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Leonardo Trait
Angie Dixon : Excerpt from The Leonardo Trait

The Leonardo Trait: Living the Multipassionate Life

By Angie Dixon , excerpted from The Leonardo Trait

Defining Normal

As a working definition of normal, I have always used "what everyone expects," or "what everyone else is doing." Seems to work for me. But let's get a little more technical and see what Dictionary.com has to say:

"Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical: normal room temperature; one's normal weight; normal diplomatic relations."

So, I was pretty close. Normal is standard. It's what everyone's doing. It's what you're "supposed" to do.

What happens if you don't do it? You're not normal. You're, by definition, different, and by definition, you don't fit in. At least, that's the general belief. But do you really have to be exactly like everyone else to fit in?

I'm not like many people I know, and neither is anyone else I know, for that matter. People are different, but we find ways, we find places, to fit. That may not mean having 50 friends and going to intimate dinner parties for 16 every week. Just the thought breaks me out in hives, to be frank.

It may mean having one best friend, a couple of other friends, and a close family, and being happy with that. I think the "being happy with that" part of fitting in is the key, and I don't think you have to be standard-issue to be happy.

I look forward hopefully to the next decade, and the next, when my children will enter The World and hopefully have the opportunity to make choices based on who they are and all the things they want to do.

Career and Life Direction

In the final analysis, I don't think the majority of people really care whether you can keep your shoes tied. Einstein wore slippers all the time so he wouldn't have to think about tying his shoes.

And I don't think people care how you sort your mail, what you eat for breakfast, or whether you like the same television show they do. I think people care who you are.

But there are people who care what you do with your life. These people include your parents, your loan officer, maybe your spouse, maybe your friends, maybe your boss.

Your parents care because they want you to "do well" in life — which generally means having the great family, the nice house, the boat, the cars, that stuff. Your parents want you to be happy, if they're like most parents, but a lot of parents honestly believe that if you get the right job and make the right moves in your life, happiness will come.

It's not that they don't want you to be happy. It's that they don't understand that you aren't made happy by the same things they are.

What You're Supposed to Do

There are things you do if you want to be successful in this world. Admittedly, Steve Jobs didn't do them, and Bill Gates didn't do them, but you are supposed to do them.

Those things include:

  • Go to college and major in something worthwhile
  • Get a job you can keep for your entire life, or at least until you've outgrown it and need to be promoted outside the company
  • Buy a house, settle down, watch TV, play touch football on the weekends, maybe go to the lake in the summer
  • Go along with everyone else
  • Get along
  • Drive the right car, wear the right clothes, belong to the right club
  • Above all, be normal, because you're supposed to.

I'm betting that you're one of the people, like me, like millions of others, who don't want the life we're supposed to have. We want the life we want, and we don't want what everyone else does. In all honesty, I think that's everyone. I do not believe that anyone really wants a life-in-a-box. But what we're talking about here is the people who really don't want that. Don't want the useful degree, don't want to keep the same job for a lifetime, don't want to follow one path.

This is where, in terms of life and career planning, we run hard up against two big myths.

The Two Great Myths

The first myth is that once upon a time, people had jobs for life. That's not exactly a myth, because it's true, once upon a time, you could go to work at the bank or the factory and expect to retire with a gold watch at 55, never having worked anywhere else. You'd be a valued employee, your employer would "take care of you," and you would leave as a "success" because you'd been such a good employee for so long and done exactly what was expected back then — gotten a job and kept it for your entire life.

But there are two things people don't talk about now, when they're talking about those days.

First, you no longer have any reason to expect a job for life. If people do mention this fact, they mention it as something lamentable, which in some ways it is. But a job for life is no longer a given, and in many ways that's a good thing, both for employees and employers.

But here's my next point:

Second, why would you want to stay in the same job, with the same people, at the same company, doing the same thing, for fifty years and then retire? Why would you want to look out the same window, file the same reports, and never do or learn anything different?

Where's your sense of adventure?

The Second Great Myth

The second great myth is,

"Jack of all trades, master of none."

You've heard it, right? It's a disparaging way of saying you have to be good at one thing, or you're good at nothing at all — and, by extension, basically good for nothing.

What if that's simply not true?

At least not of everyone?

I agree there are people who want, and need, to stay with one thing. My husband is a great example. He enjoys computer programming. He's been doing it for, if I'm not mistaken, about 25 years. He's been in the same job for 13 years, and loves it. He has no plans to leave.

Then there are people who stay in the same field, but change jobs every few years. My best friend is like this. She's a teacher, and she's been an educator for over a decade, but she's done several different jobs within the education field, and hardly ever stays at a particular job more than five years.

Then, there are the true jacks of all trades, like me. Except I'm really a jill of all trades. What have I done? Let me see. I write, which seems to be a pretty consistent theme through my life. I work on marketing my various projects. I draw, I read, I do altered book art, I do photography, I walk in competitive races when I have the desire and ability at the same time, I — I do it. Whatever it is. I do it.

I recently heard about a study that showed that people who multitask really are not as efficient as people who do one task.

I wonder, what if they're measuring wrong? What if, instead of measuring me while I'm multitasking against you while you're not, they measure me while I'm multitasking against me while I'm not?

Maybe they are; I haven't seen the actual study. But if they get the right people in there, they might find some surprising results about how efficient some of us can be at multitasking.

And I'm not just talking about multitasking at your desk, reading email and talking on the phone.

I'm talking about multitasking at life. Being a writer and a mom and a wife and a business owner. Being a dad and a musician and an advertising person. •

10/15/06