For the longest time, we’ve all been told that a specialization gets you ahead, right?
If you opt to become a doctor, for example, it’s not enough that you are a general practitioner. Most medical practitioners usually go on to become cardiologists, dermatologists, or even surgeons. It’s the same thing with lawyers, engineers, and other careers that will not bring disgrace upon the typical Asian family.
Heck, when you think about it, remote work isn’t that different. Those who get ahead in this industry often have a certain skill that sets them apart from the rest. Whether it’s SEO, graphic design, software development, or digital marketing, they spur us on to keep upskilling or second-skilling.
But the times, they are a-changing.
This is not to say that deep specialization will have no place in the future. No, we’ll always need targeted solutions for specific problems.
Rather, it’s just that the pendulum is swinging drastically in favor of an opposite approach: generalism.
Generalists vs. Specialists: Key Differences
“Jack of all trades, but master of none.” You’ve probably heard that saying, right? Well, that pretty much sums up what a generalist is. Basically, you have a fair knowledge of all relevant trades but aren’t an expert in any of them.
In contrast, a specialist is someone who has mastered the skill of one specific trade. They tend to choose and specialize in a niche early on in their career. Due to the considerable efforts and time they invest in learning this, they thus become the go-to person to resolve high-level issues in the area. Since there are relatively fewer specialists, they also tend to get paid higher for their services.
Generalists, on the other hand, might get paid lower early on in their careers. However, they might be able to find employment faster as some companies prize employees who can do several things reasonably well. (This prevents them from having to hire individuals to do each of those things.)
In some, a specialist would know just about everything worth knowing about ONE thing. Generalists know “just enough” about SEVERAL things.
How Being a Generalist Equips You to Deal With Constant Change
Okay, so generalists have gotten a bad rap over the years. They’ve been accused of dabbling, and not really sticking around long enough to get really good at one thing.
But hey, I got news for you. Remember that saying I mentioned earlier? “Jack of all trades, but master of none?” Right, what your English teacher failed to tell you is that there’s a second half of that saying and it’s “….but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
See? There’s actually a lot of merit to being a generalist.
For starters, as you progress up the corporate ladder and start to lead your own team or department, you will come to rely on an increasingly general approach. If a highly-specialized problem comes, your job wouldn’t be to solve it yourself, but to delegate it to the right person.
Furthermore, with a future that is constantly in flux, the people who will thrive are those who can connect the dots. In other words, you would need to know enough about several industries to know how changes in them could affect the others. This way, you can anticipate what steps to take and act on them accordingly.
Only one thing is for sure, though. Whether you choose to specialize or to go for a more generalist approach, you need to keep learning. Cliché as it sounds, change is the one constant and it’s always just somewhere beyond the horizon.
Best to keep our minds sharp, eh?