The burden of being a generalist

This post is not meant to be a confession and yet that’s exactly how it may come across to some. Let me start by unashamedly stating I am a hopeless generalist! I have too many passions to be able to devote all my life to one passion only.

Yet that does come with a fair amount of regret, since I am in great danger of completing half my life and having gained a specialty at nothing! To specialize at any field one needs years and years of devoted practice, but the end result is so admirable. A joy I may never experience.

Sometimes I wish I had spent all my years specializing one thing no matter what. My problem was never a lack of talent or focus, instead it was persistence. There are some fortunate souls who will find their calling early in life and persist with it for the rest of their lives. The blogging world is full of such talented folks.

A friend of mine, has a full time day job as an accountant but spends her weekends and evenings painting. She has been painting since she was five. Walking into her home is like stepping into Michelangelo’s studio. Her paintings are so professional she has had several successful exhibitions. One wonders if she is so good at her hobby how good she must be at her day time job which is still the source of her bread and butter.

A colleague of mine excels at interior home design. She has such a knack for buying cheap deals at garage sales and flea markets and then putting them together in the most amazing fashion. Her creativity is off the hook. She can create a chandelier out of old tea cups! My own mother has a green thumb like nobody else. Even in her early seventies she has converted an otherwise dry and pest infiltrated handkerchief garden into a Garden of Eden. Green plants abound not only her garden but her house and are growing out of fused bulbs, broken tea cups, and practically anything that will hold a handful of soil and her green magic.

So coming back to myself. I am troubled by absolute angst of having spent half my life and yet mastering nothing. This is not how I intended things to be a couple decades ago. My problem was not being devoid of talent. If I had no talent to boast of, that would be perfectly fine and acceptable. My problem is having a “little bit” of talent at almost a little of everything. I have tried my hand at painting, poetry, handiwork, fabric painting, gardening, cooking, pickling, kombucha making, doodling, blogging, photography and so much more. (One thing I admit never to have a talent for was singing. I can at best screech completely out of tune and never remember the lyrics.)

Being a Jack of all trades, master of none is not entirely a bad thing. It’s perfectly fine being a generalist if one aspires to be “regular” or “moderately talented” or in other words “average”. Does the word “average” send shudders down your back?

I know some people will even disagree with my assessment of equating a generalist to being “average”. Infact even though specialists have historically been sought after in Corporate America and have enjoyed some of the highest paying jobs, the market today is changing. Heck, it may even be the time of the underdogs as the CIO’s and CEO’s today are placing greater value at generalists than ever before. Generalists may in fact have become the missing ingredient to making a project successful as they have the vision to not only see the leaves and the branches of the tree but also the entire tree and even get a bird’s eye view at the forest.

Be that as it may, my fear of being a generalist is the mortal fear of dying in ubiquity and anonymity without ever having enjoyed a single ray of excellence. The joy of being labelled as “the best” at something no matter how small escapes me.

The blogosphere today is full of specialists and generalists. Are you a specialist or a generalist? Do you prefer one over the other? I invite you to share which group you belong to and what is your view on the matter?

14 thoughts on “The burden of being a generalist

  1. I am a generalist, no doubt. Oddly enough singing is also a screeching affair for me. I do wish to be really good at that one thing too. I think that would be amazing, to feel such passion for a hobby. The closest I’ve come is blogging, but I certainly don’t excel there.

    1. Hahaha Generalists are not supposed to “excel” or they won’t be generalists anymore. I have visited your blog and it is pretty darn good so you give little credit to yourself my friend.
      I too would Loooooove to sing and believe me I have tried but I value my friends too much to persist.

      Cheers and thanks for stopping by.

    1. LOL! I hear you. I myself struggle with valuing myself as a Generalist, hence the post. But society cannot survive without Generalists and specialists working hand in hand on important inventions. Only together we can win the world 😉

  2. You should all think of yourself as “Expressionists”… those who love to express themselves no matter what the media or process. Rather than seeing your lack of speciality as detrimental, see it as multi-faceted. I have been an artist all my life having first picked up a pencil when I was 2 years old… but I’ve also dabbled in paint, sculpture, ceramics, photography and even music and writing.

      1. I’m glad. I struggled with this a bit as well and I try and convey to my students that often creatives just want to “get it out” into the world and I encourage them to find as many avenues as possible.

  3. Definitely a generalist and proud of it. It gives me cover when I don’t know answers to specific issues/problems. I use lots of “Hmmms”, “I see” and You could be right, but then again…..”, in my conversation.

  4. I hear what you are saying, at the same time, please listen to any specialist in secret. You will be surprised to know they are regretting over being stuck at only one part of art and couldn’t do much like you. So I think we all are meant for some kind of unsatisfaction all the time, I guess.

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