Woes of a Generalist


I’ve been consumed lately by the ideology of ‘specialist vs. generalist’. It came to a peek last Friday when I was so busy with my tasks in the office (project management, internal audit) but I still had to play for our bowling tournament and then the badminton coordinator asked me if I could practice on the same day. I was like… how am I supposed to divide myself into not two , three but four or even five?

That, my friends, is the downside of being a generalist. You tend to be good at several fields but you are not necessarily the best at each. This characteristic of a generalist is very true for me. As my profile says, I’m a jack or rather Jill-of-trades but a master of few and it’s both a blessing and curse. It’s a blessing because a generalist is versatile. For instance in my case, even though I’ve been trained as chemist and researcher, I learned to handle the management side of running a project—planning, writing, budgeting, etc. My interest in computers has also been beneficial as I acquired the skills for networking, basic programming, webpage design and image processing. More than these skills, I can be a writer, a photographer, a singer, a dancer, a historian, an athlete and a travel agent if you ask me to be one.

In short, as a generalist I never run out of options. This is why when I get bored, it upsets me because I know I should not be running out of things to do. However, this characteristic of mine is also my very curse. I lack direction. Because there a lot of things that I can do and a lot of things that interest me, I have a problem identifying which one to prioritize or which one holds the most value.

On the contrary, specialists rarely have this problem because they already know what specific field they are good at. They can have the advantage of pursuing their dreams earlier and thus succeed also earlier in life. Of course, just specializing on one  field can also be detrimental because it means fewer or no fall backs at all in case one fails.

Do I regret being a generalist? No, because I was born to be one. It’s already my way of life—to take a piece of everything I encounter, learn it, and then use it to my advantage. But I could really benefit a lot from being a specialist. That should be a trait that I should learn to develop. I need to focus on one or maybe two specialties, master the craft, love it, and only then I will explore my other interests.

Now, how and where do I start? At the end of the day, I just want to be be able to say…

(credits to irmaloveslife.com)
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5 thoughts on “Woes of a Generalist

  1. I think you have been peeking at me — because what you wrote describes who I am and how I operate in life. I’m a generalist, no doubt about that. I agree that there are advantages and disadvantages. For me, right now I am searching for a new job, and in the employment market here in Australia, it is difficult to find a role if you haven’t specialised in one area (which I have not) — like you I can turn my hand at just about anything.

    But I think that I couldn’t be a specialist — I am inquisitive about life, hence my interest in so mant things — photography, writing, blogging, intellectual conversation…and the list goes on.

    I also agree that we choose our path if we have and use the will to do so. I think that your graphic at the end sums it up. Well done!

  2. life works in mysterious ways. we can never truly plan the future and have it come to pass exactly as planned.

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