Right around the time kids are finishing up middle school is the time when they start thinking about what it is they want to do with their lives. Finding your passion is a very different thing than finding a career or finding a job. It’s an important distinction to make for kids, adults, parents, employers – just about anyone, really. Many of my kids have decisions about this, but I also know there a couple that are scared to make that decision!
Media tends to showcase the people who are singularly focused on one mission or one theme. Those people who are continually successful at one thing tend to be the people we aspire to be like or to emulate. Sports greats are one very easy to see example, but then there are CEOs and politicians who also receive acclaim for doing that one thing they do so well. Sometimes, there are instances where that person is actually very good at doing quite a few things, but you either a) never see the other things or b) those other things are hidden behind the veil of the One Thing they appear to do.
I work in technology, so it’s easy to lean on the tech giants for examples. There are the Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos types that actually do quite a lot, although you might only hear about Tesla and Amazon. On the flip side, there are individuals who are very good at Development or Virtualization or Networking; they may be pioneers who chose that one specific trade to be great at and are doing it – but you will almost never hear of them except in the trade.
Ah, when I was a boy…
When I was younger, I had a terrible time trying to figure out what I wanted to go into. That problem continued through college and even into my first few years in the workforce. I have a journal in the garage from the fourth grade where I indicated I wanted to be either a businessman or the president. You’ve got to aim high, I suppose. In fifth grade, I wanted to be a ninja, which didn’t last long. Then I moved into the animation realm and focused on that through college – in addition to thinking I might like marine biology and computer programming. Where did I land? All. Over. The. Place.
I admire the folks that have persevered in their chosen area. Those that have been able to focus, unerringly, on that one specific thing and succeed. I prefer to think about all the things I haven’t yet done or tried! In other ways, I think that viewpoint makes me a stronger person and potentially more adaptable to changes (and I work in technology which changes all the time).
I took the Ham Radio technician class test just last week. Is that relevant to anything I’m doing? Heck no. Will it benefit me in the future? I absolutely hope so and don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t. There are actually a lot of concepts that build the framework for modern day networking, but there are also a lot of concepts no one really ever thinks about that could be used to benefit us in the future.
My focus for my children is the same: learn as much as you can about as much as you can! Not only will you find more out about yourself, you’ll find more about others and have a better understanding of those others! Robert Heinlein said it well:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Are you a politician? Knowing a little about how everything works and what everyone does is extraordinarily useful. Are you a programmer? Your customers aren’t, and if you plan to relate to those customers, you’d better know some. Heck, if you intend to chit-chat with anyone, knowing a wide berth of things is indispensable.
As I’ve noted before, though, from a personal development standpoint it’s great. From a professional standpoint, it tends to appear that you can’t focus on anything. While I can’t disagree, I know that candidates rolling across my desk get some attention when they have a wealth of experience across disciplines. I can’t say that will benefit me in the future, but I hope it will.
Prognosis for Specialization
Who will end up being the next great multi-disciplinary cultural/industrial icon? We don’t know. I couldn’t even guess, but someone’s rising in the ranks and I’m keeping my eyes open. I want to see the action and gather more evidence that specialization stinks!
As for my kids, I’ll continue to encourage them to excel at what they love, but when they have something else they want to love, to go for it!