One thing (out of many) that marriage has taught me is that personalities and perceptions can vary quite differently, even between two people who have committed their lives to each other. This of course can lead to quite a bit of conflict in relationships. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. No, I want to talk about success and how each of our personalities achieves it or fails at it.
My wife has a Whole-Ass or No-Ass personality. Pardon the language if you will, but I think it gets the point across, donkeys are notoriously stubborn. She is either going to do something all the way, or she will not do it all the way. If she can’t full-ass it why ass it at all? She claims this has to do with her ISTP personality, I don’t know how much I believe that, but she is not the only person I’ve met like that.
These people are the Butterflies of the workforce. They flutter around, job to job, task to task, always brilliant, always noticed, and quite good at whatever they do. But they never sit still long enough to leave a lasting impression, and they quickly burn out.
The Butterflies are specialists. Unless they find a niche to rest on they tend to get blown around by the wind. When they find that niche however, watch out! These niched Butterflies are some of the most “successful” people in the world, career wise.
The weakness here is that Butterflies never start anything. They are paralyzed by their perfectionist ways. If it can’t be exactly the way they want it, they won’t want it. They would rather do nothing than do a less-than-perfect job.
This makes life in the conventional world pretty complicated.
The conventional world generally caters to people like me, the generalist. Generalists are half-assers. We learn to be just mediocre enough to survive. Why get good at one thing if you can be mediocre at all things?
We are the Jack of All Trades, Masters of None (JATMON). JATMON, unlike Butterflies, tend to be really good at school. Our school systems are designed to bring this personality out in people. Schools are intended to make people “well rounded” which is really just a fancy way of saying “all around mediocre”.
And schools even reward mediocrity with prestige. As long as our mediocrity is slightly better than the next guy, we are given high grades and puffed up with feelings of accomplishment.
“Successful” JATMON typically end up as middle management but sometimes rise to the top as politicians or upper management. Rarely do we find ourselves as successful entrepreneurs. When it happens it’s typically because we have just enough of a specialist in us to squeak out a successful business.
The weaknesses of the JATMON are pretty obvious. While we may be able to live comfortably by world standards, we hardly ever reach our full potential. Our half-ass nature prohibits us from getting much higher than half of our ability. As long as we put in enough effort to sustain the status quo in our lives we aren’t going to try all that much harder. Given that the vast majority of people have been trained to be this way, it’s not much of a stretch to say we live in a mediocre society.
When an individual JATMON becomes aware of his own mediocrity (such as when he marries a Butterfly) it can be devastating. His whole life he has put in minimal effort and has managed to climb the ladder because his minimal is just slightly more than the next guy’s.
Now he’s faced with the very real understanding that what he has done is not nearly enough. He’s looking at a Butterfly but he is merely an ant, working diligently within the bounds of the world around him. He will never fly, he will never be noticed, and he will never be exceptionally good at anything. But, at the end of the day, since he is so trained, he prefers the stability of the average to the flighty life of the Butterfly.
The Butterfly doesn’t care much about a more stable life. She looks at the ant and his relative comfort and loathes his slavery to conventionalism. Whereas the ant is able to relax after a full day’s mediocrity, she will never be satiated with her knowledge of the world around her, and her lifespan at each task will never be comfortably long enough.
This makes the Butterfly very difficult to hire. While the JATMON ant is desirable for his ability to do any job mediocrely, the Butterfly is hindered by her inability to accept any less than awesome. This difficulty in the job realm eventually becomes a frustration to the Butterfly, not because she wants stability but because she wants something new and different, but the conventional world doesn’t appreciate her inability to sit still.
So how do both get what they want? How does the JATMON ant get out of the rut of mediocrity or the Butterfly get a job that’s stable enough to get her her niche?
The JATMON has to find a job where his varied knowledge and broad skill set can be applied effectively. He should strive to push himself to the max in at least one area, and this may require him to reduce the number of interests he has. He has to accept the fact that mediocrity sucks for getting anywhere in life. It will serve him better to take one of the things he’s best at and hone his skills to a fine point.
The Butterfly may have to settle on something she’s less than perfect at, for at least the short term. She may have to accept that she is not going to be perfect at everything but that doesn’t mean that she can’t do anything. She has to find a job that satisfies her material needs while still offering a challenge and constant entropy that she needs to keep her mind stimulated.
The conventional world often defines success in terms of dollars earned. The Butterfly defines success by how good she is at something, the JATMON by how many things he can do. All should define success as a mish-mash of all three: be legitimately good at a variety of things such that you can comfortably meet your material needs.
By adjusting their definitions and making small compromises, both the Butterfly and the JATMON can be successful despite their limitations.