An act of creativity takes a cool idea and makes it real. Generalism is the application of skills and knowledge over an array of areas.
Creative Generalist: That sounds like the job I really want.
Too bad there’s this highly propagated myth out there: anyone who thinks they can successfully attempt more than one pursuit at a time is really a dilettante.
I used to believe it, too. This blog is keen on debunking that myth.
The Myth of Specialization
We live in an age of specialization. Do this, or do that, but stick to one thing and learn to do it very well. It’s a message we hear as children at home, in school, and certainly in the professional world.
I’ve got myself a swell career, working in the field of health communications and social marketing. I excel at providing communication training and technical assistance. I’ve even developed a pretty specialized niche–training others to find and convey the story inherent in their important–but abstract–data to an array of audiences or stakeholders.
Did that last paragraph seem a little laden with mysterious jargon? That’s okay. It wasn’t very clear writing. And that’s what happens when we specialize in something. We use words that make plenty of sense to those in our field and little sense to others.
Professional specialization has helped me advance at my job. It’s made me more valuable to my company, and they’ve demonstrated that value in return. So I’m real good with that.
But unless you’re one of the rare people who roll out of bed every morning saying, “The only thing I really want to do today is my job,” then maybe you’re like me. And maybe a little more generalization is for you.
In addition to my specialized career, I am a singer-songwriter in Austin, TX. It’s a passion and a calling. Music doesn’t paid the bills, but I’ve always had another life filling my evenings and weekends.
Often, when I tell a colleague about the music, it isn’t just a surprise, it’s a shock. It’s a dichotomy that makes no sense: you’re a respected professional — how is it you do this other thing? It’s just a hobby, right?
No, it’s not a hobby. I’m a respected performing songwriter, I play a great guitar, I win awards, and baby, I could knock your socks off.
But even if music could pay all the bills, I don’t think I’d be satisfied. I’d feel the same thing I feel now: there’s more to learn, more to do, more to be.
It’s a ridiculously short life. Why would I stop at just one thing? Why would anyone?
The First Experiment in Generalization and Lifelong Learning
I was a great student back in the day. But a few years ago, it occurred to me that I didn’t know very much stuff at all. I’d forgotten much of what I’d learned when I was younger, and I’d never gotten around to learning or doing all the stuff I’d meant to as an adult.
So I started my first blog, The Big Scout Project (BSP), working my way through a ton of Girl Scout badges just to learn some shit and write about it.
The BSP was pretty darned cool, my first experiment in generalism, and I still occasionally contribute to it. I learned all kinds of things and surprised myself along the way. The science experiments were my favorite projects. I’m not done with those.
In fact, I learned that I never want to stop learning.
Here’s something else I learned: I get as much joy from holding a paint brush as I get from writing a good lyric. I get as much joy from taking a beautiful photograph as I get from singing a perfect note. And it occurred to me that I could be more than “one kind” of artist.
So screw the myth of specialization. It’s just not right for everyone.
Jean Synodinos | Austin, TX