“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.”Robert Green, Mastery
I know myself well enough to know I could never just do one thing in life. And if you’re anything like me, I don’t think we should try boxing ourselves into that type of person.
‘You’re either a specialist or a generalist’
In a meta sense, there really isn’t a ‘type’ of person. We just label ourselves (and everything else) to try to grasp complexity and understand it by simplifying it down to a word or two. And just like solar rays from the sun, it’s all on a spectrum. Who we are is somewhere on the spectrum, and knowing what type we are close-ish too helps us define how we think and act on a day to day basis (but I digress).
Being a specialist or being a generalist are both great. There’s nothing more ’right’ or ‘wrong’ about either of them, they are just a type of preferred way of working and living. A special-ist has special skill in one thing. A general-ist has general knowledge in many things. Some people love to dive deep into a subject and all its nuances, and that’s what they feel called to and dedicate their life to. Whereas others love knowing about a lot of different things and be good at them. Will they reach the level of a specialist? Will a person who loves typography and fashion design and woodworking and metalwork and community ever be as great as someone who specializes in just typography? Possibly, but probably not. However the generalist has the power to combine all of their skills into an interesting mixture filled with other opportunities and creative insights.
I don’t fit neatly into either of these two categories. I want to push the boundaries of opportunity costs and go breadth and deep in a handful of areas. I would personally be bored out of my gourd if I only did one thing but I also want to go beyond the surface of knowledge and skill like a generalist, and instead reach mastery.
Somewhere in the middle between being a generalist and a specialist there exists an exceptionalist (aka renaissance man / woman). Someone who is a master of a few things. This gives you the best of both worlds: you have the know how close or equivalent to a specialist, but the power of a generalist who is able to combine their knowledge and skill into interesting ways. And nowadays, as technology and society moves at break-neck speed, being an exceptionalist helps you to generate ideas unlike most and gives you an advantage over the crowd.
There are downsides of course. Mastering one things is incredible hard. The degree of nuance in any give skill is infinite. (Which I find exciting, and it’s likely you do too if you think of yourself as an exceptionalist or specialist.) That’s why you often here people in there 60’s and on who have been working at their craft for decades saying they still have a lot to learn.
Mastering more than one thing is crazy. It requires double, triple, quadruple the time and effort to do so. Luckily, time can be on our side if we take advantage of compound interest through daily habits. Deciding to master multiple things means you have to discover and become very clear on what it is you want to master and what you don’t. Even with putting effort towards masters each day, there’s only so much energy and time we have to give.
Think about it in a physical sense. There’s only so many rooms in a house, and you can only fit so many things in each room. You don’t want to try and cram your entire house full of things there’s no room for. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to get around and enjoy it. You wouldn’t be able to find your bed. How would you navigate to the shower if you have all this crap piling up everywhere? There’s only so many hours in a day. We can push our effort to the limit, but anything past our limit has the opposite result that we want and only makes us miserable. When you rush from one skill to the next to the next to the next to the next… are you really learning each well? And more importantly, are you even enjoying each?
Choosing which skills you want to master is a big consideration. You don’t have to do it all right now. You can discover them over time. And you don’t have to keep doing it if you hate it.
Choose the few things you love and want to be better at and keep doing them.
Mastery is a life pursuit.
It’s often the folks who can stick with something they love (despite the frustrations and pain they sometimes face) that reach a level of success and mastery that most only dream about.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that YOU are the one who chooses where you fall on the spectrum and what your journey points towards — not someone else. Life and circumstances will help you narrow and guide you on your path, but ultimately you are the one who gets to choose who you want to be.
Where on the spectrum do you put yourself?
What do you want to master?
How can you incorporate them into your daily life?
STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner
Daily Blog #576