What may come as a surprise for some friends, family, and students has actually been a defining moment for keeping the last 7 years of my life from gathering dust. Originally, my 5 year plan saw me coming back to New England, finding a job, and perhaps marrying a Chinese Harvard grad! But since publishing that plan I realized that none of my plans would appropriately take advantage of my valuable experience in Asia. I have made a decision based on the realization that completely moving back home would not have been the best investment of my time, business relationships, and experience. Some might be thinking, “Where did this change come from?” or “Isn’t this a little sudden?” I understand that reaction, but have a different way of looking at it. Since it might be a bit much to swallow all at once, I’ll just describe what has been going through my mind over the past three or four weeks.
“Don’t Quit” … “Be a Jack of all Trades” … “Diversify”
They seem like fair points for young people, right? But if I could go back and teach little Ben, some years ago, about how to be successful I’d probably disagree. Why don’t we say, “strategically quit” instead of “Don’t Quit” or “master a skill” instead of being “a Jack of all Trades”? If you feel being great or the best at something is not worth the hardship to get there, then why not quit early? Better yet, let’s not invest our time and energy in it from the get-go. I’ve played countless sports, joined loads of teams, started a bunch of projects… to what avail? Chalking up experience? Ultimately, what is the result of these delayed-quitting experiences? A serial quitter, as Seth Godin puts it in his book The Dip.
Endlessly beautifying a resume is a sociably acceptable way to say “I prefer to settle,” which isn’t going to get me any closer to my dreams or ideal lifestyle. I built TutorSearchChina.com and put it to rest. I dabbled in social ranking with TutorBook, but let it drift out to sea. My Worldshop.US experiment was a Cul-de-Sac waiting to be quit and I eventually did. And since 2009 I’ve been utilizing the experience from my master’s degree to build a network of online teachers and valuable web-based learning programs. It has recently gained a lot more momentum and I don’t want to see that all go away like previous projects. I’m tired of starting new things all the time. I don’t want to be a jack of all trades anymore.
Specialization is key. Seth mentions in his book that if you are looking for an excellent accountant, you don’t consider what his golf swing is like. You just want someone who is specialized in the field you require. If you find out that you have a rare disease, you’re going to find the doctor who has researched this specific disease; you won’t go to a general practitioner, who is good at curing many common ailments. The list goes on… and I’m sure you can think of many situations in which you’ve looked for The Best Person for the Job.
My Chinese proficiency exam results came in recently and I realized that I had surpassed my original goal of level 4 (out of 11) – I got a 6! With this certification I’m qualified to take Chinese-taught, college level courses in any Chinese university. And with this skill, I feel confident to push forward with my plans for providing online training to foreign companies in China through my EFET platform.
The decision to stay in China comes down to one requirement: SPECIALIZATION. I’m experienced and unique here. I can create online learning programs that will become a standard for training departments of foreign companies. I’m confident that I can be the best choice to fill this need and moving home now would stop myself dead in my tracks.
Serial quitter, no more.