Confessions of a Cross Pollinator

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.




About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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9 Responses to Confessions of a Cross Pollinator

  1. Avril says:

    Yeah baby! Cross pollinators of the world unite!

    I spent so much of my life feeling like I must be a dilettante because I dabbled in a lot of things without totally committing to any of them. Then I read a book called “The Renaissance Soul” and realized I was in excellent company.

    I also looked up “dilettante” in the dictionary, and was very pleased to see that it came from the Latin “delectare”, which means “to delight in”. So we dilettantes do things that we delight in. Not such a bad way to live after all! 🙂

    XOXO Avril

  2. Enten Family says:

    Dear Barbara,

    I love reading your notes and getting another dose of your “pollen”!

    Congratulations for acknowledging your gift and purpose in this wonderful life. Now you will soar to even higher heights as you replenish your soul with greater abundance knowing the wonderful and life affirming impact you’ve been having on others!!

    I met you at the ATD conference in Orlando this year and your session was the highlight of the conference because you spoke and shared completely from the heart and encircled all of us within your wings of love and life. I was amazed at how you did that in such a short period of time. I will remember that glow you shared and that I felt for weeks afterwards. Thank you!!

    I’m still searching for my true “purpose” and having fun along the way!

    Warmest regards, Rebecca


    • Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks so much for your response! I’m delighted that you enjoyed the session at ATD. It’s fine timing as I just put in my proposal for next year’s conference. I wish you all the best as you find your way to your purpose….or let it find you, as the case may be! Warmly,

  3. L. L. Schneider says:

    Well spoken. Thank you for sharing this insight.

  4. Susan Blackstone says:

    You are an inspiration and a beauty like no other in this Universe, Barbara. Thank you for being a cross- pollinator by the singing the songs and telling the stories of love, joy, and Yes! Date: Wed, 15 Jul 2015 18:56:35 +0000 To:

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