The Overlap

A simple mathematical truth: the confluence of two things is always more rare than either of the two things independently.

For instance, how many people right this second are both A.) in yellow cars and B.) listening to Taylor Swift? While it might be tough to get a good estimate of that, we can know with certainty that the number is smaller than both the total number of people in yellow cars and the total number of people listening to Tay-Tay.

The weirder the particular overlap, the fewer instances there will be of that “Category C: Both.” For instance, let’s say you’ve got these three categories:

A. Americans who watched the Super Bowl last year.
B. Americans who drank at least one beer in the last year.
C. Americans who did both.

Sure, by simple math, (C) has to be a smaller number than both (A) and (B). But it might not be all that much smaller, since huge numbers of people do both of those things, AND because those things are often culturally coordinated. Now consider the following categories:

A. People who attended a bird-watching convention in the last year.
B. People who launched their own software development company last year.
C. People who did both.

Not only are the absolute numbers of (A) and (B) smaller in this instance, but those two things don’t have any obvious correlation to one another. You’d expect a decent number of people who watch the Super Bowl to drink beer, and honestly vice versa. But you wouldn’t meet someone who talked about launching their own software company and say, “Oh, then you must have attended BirdCon San Diego, right?”

Here’s why I’m bringing this up: Virtually nothing you do is unique by itself. No matter how niche or weird or unusual a particular hobby, skill or pastime you have is, there are other people who share it. But the combination of those things? That’s where you can truly find a place where you shine.

Imagine aliens invaded the earth tomorrow and said that they’d destroy our planet unless we could beat them in contests of archery, opera singing, heart surgery and Mario Kart. We’d scour our planet for the best in each of those categories and send them up.

But imagine that the rules stipulated that we could only send one person? We’d have to find someone who was great at all four of those things, which is so weird that it might be a handful of people at best. In seven billion or more humans, I’d actually wager that we could find one person who was awesome at all of those, but they probably wouldn’t be the best at any one.

But you don’t have to be! In fact, it’s better to find that niche in the overlap. Now forget about alien invasions and just think about your job, your career. You can do more than one thing! You have more than one talent and skill. But if you’re defining yourself narrowly according to only one of them, you’re avoiding the best possible place for yourself. In the overlap.

Let’s say you’re a web designer. Okay, but there are tons of web designers, and some of them are super good, so that’s a big field to compete in. But let’s say that you also happen to know a lot about organic dairy farming, maybe because that was your family’s business before you ran off to learn web design. Or maybe that’s what you did while teaching yourself the other skills. Or any number of reasons, doesn’t matter. The point is – sure, there are a lot of web designers. There might be a lot of organic dairy farmers. How many people are both, though?

So, you find your niche that way. Organic dairy farms need websites, too! And they might appreciate talking with someone who “knows their language,” so to speak. You’d be better equipped to deal with their unique struggles, even if you weren’t actually the overall best web designer in the world.

So not only is that a place where you can command a lot of value, it’s also a place where you can find a lot of direction. Lots of people get themselves into a career that’s super broad like web design and then don’t know where to go. There are so many options that they never know which direction to take. Narrowing your field down by combining it with your other qualities can give you a clear path – once you know you want to be the premier web designer for the organic dairy industry, that presents a lot more actionable steps than “I want to be a good web designer, I guess.”

Find your overlap. Find the things that don’t seem to connect, but are both things you’re reasonably good at. Maybe more than two! Maybe it’s one skill + one hobby. Maybe it’s one reputation + one credential. Maybe it’s a crazy mix of multiple things. But that’s where you’ll find incredible value to give to the world – in the overlap.

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