It’s an intriguing term I came across this past weekend. And since then I’ve been playing with the term in my mind, “generalist“. What is it? according to answers.com dictionary it is ” One who has broad general knowledge and skills in several areas.”
As I started to look out in the world for generalists, a question jumped out at me.
When in a specialist society, how does a generalist find their place?
As a child we are allowed the flexibility to try all sort of different and diverse things. We need to learn the fundamentals of life and the only way is through diversity: reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, etc…. There are various creative outputs we explore, because after all we were children. But as we grow older, society wants us to put a label on who we are. They want to put us into a category. Are you a organizational behaviourist, computer programmer, writer, career consultant? Our education system wants to know our “major”. What do you want to “specialize” in. We go through school and the higher and higher we get in our education the more specific we must become.
Even for our own economical safety, a choice must be made. Are you in computers or hospitality? Your daily job must conform to an industry. Unless you are born independently rich, you must choose. Those who don’t end up in a series of part time jobs just floating and the opportunity for financial freedom becomes bleak. And for those who do as they focus attention on one aspect or career, to make a living, there are thousands of other facets locked away slowly dying away.
Do you know what one of my scariest questions to answer is? “What do you do?”
I freak out. I panic. My mind races across several different aspects of me wondering is there one that is more important than the other? Is there one that I can associate more with? Ultimately I get this blank look on my face and say “I dunno…stuff”. The look of disgust that I’ve gotten has been almost to the point of discrimination.
Well screw them! I don’t want to choose. I want to stay open to all of me. If I’m a writer today and a quantum physicist tomorrow, so be it. If I’m a theologist today and an architect the next, then that is who I am. I don’t want to choose!
I am a generalist.