Generalist vs Specialist

Ever since I were a child, I’ve always believed that specializing in one specific field or discipline was key to creating a pleasurable working life.

In school we had many discussions about who and what we wanted to be in the future.

Being a footballer, dancer, doctor, F1 driver or a police/fireman were always the most common choices among us, however it always seemed like we could only choose one.

You’re either a fitness instructor or a dietitian.

Either a psychiatrist or a motivational speaker.

You could never be both or more than one.

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Now, I’m currently aware that you can chop and change your career to suit your needs.

However it isn’t encouraged nor promoted.

I feel that society dictates and pressures us into making certain career decisions (e.g. degrees that exude status and money) without asking us whether we’ll feel happy doing it.

Popular phrases such as “who wants to be a jack of all trades, but a master of none.“, makes people feel that specialization is the only way you will find salvation in your working life.

From my experience, this is anything but the case.

Is Specialization For Insects?

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
– Robert A. Heinlein

I vehemently disagree with the notion above, just as much as those who scoff at others for dabbing in a little bit of everything.

My stance on this is as follows:

You just need to follow your heart with regards to the type of work you wish to do.

Of course we can’t do everything there is to offer in the world, but if you’re really passionate for several disciplines or lines or work, then why not do them all?

Whilst you could earn more as a specialist providing a unique service very few can do, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll lead a pleasurable working life.

For me I have to ask myself, is the work I’m doing engaging?

Do I derive pleasure from it?

And most importantly, is there any meaning behind what I’m doing?

Once I can answer yes to all three questions, the monetary gain I receive is nothing but a bonus – as I’ll be forever working in a state of happiness.

Why I Enjoy Being A Generalist

I enjoy it because I’m doing work that I truly enjoy.

I don’t wish to be a bird in a cage – having to wait for permission before I can move on.

I was born to explore and to realize my potential, so I’ll set out to do just that.

I’m not interested in becoming the best at any one particular thing, my heart lies solely in creating a suite of services and products of value, which solves the problems of a group of people.

Taking each component of a balanced life separately, there are a number of careers and opportunities open to me.

I could be anything from a fitness instructor, nutritionist or psychologist, to a relationship expert, a philanthropist, a career coach or even a financial adviser.

This blog post by Emilie Wapnick at Brazen Careerist here highlights my sentiments very well.

Of course, being “kinda good” at many things can also be a curse if you’re not careful.

It requires discipline.

It’s tempting to do things, not because you enjoy them, but simply because you know you can.

But it’s impossible to do everything.

A better approach is to take note of the activities you enjoy and the ones you don’t.

Once your business grows to a place where you can afford to outsource or hire employees, have them take over the activities you could do but don’t enjoy.

With regards to my own working life, I think of it more like a blank canvas.

I have a paintbrush and all seven colors of the rainbow at my disposal.

I simply want to paint a beautiful picture, and personally for me, one colour simply isn’t enough.

I’m not indecisive about my career, I just want to have the freedom to love what I do, and do what I love.

How do you feel about the ongoing generalist vs specialist battle?

On which side of the fence are you sitting on?

Do you think it is possible to be both a generalist and a specialist at the same time?

Let me know your thoughts below.