The Business Card and Career Flub to Avoid at All Costs

Jack(Ass) of All Trades?

Lots of us have made this mistake. Yours truly included. Let’s take a look at your business card or online profiles. Is your name followed by many especially disparate titles? Artist, Revolutionary, Web Developer, Massage Therapist, and Real Estate Agent. “Here’s the business card for the law firm where I’m a paralegal but this here is the myspace page for the wedding band that I sing for.” No bueno. (And why are on earth are you still on myspace? But that’s a whole other topic.)

You’re multi-talented and have many interests. That’s great. But unless you’re WalMart, you may have a tough time promoting yourself convincingly as the one-stop shop. You might as well tell everyone you’re a Money Chaser. Now, making money is no bad thing. But having all these very different offers dilutes your brand – how people relate to you. It gives off the impression that you lack commitment, or that you’re a cheap opportunist.

I’ve had to deal with this myself, having a wide range of experiences and skills. If I wanted, my card could easily read: Writer, Performer, Teacher, Event Coordinator, Program Manager, Marketer, Lecturer, and Life Coach. What’s a Renaissance man or woman to do? The obvious answer: Choose one.

Plant a Tree

That’s not to say that you would give up all your other abilities. But a person must have enough distance and discipline to know which of these is core and which is merely decorative. The metaphor I like to use is that of a tree. If you had to assign priority to these services by defining each as a body part on a tree, where would they all go? One may be the leaves, another a limb, something else the trunk, and then of course, the roots.

A tree can afford to shed its leaves and not necessarily suffer and die. It may even lose a limb and still do pretty well. On the flip side, no tree can really sustain much damage to its trunk or roots.

* And to be clear, this is an occupational mapping, not an emotional meaning-of-life one! For example, I have met a few cardio addicts, people who fall apart psychologically and physically if they skip a week of running. Obviously, it’s absolutely important that these folks get their exercise. But being a fitness geek doesn’t warrant announcing it on your card. Unless you’re a professional marathon trainer or aspiring Olympian, plain and simple, Runner would have no place on your business ID.

Fertilize Your Future

The question to ask then is: Which of your talents feeds or makes possible the other? Which would cripple your economic engine or career advancement if you hacked away at it? These would be your roots and trunk. For me, I identified Marketing Strategy as my primary offer. From there I’ve been allowed plenty of room to flourish, to meet powerful new partners, to develop income strategies, and yes, to pursue all those other dear things that I enjoy and also do well in.

The Flaw of “Do What You Love”

Had I followed the opposite (and I have), i.e. America’s individual-centric “Do what you love” mantra, I would have stunted my growth, watering the leaves and pruning the roots, and eventually may have killed the tree. Why would you focus on promoting yourself as a Rapper if your ace – your proven track record and future gold mine – is in Architecture for instance? You wouldn’t. And this is just an example by the way. I could just as easily recommend that a Photographer catching some career traction stop announcing herself as a Server at a restaurant. Whether you choose your art or another skill to lead with has to be specific to your own circumstance.

Committed But Flexible

It’s also likely that these may shift over time. So no need for “commitment pressure”. Commit now to ONE thing. Pursue it with certainty. When the field requires you to evolve, do so, and then commit again with focus and determination to that latest arena and job title, that new ONE thing. But don’t switch so often that you prevent yourself from becoming expert or worse, from being recognized as expert in your particular domain.

The next time you’re at some social function and someone asks, What do you do?, enjoy the refreshing lightness and confidence that comes with knowing exactly how you will respond. “Hi, I’m Anthem Salgado, I’m a marketing consultant for arts organizations and small businesses.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! Please let me know what you think. And naturally, feel free to share it with those who may also benefit from it.

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10 responses to “The Business Card and Career Flub to Avoid at All Costs”

  1. Ré Harris says:

    Hi Anthem!
    This is an interesting post for me, because I only seem to have one listable skill, though so far it seems to be one I can’t find a ‘taker’ for. Even a job counselor said my best bet was to promote my writing in earnest while I search for ‘regular’ employment. Even though I do other things well besides write, they don’t seem to be skills that employers can see.

    To get myself out there in a better way, I’ve recently begun a new blog with a focus that addresses the ‘problems’ of the one where I post my short stories and articles. It’s called Words One Hundred, has a sleek, uncluttered look and I can easily tell people what it’s about when they ask. Each post is a 100 word story (or sometimes poem) from a writing prompt, so it addresses the “shorter post” rule. At the end of each one, I reveal the prompt and link to the person who supplied it. I approach the stories in a literary way because the point is to highlight my skill, not my flawed attempts.

    Anyway, I saw your tweet today, and I just wanted to thank you for helping me focus on the other important things, even though I’d rather avoid them and just write.

  2. Anandi says:

    Dammit Anthem, this really hits home! As a multi-talented individual and multi-disciplinary artist (OMG where you looking at my profile?!) I have been in a state of befuddlement and have struggled to pick just one (kind of like Lay’s chips :P). Anyway, being a renaissance soul (and there is a book about this) is both a blessing and a curse. I found it very hard to choose just one or to be just one thing as we hold so many roles in our lives. Sometimes we have to do things and take on work to survive and make a life, a living. You do make some valid points though it’s not easy (for some). Still, continue to I find ways to combine my passions: arts, environment/social consciousness and community.

    • Hi Anandi, Thanks for your comment. I hear you! I feel in a weird and backwards way that choosing one – the right one – may allow the other interests a better chance of survival. In that sense, what looks like a closing can really be an opening! ~Anthem

  3. […] my last post on career advice, a literary artist left the following thoughtful comment: “This is an interesting post for me, […]

  4. Urvi says:

    Of course if you’re a banyan tree – then in fact many roots and trunks can die and life goes on… And then the trunk metaphor falls apart.

    • Hi Urvi! Hmmm, I suppose you’re right. Maybe I should change the title to “The Business Card and Career Flub to Avoid at All Costs – Unless You’re a Banyan Tree.” Heheh.

  5. […] I was preparing to write this, I reread this fantastic entry from Anthem Salgado about the burden of being a “Jack of all trades.” I identify with the issue of being a Jack (or […]

  6. Brooke says:

    Oh gosh, this touches a note! I’m a graphic designer but I’ve worked in sooo many careers related to this (illustrator, console game (xbox/playstation) interface artist, surface designer (fabric), web designer, print designer….) not only are potential clients or employers confused so am I!

    Sometimes I feel like a magpie chasing shiny objects (but catching none of them) and wouldn’t even know how to settle down and pick just one! But I do need to as I do like money 😛

    Sounds like I’m just starting to ask the questions you’ve already explored and answered! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences on your site 😀

    • Hi Brooke! Trust – You’re certainly not alone. We’re all in this together, which is one of the reasons I built this site to start with. Thanks for sharing your experience. For the record, I like money too 😉 I’m glad you’re pursuing your dreams as well as an income!

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