How To Be the Office A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez is one of baseball’s greatest utility players. But is it possible to play utility at the office without sacrificing the quality of your game? Here are three ways to bolster your efforts playing more than one position in the workplace.

In 1991, the Detroit Tigers’ Tony Phillips was the first player to start 10 games at five different positions in the same season. (Read that one more time for emphasis.) César Tovar, Cookie Rojas, Bert Campaneris, Shane Halter, Don Kelly, and Jose Oquendo all played every position (including pitcher!) during their respective careers. These men are what we call utility players. They can move, competently and confidently, around the baseball diamond — and managers love them.

Utility players give tired or injured players days off, and they may open up opportunities for other players. And having the skill to transition from pitcher to say, a second or third baseman, could be a boon to their careers (remember Cal Ripken, Jr.?). Then there’s the Yankees, or more specifically, Alex Rodriguez. The club was able to employ multiple impact players with the same natural position because A-Rod learned to play a secondary spot, keeping Derek Jeter at shortstop.

Master of none

To be a utility player is to be versatile, a generalist, a jack of all trades. There are a number of stand out athletes who have gracefully transitioned between roles, and they will always be remembered for their ability to play different positions — and play them well. But what about at the office? Can you effectively wear more than one hat? Can you play your positions with equal energy and skill? You’ve heard the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Or what about, “A mile wide and an inch deep”? Not exactly flattery. And they hint at the idea that you can’t really be good at everything.

I was something of a utility player in my former role at Belief Agency. I was technically a copywriter, but I was also a social media manager, a content strategist, a project manager, a consultant, and sometimes an event planner. That’s a lot of trades. Did I really do my job(s) well? Or was I doomed to fulfill the prophecy of the aforementioned figures of speech? Playing utility well depends on a lot of things, namely, the player’s ability to do a variety of tasks proficiently.

Utility by necessity

In a small company, however, that conversation is irrelevant. You come off the bench and play short, third, and center field because your team needs you. It’s about being nimble and resourceful. It’s about necessity. I didn’t get hired at Belief Agency to do all those things. I got hired to write copy. Maybe you don’t want to be a utility player, but as in my case, it’s not really an option. You have to be scrappy when you work for a start up — you know, adapt or die type stuff.

I think there are three simple ways to be the best utility player you can be, despite the circumstances.

Three Ways to Be A Utility Player

1. Read (and read some more)

Educating yourself is imperative. I am college-educated researcher, but a self-taught content strategist and social media manager. I didn’t study advertising or marketing in school, so I had to learn independently. A quick Google search yields incredible results, as many people in our field are prolific writers (we get paid to communicate, so this makes sense). I spend hours watching Hubspot tutorials and Moz Whiteboard Fridays. I read hundreds of articles from Convince and Convert, Harvard Business Review, and Copyblogger, just to name a few. I attend conferences on digital marketing. I order books (damn you, Amazon Prime) on marketing and social strategy. I follow vocal industry leaders on Twitter. You can never learn too much.

2. Act as if

Feeling overwhelmed or unconfident is perfectly normal. Throughout the entirety of my coursework in the PhD program, I felt like I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth. At any moment my professors might find me out. I didn’t belong there! They accepted me due only to some gross negligence with my application. That of course, was untrue. I worked hard, studied hard, and earned my spot in the cohort. I wasn’t alone in my insecurity, either.

Most people struggle with these feelings, some true, but most false. If you can push through those negative emotions while at the same time sharpening your skills with education and training, you can effectively perform in more than one role. But there is a difference between acting as if with a plan, and sustaining a false front or faking it — which isn’t in your best interest. And that leads me to number three.

3. No means no

Everyone has their limits, and putting too much on your plate comes at an emotional and physical cost. Be candid with your boss or manager. It’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to be ruthless about it. Take time and think strategically before you answer. Can you still balance your home life, get enough sleep, and save time for yourself if you take on another responsibility? A utility player is no longer a utility player when he or she fails to preform well at any given position — that means at home or in the office.