Generalists Can Excel Too

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As we join different platforms and are tasked with filling in more and more bios (and using fewer and fewer words for each one) it can be difficult to define ourselves. How do we whittle down what we do into a few crisp keywords?

Your social media bios can open doors for you.

They are your virtual handshake, a wave to the world, and your online “hello.” This is your chance at a first impression, and you don’t want to mess it up. If you do, it could mean a missed connection.

The pressure to present yourself in a clear and concise way can be overwhelming. Generalist or specialist? It can be hard to present yourself quickly online if you excel in many fields. But your diverse experience is a strength.

It can feel like a specialist’s world on social media, especially when we see others who so easily and powerfully identify themselves in a handful of characters and handles.

If you’re someone with a range of experience, take comfort in the lessons of David Epstein’s book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.”

You may be familiar with that old adage: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This is how generalists can excel over their specialized peers, even while worried they aren’t perfecting a certain skill set or becoming well-known experts in one major field, Epstein argues. That they have different experiences means they can approach problems creatively and seek more opportunities.

As Epstein explains in the book, often through real world examples, we benefit and can ultimately succeed in our careers if we draw on a variety of experiences.

In the first pages of the book, Epstein notes both Tiger Woods and Roger Federer took different paths. Whereas Woods focused on golf from a young age, Federer explored many sports, eventually landing on tennis.

Similarly, Epstein points to Duke Ellington, who took drawing lessons and played baseball as a kid, and mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, who wanted to become a writer, as examples of people who didn’t necessarily take the path of a specialist to success. We think things worked out anyway!

So, who are you, really? If you’re someone taking the scenic route, don’t fret. Epstein reminds us both generalists and specialists can excel:

“While it is undoubtedly true that there are areas that require individuals with Tiger’s precocity and clarity of purpose…we also need more Rogers: people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress. People with range.”

Embrace all that you do and don’t be afraid to say “yes” to the unexpected yet intriguing opportunities. Learning doesn’t stop at graduation. Who knows where you will end up if you aren’t afraid to embrace all of who you are.

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