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No one throws away a Swiss Army Knife. Being versatile reaps rewards.

“Mobile, agile, and versatile.” That’s what my high school football coach would scream in the weight room as I was imagining my quadriceps exploding from the squat press I was doing. While I didn’t really like my football coach, I did like the saying.

People like to be comfortable. We buy comfortable furniture, wear comfortable shoes, and drape ourselves in comforters (or maybe you’re more of a duvet person?). We also like to be comfortable in what we do at work. Sometimes we get so comfortable in our work roles that we are afraid to tackle something new – to get outside of our comfort zone.

The song “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins would not be nearly as cool if it were “Comfort Zone.” I’ll take you ridin’ to the..Comfort Zone. LAME! Now enjoy having that song in your head for the next 20 minutes.

I learned early on that locking myself into a set role would only serve to hinder my career goals. It turns out that managers and supervisors like to see people take on new challenges. It lets them know that you’re a team player and not afraid of a little change.

In my first year out of college I had found myself working as a graphic designer at a very small promotions company. Our main product was a line of promotional food packaging that we produced in-house. Nestled in a room between the offices and the warehouse was a very large, very noisy printing press. There was one man in the office that knew how to run that press, and he did it every weekday from 8 to 5. But what happens when that one man needs to take vacation because he’s having foot surgery? Someone has to step up and run that hulking machine so the orders don’t pile up.

I won’t lie and say that I volunteered. I won’t even tell you I was happy about being asked if I would consider it. But I knew if I didn’t do it, someone else would. And how could I trust them not to make my printed designs look like crap? So after a two-day crash course in loading the enormous roll of paper, checking color densities, and learning to use the RIP software I was on my own for a week.

By the time the pressman returned I was eager to get back to my design responsibilities, but I was also extremely proud of stepping outside of my job description to keep orders moving. It also gave me valuable in-depth experience with the printing process that helped immensely down the road. My boss would later tell me that he was impressed that I even considered running the press (something I found out later wasn’t entirely “legal”). I thought I didn’t really have a choice, but didn’t feel the need to tell him that.

The truth is that I have tried to do this as often as possible in the evolution of my career. I’m not encouraging everyone to try to do everyone else’s job, it is important to have an area of focus. But if you close yourself off to do only what you think you do, you are also closing yourself off from the opportunity to find another area in which you can excel and grow. Have you ever heard of anyone throwing away a Swiss Army Knife? I haven’t. Even if one of the blades goes dull, you still have 9 other tools to get the job done.

So don’t be afraid to be “mobile, agile, and versatile.” It can definitely help you in the long run.

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