June 24, 2020
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The debate and discussion on ‘jack of all trades & master of none’ versus ‘master of one’ has been a forever one. But it didn’t bother us for as long as it was just limited to that- a discussion. But then reality happened. We grew up and started pursuing different careers. And as we proceeded, we were bombed with this discussion once again, only this time it presented itself as a choice. Most of us have been at this crossroads of our career where we had to choose a path of either becoming a generalist or a specialist. This isn’t an easy choice, especially given the current level of competition in the market. So, what’s the answer? Or, is there really an answer? What if this choice itself is a paradox? Maybe, we do not really have a choice. Let’s find out!
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A generalist has the knowledge of broad range of topics and issues which can be of great advantage. The way a generalist might understand an organization’s problems and find solutions, a specialist may not. In order to understand a business as a whole and take decisions, it is important to be the Jack of all. The ability to multi-task is another big advantage of being a generalist. Another critical aspect that employers these days look for in their potential employees is transferable skills. Having transferable skills can be exceptionally useful when your company decides to exercise its scalability. Then, there is this big advantage of career flexibility. As a generalist, the world opens up with diverse opportunities for you and this can be really helpful in keeping yourself employed. But at the same time, a generalist’s job security is far less than that of a specialist. So…
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The most obvious advantage to begin with is that you’ll earn more as a specialist. Being an expert of something makes you a rare breed and hence, there will be companies willing to pay decent compensation for your in-depth knowledge. As a specialist, you also have an opportunity to become a widely recognized leader in your field, an opportunity that you will hardly ever get as a generalist. If you stay persistent and keep your expertise up to date throughout your career, you might become a highly valuable asset in the market. While you get to earn more, you might have difficulty finding the right job as a specialist. Also, you are under constant unsaid scrutiny as a specialist because well, everyone expects you to be special. Too much pressure, right? So…
This choice in itself is a paradox because you shouldn’t have to make that choice. It all depends on your passion, your interests, and your personality. If your curiosity and passion leads you to explore a topic in-depth and extensively, so be it! Become an expert in that field. But, if you do not identify with any such passion or interests, starting as generalist is your only option. Forcing yourself into any of these two paths will prove to be unfair as well as disadvantageous.
Ideally, the middle path is the best one if you REALLY want an answer. A combination of generalist and a specialist! Be a generalist in your skills but a specialist in your subject. Let passion drive you as a specialist but always adopt an approach of a generalist.