All content on this blog from Tim McGhee has moved to the Tim McGhee Substack, and soon, Lord willing, will be found only on that Substack.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Making a unique contribution

Sometimes we end up with things on our To Do list that really should be on a To Don't list, especially for handling requests from other people.

Adam Grant has come up with a way to identify which items belong on which list. He simply decides if something is a way in which he can make a “unique contribution” or not. If it is, great. If not, “Sorry, but this is not in my wheelhouse.” For him, he feels he can make a unique contribution in directing researchers to relevant work and psychology studies.

I find this helpful. I also have some work to do in this department. I've done a variety of things over the years, and there are parts of them I can do well and enjoy, but are they really in my wheelhouse?

For example, I can do administrative work, but that's not my strongest point nor greatest source of motivation. It's more of a necessity and means to an end.

I can teach math, but in a world where math is in high demand, would my contribution be that unique? Is the world's greatest need students better at math? Maybe not, and that's part of why I haven't put my full focus in that direction. (That said, I see room for that in the future if other things don't work out because it does pay the bills, and depending on the context can also provide a venue for deeper philosophical things like whether or not we should be putting our trust in technology.)

The process of clearing the decks and shifting items to a To Don't list can also create a lonely in-between stage.

How we think of ourselves and how we are known don't always match up. One time I was playing a game with some friends, and our goal was a bit strange. We were given cards of several characters, and we had to guess not which character we thought we were most like, but which character the rest of the group would most identify with us. Another guy and I picked techy Batman for me, but the rest of the group were girls, and they thought of me more as Phantom of the Opera. I didn't see that coming, and lost my own round accordingly.

The only explanation I can think of is I tend to take a complicated layered perspective of a situation, and myself in it, and when I don't have a clear way to understand, navigate, and communicate that—which is often—then I just tend to keep quiet. The bigger the group, the easier it is for me to be quiet. Perhaps the de facto result for others is things are left a bit mysterious. Given that I don't have my own unique contribution entirely figured out, it may stay that way, even if that leaves things painfully awkward and misunderstood at times.

In some circles, there are a couple things about how I'm known that very much match with how I think of myself. I memorize God's Word, and I number my days. How I do (or have done) both of those things is unique and memorable for people. In Essentialism terms, these would be my highest points of contribution. I've kept the deck clear for this summer, even as different opportunities have come my way, so that I have more time for writing and coding. I'm on the cusp of this time frame, so we'll see how it works out. Please feel free to keep me in your prayers for this.

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