Should You Specialize or Generalize: Story of My Life

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This proverb describes me aptly. A dabbler, a dilettante, an amateur, call me whatever you want but the fact of the matter is that I had taken pride in being a jack of all fields and had not cared (so far) to be a master of anyone.

My Experience During Adolescence

During my school days, I was clueless and too lost in reverie and silent observation to pursue anything seriously. Only in high school, I started playing Table-Tennis with any seriousness. I remember that I had defeated one of the top players in the school which should have ideally motivated me to take the sport seriously. But that didn’t happen.

I recollect defeating my senior in college, who was a Gold-medalist in Table-Tennis, in a friendly match. And, I was encouraged to play T.T from my college team. And even at that time, I refused saying that I play to please myself and my intention is not to compete hence I don’t want to delve deep. I have always believed in doing something for the sake of it, for the love of it, and not for any other purpose.

I recall having picked up a new hobby of playing Lawn Tennis towards the end of my college. I had no formal training or any background as such. I started playing just by observing the professional players. And I argued that my body knows the basic physics of how to play more than I do. So, when someone advised me to take formal coaching after watching me play, I shrugged.

My Experience During Adulthood

Then I took up reading and writing and I loved it. It gave me some other-worldly joy. I kept at it for some period of time but when I joined Infosys at Mysore Training Campus, the writing stopped and I took up Swimming and Squash. I used to wake up at 5 AM to be able to play and swim before joining my classes at 9 AM. Swimming and Squash lasted for about 6 months as long as I was in Infosys Campus.

Then I resigned from Infosys and came home and decided that I want to start teaching students. I have a knack for understanding their perspective. I know it from my own experience of getting taught at school. During the beginning phase, I was all enthusiastic and excited and enjoyed every minute of the process. It was so fun to be around kids, the life force that they bring with them. I continued teaching for about 2 years and then gave up and soon afterward joined Government Service.

During my stint at MEA in New Delhi, I started playing Lawn Tennis again, but without any coaching. I also enrolled in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) classes, continued for a month, and then gave up. Then I signed up for Piano classes (Music is love). My instructor told me that I have learned in one month what most people aren’t able to learn in 10 months (no kidding). I was enjoying the classes and it was so great to be finally able to play with both hands. I found it very relaxing and soothing. But sadly, due to some personal issues, I had to give up playing the Piano for a few months. And I never resumed it again.

Then I got the photography bug. And I started to explore the nitty-gritty of photography.

Then, all of a sudden I came across an astrophotography trip ad on my Facebook feed and I said Why not! It was in August 2017 that I went to Spiti to capture Milky Way!

Sometimes, I also feel like painting. I know I am not very good at it but because I love doing things just for the sake of it, I do it anyway.

But the problem is that after taking up anything, I always meet with this thought head-on:

  1. Why delve deep?
  2. Why become an expert on this?
  3. What will I achieve getting a master's in this?

And so I leave it mid-way. I always wonder how come some people do a PhD. and so much research. It must be intensely rewarding and joyful for them. And now I am in my 30s wondering where would I be had I pursued a single thing for all my life. David Epstein, the renowned author of the book Range, says:

Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what researchers call a “sampling period.” They play a variety of sports, usually in an unstructured or lightly structured environment; they gain a range of physical proficiencies from which they can draw; they learn about their own abilities and proclivities; and only later do they focus on and ramp up technical practice in one area.

This gives me hope. That all the time I spent earlier trying my hands at different things was my “sampling period” and it was worth it. Now, I think I am ready to focus on gaining expertise in one thing, that is writing, while not ignoring my other passions altogether.

Benefits of Generalization

· It opens your eyes to different perspectives that you couldn’t have gained otherwise.

· You are less likely to become narrow-minded.

· When you do something for the love of it, it doesn’t feel like a burden and it stays with you forever.

Benefits of Specialization

· Someone who performs the same task repeatedly by specializing in it is less likely to make a mistake

· Specializing in a field increases your efficiency

· It saves a lot of time when the same task is done by a specialized person than a person who has just basic knowledge.

Conclusion

Well, it depends from person to person. Some people find their passion very early on in their life and they start pursuing it to gain expertise in that field which obviously works for them. It has the potential to make them one of the greatest persons in their field.

But some people, like me, take time to figure out during their “sampling period”. Some people have it figured out in their college, some people find their true calling in their 30s or 40s. But it is never too late, people have still made it big starting at that age.

According to me, it should be all about contentment and soul satisfaction. If you are content with being an amateur then you won’t find it compelling to be anyone else. And if you have a burning desire to do something in-depth and the process of delving deep gives you contentment then you should definitely specialize.

I would love to know what your approach towards your passion is and what do you think of generalization and specialization?

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