Master of One Thing

“They said that Dioscorus of Namisias made his bread out of barley, and his soup out of lentils. Every year he made one particular resolution: either not to meet anyone for a year, or not to speak, or not taste cooked food, or not to eat any fruit, or not to eat vegetables. This was his system in everything. He made himself master of one thing, and then started on another, and so on each year.” (The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks)

Very good advice on productivity from a most unexpected source! Master one thing at a time. Don’t move on to the next thing until you’ve mastered that one thing. Also, learn something new every year.

Being the Best?

There’s something about trying to be the best in the world (at least, in my world) that bothers me.

Seth Godin recommends focusing your efforts on what you can be the best in the world at; otherwise, if you can’t make it through the dip (read his book: The Dip), then quit. But there’s a price to pay. You have to say, “No” to a lot of things, because you can’t be the best in one thing without giving up other things.

But what if you enjoy doing a lot of different kinds of things? What if being the best in one thing (whatever it is) doesn’t make you happy? In my case, trying to choose one thing to be the best at in my world paralyses me. I can’t choose! I love them all! Theology, law, poetry, music, and what have you.

I think there’s a way through this impasse. What if you don’t have to be the best? What if it’s okay to be merely second best – good enough instead of great? Then you can do a lot of things that you enjoy. The important thing is people still get blessed by the things you do even if you’re not the best at them, as long as you’re good enough.

John the Baptist didn’t try to be the best. It was enough for him to be the best man (pun not intended) instead of being the groom. He said, “He must increase; I must decrease.” Ironically, even with that kind of attitude he still turned out to be the greatest of the prophets, according to Jesus himself.

So second best instead of being the best, anyone?