best thing in this situation is to let go, and move on.
The roles we play, and the things we do, can bring us joy and satisfaction beyond our wildest dreams. They can also cause us great pain and disappointment, and shatter our aspirations.
Setting up our own standards can help greatly in aligning our expectations with reality. Even if we end up being wrong, we will be better equipped to revisit our standards, and then change our expectations and course of action.