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Confessions of a Cross Pollinator

Barbara McAfee Posted by Barbara McAfee.

Barbara McAfee is a musician, coach and consultant with over twelve years of experience in organizational change.

I’ve been self-employed since 1991.

I’ve been self-employed since 1991. Throughout that time I’ve encountered a common strategy for success: pick one thing and get really good at it.


I just haven’t been interested in doing that. Many of those years, I felt bad about it. If only I could choose that one thing, perhaps I’d find more success and approbation. I had self-judgment about being a “dabbler,” unable to commit to one path.

I remember exactly where I was when those judgments fell away once and for all. I stopped still in the middle of the sunny sidewalk and exclaimed aloud: “I’m a cross pollinator!”

Western culture is madly in love with specialization. The work many of us do is fragmented. We have little sense of how our individual contribution fits into the larger whole. I’ve heard it said that the rise in hobbies like gardening, cooking, woodworking, and knitting is fostered by our lack of connection with a project from beginning to end.

I remember when I was an organizational consultant working with the horticulture department at a large university. I was excited to collaborate with people who understood growing things and natural cycles and an ecological approach to work. Instead I was astonished to witness intense specialization. I met the “geranium guy” and the “potato breeder.” There were power struggles and turf wars …and I’m not talking about lawns. What I found there is prevalent throughout our culture.

When we are deep in our own experience, it can be difficult to see how our specific experience relates to a larger whole. My individual voice clients assume that that their vocal challenges are worse than anyone else’s. My organizational clients are certain that their workplace is facing unique stresses. Communities are blind to how their gifts and challenges reflect those of other places.

As I travel among the worlds of work, community, worship, and personal development, I carry “pollen” along with me much like the bees do. I spread stories and insights among people who will never meet. I invite them to sing the songs that thousands of others have sung with me as a way to connect them to each other. I hope and pray that what I carry yields much fruit in the places I go.

In medieval France, troubadours fulfilled this same function, traveling from place to place singing of love and bringing news from the outside world. For many years, I have felt a kinship to these traveling poets.

Like them, I belong nowhere and I belong everywhere.
I’m a cross-pollinator.