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(c) 2013

(c) 2013

Despite all the frustrations over scheduling and advising, our daughter is getting ready to graduate this semester. Yahoo! She is busy making certain all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed so that she can leave with that degree—for which she will have an extra 14 credit hours. No, I told her not to accept the department adviser’s minor error on her graduation contract—it could matter. (My niece is marrying a man whose academic department started quibbling with him regarding his degree completion over two months after they said he had graduated.)

Besides completing her capstone art semester, which will culminate with a solo art show, she is also taking a professional practices course. She’s been working on tasks such as creating business cards and setting up her professional Facebook page. Somehow it’s hard to believe—despite the extra two semesters—that she is finally graduating.

Yes, we are those “crazy” parents who “let” our daughter declare a major in art—with a concentration in drawing in a small and highly competitive program. Will she be able to support herself solely with her art? That remains to be seen, but the desire to support herself is one of the reasons she is getting her art education within a four-year (make that five-year!) university program.

In these times so many people believe studying the humanities at all, let alone art, is a license to starve. And I have to thank everyone (sarcasm intended) who has pointed that out over the years, including some of her professors who think it is some sign of poor artistry to do anything with her art that doesn’t involve selling in a studio. Also, I would like to thank the many lackluster students in more practical majors who are shocked—just shocked—that she not only has a lot of work to do for her classes but also that she gets graded. How many of them could survive having all their highly unique work critiqued not only by the professor but also by their peers, every single time?

I happen to believe that being a passionate student in any subject teaches students more than they will learn if they only do the bare minimum in some subject they take because it is supposed to earn them money. Hey, I have an MBA (to go with that lowly humanities degree) but I’ve met a lot of former and current business majors who cared more about partying than balance sheets or P/E ratios.

When my daughter tells many students what she is studying, they say, “Oh, wow, I can’t draw.” As if somehow this has anything to do with them in the first place but I think they’re trying to point out how irrelevant her knowledge is. I’ll get to what’s relevant about her studies in a moment, but let’s just say that it’s too bad they can’t draw, because she can draw by hand and computer (plus edit by computer) as well as create spreadsheets, perform accounting, write, do research, and excel in math and science classes.

You see, she’s graduating with a bachelor’s degree just like all the other people at her university—they don’t give those degrees away no matter your major. Like everyone else there, she’s taken a variety of other courses besides those in her major and area of concentration.

Plus—and here’s where my liberal arts rant begins again—each discipline teaches valuable skills that apply to many situations.

In order to obtain a degree in art, for each project she does she has to follow a prompt—in other words, she has to design her finished product to some specifications. She must sketch possibilities from her ideas, research artists and works similar to her idea, investigate materials and see how well she can apply those materials to her specific project plan, and change the plan as needed. She has to manage her time in order to finish a long project by the deadline. When she is finished she must go through a group critique where the professor and her peers get to weigh in on how they perceive her finished project achieved its intent. At times she must create art in partnership or as part of a team. Keep in mind that few of her courses involve taking multiple choice tests by Scantron—most of the work she does is distinct and individualized.

So to summarize: For any given project she must work from directions, use creativity, perform research, practice good time management, remain flexible as her project develops, meet established deadlines, communicate ideas in writing and orally to individuals and groups, and receive criticism and feedback from multiple individuals.

Don’t discount her education—it’s been rigorous and has helped her develop the tools she needs to meet the demands of a variety of professions. Hey, I’d be happy if you’d buy her art and she could live as an artist. But just so you know, her discipline has taught her many skills and developed others that are valuable to many kinds of jobs and careers.

Just because she can draw a box doesn’t mean she isn’t able to draw outside the box.

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Back to those Renaissance Men and Women. Today I’m going to talk about multipotentiality, a very long word that describes the ability to do many things well. You hear about it a lot in gifted education, but I don’t think it’s limited to the gifted. However, the truth is that it can either be a great gift—or a curse.

Leonardo da Vinci was able to use his great abilities in so many diverse areas and gave back incredible gifts to the rest of us. Too many of us approach our own multipotentiality like deer in headlights, though. Either we don’t start because we can’t choose or we scatter shot start many things, but never continue with them. Or maybe we just let others tell us that jacks/jills of all trades can’t be masters of any.

The world today hasn’t been very friendly toward multipotentiality. Now, I’m going to sound like an old geezer, but back in my day, kids weren’t expected to dedicate themselves to one activity. They were supposed to act like the kids they were and try out multiple things. Even in high school we had many three (or four) sport athletes. Each year I used to have to rotate taking band, orchestra, and choir because, as my counselor Prudence Poland (I am not making that name up!) told me, “This is not a music conservatory.”

I may have been juggling too many activities and studying too many different subjects, but I was able to use my various abilities and try to figure out what I liked most at a time when I didn’t need to be the best. I could run at a cross country meet on a Saturday because the marching band only performed on Friday night. Somehow I could attend both track practices and rehearsals for the musical because the coaches and directors knew they had to share their students.

People who want to specialize should. But not every soccer player needs to play competitive soccer all year long. And not every student needs to focus on only math and science or humanities and the arts.

And back to writing, not every writer needs to focus on just one area—even if branding is important and some people just aren’t going to understand that some of us can do more than one thing.

Once when I applied for a business writing project, the contact person asked how he could know I could do it since I didn’t have any experience writing about business. I don’t know, my experience working in business and the MBA probably don’t count, right?

I could have tried to explain why I could do the work, but previously I had once managed to convince another businessperson that an English major could understand financial reports. Unfortunately, I found it was really hard for me to work with a person who did not celebrate multipotentiality and who would rather I be a specialist. Never mind that my non-traditional mind could discover discrepancies others didn’t, maybe because I read annual reports with the analytical skills of literature major.

I’ll leave the specialists to their straight paths and outlines, but as for me, I prefer the roads less traveled and visual thinking tools (see http://mywebspiration.com/index.php) such as cluster grouping. That’s because that’s how I operate to the best of my potential—even if sometimes I can’t choose right away which way to turn.

Remember how in school you didn’t always get to choose the topics of your papers? You might have had some control over the specific focus of your topic, but the teacher didn’t usually say, “Write about whatever you want, d’ahlings!”

Other than personal pieces you write and try to sell after the fact, most professional writing is like that. You might suggest the general topic, but the editor can change the angle or tone, whether or not you like it. Sometimes you get an assignment on a specific topic that you maybe never wanted to write about, like breast pumps or how to handle spider bites.

Yes, those are past assignments of mine that I don’t really care to delve into further, but I did a fine job doing the research and presenting the information as requested. So far I’ve written articles and essays on general parenting, raising twins, product usage in families with twins, multiple safety topics, and faith, as well as done profiles on journalists.

For the past year and a half I’ve been editing, coaching, and doing some ghostwriting on a family historical fiction book that required me to learn about 1,000 years of history on topics ranging from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of Roses to the difference between Puritans and Separatists and to events in Colonial America such as the Salem Witch Trials and the Revolutionary War right up to many of the important happenings in 20th Century America.

I’ve compiled charticles filled with numerous objective facts. I’ve waxed poetic about my newborn babies (OK—they’re 16 now and I’m a lot less poetic!) I’ve created fictional scenes that demonstrate characters’ personality traits. I’ve verified historical information, as well as researched facts that are disputed and come up with reasonable reasons for discrepancies. I’ve provided resources within articles and in sidebars.

But if I pursue the old saw “write what you know,” I haven’t even scratched the surface of my own personal knowledge base. For one thing, I can still read a financial statement—I didn’t need the government to tell me that the U.S. was in a recession. Here’s just a sample listing—in no particular order—of other topics that have been or are part of my life:

  • Gifted education
  • ADD
  • 21st Century Learners
  • Aging parents
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Helping a loved one with cancer
  • Running
  • Personal writing
  • Dogs
  • Guinea pigs
  • Family businesses
  • Container gardening
  • Living with teenagers
  • Being “sandwiched”
  • Book clubs
  • Teen drivers
  • Celiac disease

I could go on (and on and on) but I already have! Relationships, business, health, hobbies, education, writing, pets—and that doesn’t even include my faith, politics, and personal rants.

True to my liberal arts upbringing, I aim to be a lifelong learner and choose to study, even when I don’t need to do so. But every time Life throws me into something I never wanted to know, I put on my student hat and try to find out everything I can. And whatever I discover that helps me might help someone else.

In the end, providing that help for someone else is exactly what I want to write, even if I never wanted to receive the specific assignment or know that a certain need existed.

Did I mention I come from the Heartland? Nebraska, specifically. I can’t help but think about branding livestock when I hear the word “branding,” even if I was a town girl the whole time I lived there. Suffice it to say I know enough to know that branding is painful enough the first time, so there’s no way an animal wants to do it again.

OK—I don’t suppose it’s quite that painful to “brand” myself. I am prone to hyperbole from time to time.

Yesterday I talked about my liberal arts degree—and yes, I have read the book Jobs For English Majors and Other Smart People because let’s just say some people in the business community don’t appreciate generalists. Me, I’m an English/Spanish major/MBA. Put that in your box!

Over the years I’ve been paid to do magazine circulation administration, financial reporting standardization, financial report preparation, editing, and writing. I’ve also added accountability oversight, systems creation, and productivity improvement into my volunteer, as well as personal activities.

Are you thinking that’s a pretty random background? Truth is it’s not as random as it seems. All those jobs involve an eye for detail, the ability to do research, analytical thinking skills, and a desire to provide resources. Yet what was missing in my early work years was a chance to do really creative work, and perhaps help solve a problem, at the same time as I was doing the detailed-work.

Over a decade ago I finally realized that Renaissance Men and Women are my heroes. I’ve been trying to live my life that way ever since. I’m impressed with people who choose to pursue multiple knowledge areas or who can do seemingly opposite things well.

I guess I didn’t realize it, but my family is made up of these kind of people. Check out a few of them:

  • my pharmacist father who held leading roles in several Neil Simon comedy productions in our town
  • my musician mother who could improvise on the piano keys, but could follow the rules in her job deciding who should receive unemployment compensation
  • my brother who is a human resources director (paperwork king!) and whose singing voice stands out—for good reasons
  • my football-playing lineman nephew who does well in his science courses
  • my daughter who excels in biology and art
  • my son who can act and do abstract math
  • my computer programmer husband who blew away our Great Books group members (mostly CPAs!) with his ability to expound on philosophy
  • my English Springer Spaniel who can’t seem to find food that’s been dropped on the floor, yet can figure out how to open the gate (Whoops—not quite the same, is that?)

I guess I still didn’t get to the writing brand that says Trina. More tomorrow on that—just expect that it will be a little bit Renaissancy. OK, maybe I did make up that word.

Forgive me, it’s just the creative writer in me going a little too far after a day spent performing too many administrative details, like paying bills, arranging appointments, and trying to clear off my desk. Always the desk—and that, my friend is not a very Renaissancy activity.

Not Just Pants. Anyone else remember the ads for a store called Just Pants? That’s how the jingle went: “Just Pants . . . not just pants.” Talk about an identity crisis. If they wanted to sell more than pants, why didn’t they call themselves Not Just Pants?

Last week I went to hear a speaker talk about branding which led me to try to figure out how to create the brand named Trina Lambert. That means you will know what my various “products” are or mean to you based on my name, just like you know what Nike means or what Apple means. In accounting talk, that’s goodwill you can put as an asset on your balance sheet.

I’m all in favor of goodwill, but I’m afraid to brand myself like Just Pants—and then realize down the road that I want to sell more than pants. (OK—don’t worry, I don’t want to sell any clothing!)

I went to a liberal arts college where I “got to” learn about something from each discipline—whether I liked it or not. Sometimes the classes themselves were painful to me, but I don’t regret what I learned in them.

One of the first classes I took was Philosophy of the Greeks and Romans, taught in the dreaded post-lunch hour by a man who talked like he was stoned—which he probably was. I may have slept through many of the lectures, but I will never forget the cartoon we watched on Plato’s Cave. True confession: the understanding for one of my favorite “intellectual” discussion topics comes from a cartoon! Just ask those who know me too well, I can go on for hours about the Cave.

The liberal arts student in me is afraid to limit what the brand named Trina Lambert means. I like to think that with access to the proper resources, I can write about almost anything, even if it’s new to me.

Tune in tomorrow as I ponder what I’ve written, what I already know about, and how I figure out how to brand myself loosely enough so that in the future I don’t have to create a jingle about my brand that ends with “not just . . . “

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert