This was originally posted in June 2008. I still feel a bit of this, even though my new job is an object lesson in what a good generalist can accomplish. I can’t be the only person who feels this way, can I?
I am not a specialist. I’m a generalist and a good one. My primary skill is learning. I break unfamiliar tasks down quickly and optimize and mechanize processes. I read material aimed beyond my knowledge because I can mostly fill in background from what’s implied as well as what’s stated, and I know how to spot what I’m missing and have to look up. I synthesize and project ridiculously well. Drop me into unfamiliar chaos, and I start tidying, building a coherent whole from the scattered pieces, even while my hindbrain screams in panic that the task is impossible. It’s just what I do.
But oh, I must admit to a bit of the generalist’s envy of specialists. I sit down with someone who knows their field inside and out and I feel like an unschooled child. Following along suddenly seems like faking it. Not having that kind of command of anything, I feel just a wee bit useless.
I could make myself feel better by changing the subject, talking about things I do know, where the specialist would be the one having to follow. I don’t lack options for other topics. But I never do it. The generalist in me can’t let these opportunities pass (knowledge, resources, ooh!), no matter how uncomfortable they are.
I try to tell myself I shouldn’t be uncomfortable. I remind myself, in between moments of paying very close attention, of everything I said above. Under the envy, I do know my strengths and that they’re not inconsiderable and that they’re not really compatible with the dedication being a specialist requires. I know I’m a very good generalist.
But oh, why can’t I be a specialist too?