The dilemma of whether to specialise or generalise one’s interest and expertise has long been a dilemma for talented young people; however the need to make a decision intensifies as the time for making a choice about one’s career approaches. David Epstein, in his book, Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World has focussed on this issue, citing many examples of generalists who triumph. Often, however, the success stories that he mentions are actually early generalists who become late specialists in their chosen career.
Everyone, including high-ability youth, finds the greatest satisfaction from life and within their career when it is possible to utilise personal strengths; when these are aligned with personality characteristics and with one’s values. Some individuals have an early ‘epiphany’, deciding as a small child the career they want to pursue and they never deviate from that singular path towards their specialised career. This decision might be impacted by early exposure to a career that aligns with personal interests and values, while firing the individual’s imagination with such intensity that the light that leads them, never dims. An early career decision allows time to: build one’s skills and expertise; maintain constant exposure to others in this field; commit to years of study and training; pursue a specialised career; intensely practise certain skills; become renowned in one’s chosen field; identify and develop networks within one’s profession.
Individuals with a wide range of abilities and interests, who exhibit multipotentialities, may find it difficult to settle on a specific direction or decide upon a specific career path. These are the ones, who appear to meander; who will range (as Epstein refers to this practice) across many interests and multiple careers; exposing themselves to various experiences and fields of endeavour. This pattern may appear directionless; however the individual is usually sampling; exploring their interests and different facets of themselves; trying out their wide-ranging capabilities; testing the alignment of strengths, talents, values and interests. This broad exposure to a wide range of experiences and directions allows the individual to gradually develop an understanding and appreciation of the best personal ‘fit’.
Sometimes this results in the establishment of a unique ‘niche’ career, created by linking areas of personal interest and expertise to form a new and highly specialised position. A recognised career may be selected but the individual might incorporate knowledge gained through earlier endeavours. Sometimes, sequential careers (often involving an activity or career – such as elite sport – that might be limited in duration) or parallel careers (allowing two or more diverse careers to co-exist) are undertaken. Longstanding interests, to which one has a strong commitment, may be established as an avocation alongside a vocation. There are also subspecialties within specialised fields, such as hand surgeons or neurosurgeons.
The point is that there isn’t a ‘right’ way to develop a career. There are benefits for those who specialise; for those who generalise, and for those who develop an individual path. Finding the best possible personal fit is critical for each person.
© Michele Juratowitch