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The Law of One Thing
01/15/2005 - Previous | Next | Issues Home
Jim Watkins -- WB11's News Anchorman explains why you can't be great at two or more things.

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I'm asked every so often to speak at graduation ceremonies, and it's something I approach with trepidation. All I remember about the commencement speakers at my own high school and college graduations is that they were standing between me and party time, and something tells me today's grads have a similar perspective. So I keep it short, but I still want to say something before the graduates turn their iPods back on. That's when I came up with the Law of One Thing.

Here's how it works. All of us have the potential to be skilled -- highly skilled -- at only one thing. It's just the way nature works -- someone like Da Vinci or Howard Hughes comes around once in a hundred years. You can't think two thoughts at the same time, and you can't be great at two or more things. It's a good lesson, because it helps people choose their direction in life with a minimum of dabbling. Dabbling is a violation of the Law of One Thing. It's a violation you get away with when you're young, but as time goes on, the law overtakes you, and the penalty is mediocrity.

Take Michael Jordan. Greatest basketball player ever, but a terrible baseball player. When he switched sports, he must have thought the athleticism that made him a hardcourt legend would translate to the diamond. It didn't. Different skills were required, and he didn't have 'em. Even the Michael Jordans of the world must follow the Law of One Thing. There have been a handful of athletes who could compete in two sports on the major league level, like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. But they were great football players who also played baseball. Neither of them is headed for Cooperstown.

Excellence takes focus. In just about any endeavor, there are so many people already doing it well, a dabbler doesn't have a chance. While you're working on being both an opera singer and a physicist, someone else is using the lab every time you go to the theater. You might end up being pretty good at both things. But the guy who stays in the lab will have the better shot at the Nobel Prize.

Excellence takes immersion.Watch the people interviewed in science documentaries. Probably most of them haven't taken any Andrew Carnegie courses. But when they address their topic, they turn into Oliviers with pocket protectors; the words flow, the eyes sparkle, the hands gesture excitedly in the air. They know the subject better than anyone, and that makes them a superstar. That's right, a superstar. The term doesn't only apply to athletes and actors.

I've tried for many years to be an excellent news anchor. I remember when I reached a point when I at least felt I was solid. It was 16 years into my career. More than a decade-and-a-half just to be solid. I have no idea how many more it will take to reach excellence, but I'm sworn to the quest. I'm not going to be a great guitar player or photographer, because I only dabble in those things. At least at news anchoring, I've got a chance, and giving it my full professional commitment is one of my greatest joys.

End of graduation speech. Go out and find your one thing. I mean, when party time is over.

Courtesy of amNewYork.

Jim Watkins joined New York's Emmy-award winning WB11 News at Ten in 1998, teaming up each weeknight with co-anchor Kaity Tong. Watkins brought over a decade of experience as an anchor, reporter, writer, and producer to his role at The WB11 News at Ten. His career included working for a number of highly-rated and respected television stations, including Boston's WBZ-TV and Cincinnati's WLWT, as well as Philadelphia's WPHL and NBC flagship WNBC Channel 4 in 1995, where he served as both Weekend Anchor and co-host of "Weekend Today." Watkins also distinguished himself with skills as a reporter in the midst of breaking news. Notable among his achievements is his role in coverage of the Blizzard of '96, one of the worst storms to buffet the New York area in a century. Source: WPIX

© 2005 amNew York

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