There is nothing wrong with exploring what you might be or do. In fact, it might take you a while to find something that captures you, especially if it’s something you never considered. But once you are certain about what it is you are going to call your craft, you are either all in or you are all out.
The High Price of Dabbling
Hobby Lobby notwithstanding, there is an enormous difference between a hobby and a craft. A hobby is something that you enjoy, mostly because you can tinker with no serious need to do professional-grade work. When you decide to go pro and make something your craft, though, your work needs to be of a much higher standard.
The problem with dabbling is that you never develop the competency of a professional. Imagine you are ill, and you need specialized medical care. You are not going to turn to a person whose hobby is medicine, even though the internet is full of amateur medical advice. Instead, you are going to look for the single most competent person in their field, one with unarguable authority. When I needed brain surgery, I much preferred Dr. John Tew to the young med students from UCLA who were a little too excited about the chance to crack open my skull. Dr. Tew’s serious and professional demeanor gave me a greater level of confidence, as did the fact that he had done thousands of surgeries before mine.
Dabblers in any field don’t produce the quality results of the professional, the craftsperson. The price of dabbling is never being highly competent, never achieving the kind of result that allows the quality of your work to differentiate you and define you as a professional.
The Poison of the Poseur
When I was a kid playing rock-n-roll, I learned to spot two kinds of people at every concert and rehearsal studio. The first kind was the poseur. The poseurs wanted to be musicians (or at least players), so they went out and bought an instrument, trendy clothes, and all the other accouterments to look the part. They often dabbled a bit with the guitar, perhaps picking their way through “Smoke on the Water” and “Iron Man,” but gave up when they found it difficult to master their favorite songs.
The non-poseurs, the craftspeople, leaned into their work: they locked themselves in their bedrooms for hours to practice their instruments (woodshedding), took lessons from serious professionals, and learned to play the songs of those who influenced them. Eventually, their competency got them past being a dabbler.
The poseur wants you to believe their disguise—they want the identity without having to do the work. In fact, when that recognition is sparse or missing, they often move on to something else, hoping it will be easier than what they have already tried and failed. There is no path to mastery that doesn’t run straight through disciplined effort over time—and that time will both take longer than you imagine and go faster than you’ll ever believe.
In the end, poseurs lack the confidence that comes only from giving themselves over to the work, something the professional craftsperson does because they can’t not do it. No matter what their specialty is, they go all in, never withholding their time or attention.
Burning Yourself Like a Sacrifice
To master something, you have to sacrifice yourself to it: throw yourself into the (figurative) fire and allow your craft to fully and completely engulf you until there is nothing left. Sacrifice is never optional when it comes to developing lasting competency, and it’s a hard path that few are willing to travel.
You will have to let go of the easy and the comfortable, embracing the discomfort of making mistakes, failing, and doing work that isn’t quite what you hoped it would be. And on top of all that, you’ll have to expend the extra effort it takes to improve.
Real professionals, craftsmen, and craftswomen study their craft. Most salespeople never read sales books, and a good deal of leaders don’t read books on leadership or the biographies that would provide them a map of the territory. While the poseurs snap selfies, the professionals keep reading, studying, learning, and practicing—activities for which there is no substitute. This work transforms the dabbler, the pretender, the novice, the amateur, and the neophyte, replacing them with a pro.
A good many people refuse to be forged in the fire of effort or plow through the plateau, working harder than ever without making any discernible progress. The truth about professional skills is that they rarely rely on raw talent. It’s mostly their willingness to perpetually grow and develop themselves, never satisfied until they reach the highest level of competency.
Whatever it is that you are here to do and contribute, decide to go all in—or see yourself out.
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