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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Specialized Generalist


I hear all of the voices in the back of my head.

"Specialize! Become known for your extremes. If you aren't extremely good at something, you won't get to the top."

"Find the one thing you are good at and just do that."

"No one is extremely good at everything. Find your strengths and specialize them."

These book selling cliches tell me to specialize my talents ... and haunt me day and night.

I struggle living life as a generalist in a specialized world. This has been magnified during my job search here in NYC. As I apply for random jobs, I find that many require specialized degrees. Just last week I applied for a job that was seeking an undergraduate degree in listmaking and another hoping to find someone with a soap making background. Un. Be. Lievable.

So what am I to do with my diverse experience, talent, and interests? How do you get paid for being a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none? I am starting to think that it means becoming a specialized generalist.

I am slowly beginning to embrace my general-ness. I'm beginning to think that for me to specialize in something would require that I forfeit my specializing in generalism. I am not interested in forfeiting my general-ness (not to be confused with being generic) because I believe the world needs Generalists. As the above image shows Generalists excel at both defining and solving problems but require the work of Specialists to execute these strategies.

I find this to be true when I reflect on my previous vocations. Specifically I think about my time as the Arts Director at my church in Phoenix. I can't play guitar. I am terrible. My fingers are too fat. My brain to slow. I just can't do it. So in all of my time leading worship I required excellent guitar players to join me. I was lucky to have Matt, Trevor, and Grabe throughout those years. Without their specialty guitar playing my programed services would have been more like Chris Tomlin meets the acapaella boys choir.

Much of my strengths, personality type, and life experience tell me that I am a Generalist. I exegete, correlate, and strategize. I find problems and connections that others cannot. And what do I do with this data? Who will execute my plan? Specialists. I need specialists.

This post is more diaretic (meaning like a diary...or something that makes you poop) than I like. However, I think there is something to be learned here. There is an interconnected relationship between all of us. There are generalists and specialists. Generalists needs specialists and specialists run around like mud-covered idiots at Burning Man without generalists.

Perhaps you do not fall into one of these categories or simply refuse to be labeled. Thats fine. Neither is right or wrong. They are simply different.

I am just beginning to accept that I may be different than the specialized ideal and that my specializing may not be quantified in a degree or on a resume.

Speaking of which, does anyone want to specialize in making me a better looking blog?

Do you have any suggestions? Add your comment. Please don't spam!
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Derrick Fudge said...

dear boo boo

beware. What metaphorically punched me in the face while i read this post is that there are still butloads of generalists. Despite the whole country moving towards specialization, there will always be more generalists, and I would imagine that one of the most important thing in a generalists resume is experience.

I think you are already close to marketing yourself well. The key isn't that you are kinda good at anything, it is that you can manage specialists well. Something like "artists somehow think I am artistic" or "I can motivate people who are unmotivatable" or "I can get along with the guy you already hired that doesn't like you" are very good sentences for you.

Jarrod said...


I would imagine that (as I said) specializing in general-ness should be the priority of a successful Generalist. Thus experience and dedication to General-ness is key.

And while there are butloads of Generalists, how many of them are people who don't have the desire/willpower/commitment to specialize and how many are actually effective Generalists?

Answer that Derrick Fudge!

And I like your sentences. Thanks.

Derrick Fudge said...

Here comes the answer

I agree that most generalists are that way because it takes a butload of commitment and risk to only pursue one thing. But a lot of people who have had good solid work ethics and commitment levels end up switching things over their careers, and end up looking like generalists. My worry is that if one markets themselves as a generalist, they will loose out to people older than them because experience usually seems more impressive in general and isn't as important when the employer is looking for something very specific

respond to that, punk!
and this article really made me think

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