The Early Years: Specialization or Generalization?

So far as I’m aware, I’m not nearing the end of my life. I don’t have much experience, and I don’t have the benefit of hindsight. What I do have are the resources available now, the mindset and abilities passed on to me, and the accounts of those who are much further down the road we call life.

And so, I have a habit of asking a lot of older folk (especially successful ones, however they personally define that word) a lot of questions. When you’re nineteen, practically everybody counts as “Older folk”.

Two things have popped out at me: One, almost none of them are doing now what they thought they would be doing when they were college age. Two, is they almost all say they wish they took more risks while they were young.

On risks; never risks like taking out loans for risky ventures, but rather spontaneous risks that could result in failure; I.E, the risk of not succeeding at the venture itself, and being left back at square one.

With that said, I’d like to make two points, on the mentality I’m using to approach progress (especially, but not particularly, career wise) in life.

First, is use the early years to experiment. Youth is, almost by definition, the condition of lacking experience. Choosing a long term career in the teens, and making a choice that commits you to it, leaves open the very high likelihood that (especially if you don’t actually work in that field before selecting it) you’ll go down that road and realize you either hate it, or suck at it, or demand for it has disappeared, or all three at once.

That’s why I would prefer to start by considering likes, dislikes, abilities and disabilities, and compare them to immediate opportunities. Pick one, lay out short, mid, and long term goals, and go at it full force, and as I do so, pick up experience. This experience leads to indicators that show where I enjoy the work, where my skills are (or are likely to most efficiently develop), and where market demands are. I will use these indicators to constantly modify the goals over time. While working, an opportunity may open up in either a related, or a different field, and I will have no problem chasing that, so long as I’m not fueled simply by the fascination with the novel.

Second, is Intersectional skills are where innovation and demand are found. Consider the process of creativity; most creative pursuits are simply remixes of other ideas. These are also where the best creative productions are found. What skills are in demand, that set you apart from other people with similar skills? Extreme specialization to get to the top of a narrow field is one way (and definitely a lucrative way), but it can have the tendency to box you in, depend to a huge extend on others, and is not moldable should someone come up with a better way that renders your skill useless. Plus, it’s highly competitive, and can easily lead to oversupply. With the gig economy emerging, and technology development accelerating so fast, more opportunities and combinations are opening up than ever before. You can be early in a new market, you can be a specialist in an established one, or you can be a generalist with a unique combination of evolving skills that makes you invaluable at any time.

So, I would like to develop skills in several areas. For me I think of soft skills, such as marketing and selling (can I demonstrably prove that what I have to offer is of great value to the client?), business strategy and acumen (can I balance the budgets, understand cashflow, structure and organize for maximum profit?), and of course product production and design; creating the value itself.

These are fairly large umbrella skills, but let’s say I can write copy very well, have talent in, say, CAD/CAM processes, and have a mind that’s always searching for the most productive ways to structure things, I can leverage this combination to provide something of great value to a customer: whether that customer happens to be an employer or business partner or client or investor, it doesn’t really matter. The intersection means I’m harder to replace as well; perhaps if I’m a key player in both production and sales, I will need to be replaced by someone with that same combination (unlikely), or by a person in production and another person in sales (overkill and expensive).

You may be an excellent musician, but your income is limited unless whoah, it turns out you have the ability to network and connect many other musicians, or have film and youtube skills, or figure out how to negotiate a deal with an advertising firm.

I want to get to the point where I’m taking in plenty of revenue, but find it tough to label my job with a simple term.

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