The Myth of Specialization

Updated: Jun 17, 2018


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.


That’s just one of a bazillion reasons I’ve become far more interested in generalism as a way of life.


Professional specialization has helped me advance at that career. It’s made me more valuable in the marketplace.


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.


I write songs, I play the guitar, I paint pictures, I make concrete bowls, and I'm learning how to write as I crash into the last quarter of my life. These are passions and callings. They may not pay all of the bills, but they make for a rich, rich life.


Often, when I tell a professional colleague about these "diversions," 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 these other things? They're just hobbies, right?


No, they're not hobbies. I've got some skills here, and in a few ways I can knock a few socks off. More to the point: even if those "hobbies" could pay all of the bills, I'd still want to learn more, do more, be more.


It’s a ridiculously short life. Why would I stop at just one thing? Why would anyone?