The Curse of the Generalist

I once heard (from Mark Wilson, to give credit where credit is due) that some people are specialists and some are generalists.  A specialist is someone who knows when they’re a kid that they want to be a dentist.  They go to dental school, become a dentist, and joyfully work as a dentist their whole lives.  They end up as a highly skilled expert in their field. Specialists look like this:


Then there are generalists.  Generalists want to be a thousand different things.  They try lots of stuff.  They are interested in everything.  They reach age 40 and wonder what they will be when they grow up.  Generalists look like this:

Specialist & Generalist

Note that the Specialist and the Generalist both cover the same amount of area.  The difference is that the Specialist goes deep in a narrow field, whereas the Generalist is broad but shallow.

We need both these kinds of people to make the world go ’round!  One is not better than the other.  (The grass is NOT greener…).

According to Mark Wilson, the Specialist needs to strive to broaden themselves a bit, and the Generalist must challenge themselves to deepen in a few areas.  Like this:

Broaden and Deepen

I am a Generalist.  In no particular order, I am really into belly dancing, writing, rock-climbing, silversmithing, mountain biking, and sewing. Plus I love hiking, bird watching, painting, helping Klu write his blog for kids, Get a Klu, and several other things on an occasional basis.

The Curse of the Generalist:  choosing which areas to deepen.  HELP!!!!! I feel all stretched out and pulled too thin, trying to launch my Etsy shop, Magic Carpet Dance Arts, and finish my novel, while still working 40 hours a week and not letting go of any of those other things.  I feel pained right now…


6 Replies to “The Curse of the Generalist”

    1. Very glad you found my suggestion useful. Incidentally, I notice your dance company is called Anam Cara. Perhaps you are of Irish origin. In any case, are you aware of the works of priest-turned-philosopher John O’Donohue? He passed away, God bless his soul, at the young age of 52 a couple of years ago, but his works remain a source of inspiration for many:

      Shortly before he died he was interviewed by Krista Tippett of PBS in the “Speaking of Faith” programme . You may be able to find it here:

      All the best.

  1. Wow, Alan, THANK YOU for the suggestion! I read the blurb from the link you posted, and immediately got on Amazon and ordered not only that book, but two others by her. I have instantly and positively identified myself as a ‘Scanner.’ 🙂


  2. Totally can empathize with you – but don’t give up! Often most of the progress happens when it looks like nothing is working. Love your posts – you’re very inspirational to many who are trying to go down the same path


  3. It seems that I too am a generalist. I am envious that you are able to explore so many of your intersts. You are truly lucky and an inspiration to me. I hope one day to be as balanced in my life as you are.


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