The curse of being good at something you don’t enjoy

There are two sides to this coin that I want to discuss and get feedback on…

Do you feel you are good at a particular something that you just don’t enjoy doing?

Do you feel that you are not so good at something you enjoy doing and would love to do more if the opportunity was there?

An example for the first would be the math whiz kid who absolutely refuses to go into engineering, mathematics, computer science, or any other great field that requires good math skills.

An example for the second would be the girl who loves to sing, has been singing just about as long as she has been talking, but couldn’t get past the first round of American Idol to save her life.

For the most part, and correct me if I am wrong, we seriously wonder about the first, and simply laugh off the second.

Why doesn’t this kid make more use of the God given talents he has been given? Why is he squandering it? Why is he so good at something he isn’t meant to pursue?

It is implied that if you are good at something you should do it. This is the assumption of many who don’t feel they have any strong specific skills, but wish they did.

Although I would consider myself strong in a fair number of areas I feel like I would still fit into this category. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Nothing from birth till now has really stood out like a light bulb in terms of what I am good at.

I won the Army scholar-athlete for my high school. If that doesn’t say well rounded I don’t know what does. To get it I just had to excel enough in all the criteria areas. Most people didn’t qualify because they were good at sports, but bad at academics, or vice versa.

I went through high school and college without much of a clue about what I wanted to do as a career. I eventually fell into business management for a number of reasons. One, I am “well rounded” and have a big picture view of business. Two, I am great with people. Three, everyone else kind of sucks at it. You know, its kind of like winning that scholar-athlete. I win by being the last man standing.

Before you start thinking I am being overly pessimistic and hate my life just know that I love my career and I love working with the great team that I do. I have a lot of autonomy and decision making power which I love. I am well respected by nearly everyone and my employers let me know on a regular basis that I am a valued employee.

This post comes out of my post about monotony being a good thing from last week. What do you do when you feel you have reached the limits of your career and don’t have much higher to climb? I’m not quite there, but I feel like I am getting close. How close I really am is a different story…

The point is that I am starting to believe that my main strength is my adaptability. I can do well in just about any situation and I thrive in chaos. No one thing stands out for me, yet nearly all things are within my grasp. That is, with the proper amount of training and study of course. Like many of our parents said to us when we were young… “you can do or be anything you want to be”

And I am feeling like I don’t want to be so adaptable. Like I want to be really good at just one thing instead of fairly good at a number of things. Instead of the guy that everyone comes to when they need a problem solved I’m thinking maybe I’d rather be the guy who solves the problems in the first place. Be on the front lines. Be the expert in my field.

Maybe I’m all wrong. Maybe I have truly found the best thing for me by following my desires all these years. Maybe I am meant to just be that guy who does what he is good at. Adapts to the situation at hand and helps people solve problems. Maybe I am not meant to be the expert in any one particular skill. I still feel the need to be, but maybe I am wrong.

The verdict is still out. In today’s economy there seems to be no certainty as to whether the generalist or the specialist wins out. Time will tell as usual…

In any case, I would love your thoughts and opinions on the subject. Please leave them in the comments below.

19 thoughts on “The curse of being good at something you don’t enjoy”

  1. Part of what makes you you is that you are good at many different things and no matter what you decide to do you will succeed. And sometimes to some of us on the outside looking in it seems like you don’t even have to really try. You just seem to have a knack for a lot of different things and everything that you can do you can easily mesh together with other things.

    I wish i could be good at a variety of things to market myself differently, but at the same time being good at one specific field I can market myself specifically there. You can easily market yourself to almost anything you want to do, in my opinion at least.

    Jenn’s last blog post..Shut Down Mode

  2. Hi Jeremy – I think in these times there is strength in diversity. So, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss your talents – instead, maybe look at them as leverage. If you’re good enough at something you don’t enjoy, perhaps it can be leveraged into revenue so that you can concentrate more fully on the things you enjoy more. In that sense, it’s hardly a curse, but a blessing. 🙂

    Betsy Wuebker’s last blog post..NETBOOKS – LESS IS MORE THESE DAYS

  3. Hi Jeremy,

    Me too, feel that I’ve never been particular good in any one area in my life. I’ve been good in a few things but never really good enough to be considered an expert. This has been quite frustrating for me cos’ I prefer to be an expert in one particular field.

    I once had a chance to speak with Ron Ianieri, a top American Options Trader. He said that he only invest in stocks and nothing else. And the reason is because he feels that it’s already tough enough to excel in one area (stocks investment) that he doesn’t think he has the time and energy to excel in another area.

    That’s exactly what I’ve been pursuing i.e. to be an expert in one particular field. Although I won’t say it’s bad to be good in a few areas compared with being excellent in one area, this is just what I personally prefer because I think there’ll be a higher sense of satisfaction in it.



    Mark Foo |’s last blog post..50 Things That I’m Grateful For

  4. Back when I was working for the government (well paid, good benefits, but otherwise not a good place to work), I read Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It. She starts her book by suggesting that the reader sit down and write about their perfect work day – where you are, what you are doing, and so on. I did the exercise, smiled at my “fantasy” and put it away. I came upon it several years later, after I’d started my own business, and realized that I was doing almost exactly what I had come up with in that exercise. It’s a very different approach to typical career assessments that look at your skills, interests, or personality type. I highly recommend it!

    Janet Barclay’s last blog post..How Secure Are Your Passwords?

  5. Jenn I really agree with you.

    But there is one more thing here, you can be good at something you love but it doesn’t always have to be you work.
    You can dance or sing really good but it doens’t mean that should be your work, and sometimes I think people just don’t underatand it…

  6. You know, in all the comments I seem to agree with Betsy and Suzanne the most. I think you can work at a job that provides you with revenue to concentrate on things you enjoy outside of work. The job just can’t be soul sucking and/or immoral. And for me, it has to be a job that I work with great people. For me, I feel I can enjoy any work if I am working with good people. Both customers and fellow employees.
    I know that’s not the case for everyone but it could work and has worked for me. You know, Im still at a Y in the road, but the decision continues to get clearer and clearer.


  7. Hi Jeremy, I liked discussions here. Actually I learned to like what I am doing, mean the job. I find challenges and interests in every job, and like to become creative and accomplish.

    While what I really enjoy being my life is neither the work, nor I want it to be. I want to be free in my likes and life. So all my enjoyment and devotion is outside my workplace.

  8. “What do you do when you feel you have reached the limits of your career and don’t have much higher to climb?”

    I’m there right now. At 43 years old, my chances of rising within my organization are zilch. My boss is about 4 years younger than me and his boss, the CEO is only 10 years older than me. My only hope is to come up with an idea that will catapult me to an executive VP status (and I have a very good one I’m working on). Other than that, I’m wondering about striking out on my own, but in this economy, health insurance and a steady paycheck have value far beyond numbers.

    Ron’s last blog post..5 Reasons Struggling Is Good For You

  9. Jeremy, that’s very true – I may have hated my work with the govt, but I worked with great people, many of whom are still friends today. But I would rather have work I enjoy (40+ hours a week) and see my friends outside of work, than work with people I like at something I don’t enjoy.

    Janet Barclay’s last blog post..Change Your Life with One Simple Idea

  10. I was good in math but thought about modeling.
    My parents were against a modeling career.Mom always made it a point that my brain was my best asset.
    I did model a little during college.I didn’t like it.So I am glad I scratched that off my list.
    I love working with people and managing was part of my previous job.I think my career choice has been successful personally because of the challenges.
    When I decided to leave the company and go out on my own several of my peers and close friends thought I was too young but I had my reasons.
    Working for myself has allowed me to work from the convenience of my home which is a totally shorter commute to the office everyday;).
    I have to be more disciplined with structuring work and time.
    I enjoy building businesses up.I have gotten a couple of job offers since going out on my own but I really wouldn’t be happy working for someone else now.
    Great Read!

    Bunny got Blog’s last blog post..Follow Your Gut, Your Brain Will Do The Rest

  11. Hi All,

    I love reading all these comments! Its neat to see everyone’s different views. And how this expands on my original idea.

    @ Ron – I feel your pain. I feel like my next step is to start my own business. It’s scary to leave something certain for something uncertain, but I think I need to do this for myself. Good luck on reaching your goals!

    @ Janet – Writing down my goals has helped get me where I am today. I think I will check out that book and at least sit down and contemplate my perfect work day. Thanks for the advice.

    @ Mark – I think we are in the same boat. I love learning about all kinds of things, but I feel the need to be “recognized” for a certain expertise or skill. Maybe its an ego thing or something? Or just the fact that society seems to reward specialists more than generalists.

    @ Bunny – Its sounds like you were good at more than one thing and just had to decide which one was the better path. I love hearing all the bits and pieces of your story that you share.


  12. Wow!! Another winner from you Jeremy. I really relate to this. I only had to read the title and I laughed my head off. I am good at SOOOOOO many things and people get angry with me when I don’t want to do them ALL time or as a career, especially if I was making good money at it. They will even treat me like I’m letting them and the whole world down and I should be ashamed of myself for not doing it…just because I’m really good at it. You’re an amaaazing person AND writer!! Listen to your heart. Always.

  13. @ Suzanne, I totally agree you can be good at many things and not make a career out of it. I mean I think we all have more than just one talent, but that doesn’t mean we need to make careers out of them. I mean I am good at more than one thing, but my career isn’t going to be focused on many of them. I am good with kids, but I don’t think my job will be working with them. That is something I do in my free time. Just like writing right now.

    I don’t think we would be blessed with simply one thing we are good with, but a number of things and it’s up to us to decide what we want to do with those talents almost like the parable Jesus talks about.

    Jenn’s last blog post..Focus

  14. Haha, very interesting that I’m reading this now — I was just thinking of writing a similar one!

    My curse was being good at something that wasn’t good for my career. I worked as a trader on Wall Street for my first job out of college. I happen to be pretty good with computers, and can usually fix problems pretty quickly. The problem with this was that every time a computer had an issue, my boss would ask me to fix it.

    This caused a problem because I increasingly felt looked at as more of an “IT Guy” than a Trader, which isn’t necessarily what you want on a trading floor. Funny how sometimes knowledge isn’t power…

    Oh well, that job wasn’t for me, and its behind me anyways.

    Unemployed? Swap tips and figure out what’s next at The Free Agents

  15. Hi Andrew,

    Welcome to Insight Writer! You should still write a similar post. Im sure I would enjoy reading your different perspective on this subject. Likewise, I have been in a similar position where I have done IT stuff when my job description is far from it. Guess I should have just become an IT guy to begin with. 😉


  16. I’m in the same boat as you, Jeremy: very good at a lot of things, but a true expert in none. I would take that over being an expert in just one thing any day, though. I love the flexibility it gives me and the fact that I don’t have to rely on anyone else to get things done.

    Shane’s last blog post..How to Sell a Website for $1M

  17. You know I think we live in a world where, exactly as you said, we are trained to think from a very young age that if we work and study hard we can do absolutely anything we want to do. We watch TV and get all sorts of romantic ideas about careers and lifestyles that we want for ourselves. But honestly, I think many people are born with natural talents but have been sidetracked because of the multiplicity of options available to them. We live in a world where literally you can choose your career at random and follow that training without consideration to your personal or family history, natural talents, etc. And often it is more based on prestige and future money earnings rather than cultivating long-term happiness and contentment. I think we should explore our natural talents and except our defeats. When I think of talents I don’t necessarily think of them in terms of being good at a particular career, but rather being a good writer, being creative, being good with people, being good with words, being a good musician, etc.

  18. I used to think I was like you. Excelled in everything… BUT your real talents and abilities if you go deeper. Sure, alot of us are good at alot of things when you are just bouncing along the surface of stuff. Dig deeper and you’ll quickly run into problems in those areas you are not well suited for.

    If everything seems easy, you are not digging into it deep enough.

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