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The Career Path of the Generalist is Worth Consideration

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Perhaps it’s time society looks beyond specialists and considers the potential value in the career path of generalists

Choosing a Career Path and social expectations

A career path, according to societal norms, is the expectation that we will choose a field of study or skill set and focus on developing expertise in that discipline for the rest of our adult working years.

In other words, everyone expects us to discover our career path, decide how we’re going to develop expertise, and prepare to land our ideal job. Also, it’s preferable that we figure all of this out before graduating from high school.

How many of us would ask a teenager what career path we should choose? That’s exactly what many of us have done when feeling compelled to make critical career decisions in high school.

Sure, I tried to answer the question of career choice when I was a teenager. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to choose a career, nor did I have the courage to say, “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.”

Accepting an individual’s unique career path

Our society has undeniably been enriched by educating specialists and developing their expertise. I’m so thankful for the many specialists in several different fields who have helped me immeasurably.

However, we cannot afford to ignore the potential talent and productivity of generalists. They are sorely needed throughout our workforce. Besides, if they learn to become indispensable, they can often enjoy long-term employment and financial success.

Generalists typically have many potential career interests. So, it’s unlikely they will remain satisfied with one specialty for an entire career. Subsequently, we generalists need opportunities to pursue multiple interests. We want the freedom to explore numerous job possibilities.

Today, our most significant challenge may be persuading employers to consider the value of diverse, non-traditional career paths among generalists. These career paths may be “the solution” for employers who can no longer afford to hire specialists for every position.

In fact, many employers must now consider whether to hire a single employee to cover two, three, or more formerly specialized functions. Generalists, especially those committed to lifelong learning, may be ideal for these combination positions.

The value of a career path that embraces the multidisciplinary experience

There is nothing wrong with working several different jobs and exploring multiple careers throughout your lifetime. For the generalist, every job is an educational opportunity that adds depth to your overall experience.

In short, your career path may involve a multidisciplinary experience. If this describes your journey–embrace it! Your experience increasingly typifies the career pattern of the 21st Century.

My dad was a World War II veteran. He held four positions during his 35-year career as a public school teacher. Comparatively, I’ve held ten jobs in five distinctly different career fields over the last 35 years. In my dad’s day, my work history would have appeared to most employers as “unstable.” Today, I look back at a career that’s been an adventure that has required:

  1. A broad, general education
  2. A multi-faceted skillset
  3. The ability to integrate knowledge and experience from multiple disciplines and apply essential aspects to my current responsibilities
  4. Flexibility and versatility
  5. A commitment to lifelong learning
  6. The ability to work in diverse work settings

As generalists, it’s okay to open your minds to new possibilities. There’s nothing wrong with exploring a variety of job experiences. These may lead to opportunities and further direct your career path.

After all, you never know which job may mark the beginning of a success story more meaningful and satisfying than you could possibly imagine.

Your best job may surprise you

Every job I’ve held added value to my career. I am so thankful for all that I learned and the opportunities I was given. I especially appreciate the many gracious individuals who mentored and supported me during my career journey.

Surprisingly, the best job I ever had was working for a rural telecommunications company based in Lovington, IL. I was responsible for human resource management and assisted company owners with a wide range of assignments and special projects.

In truth, it was the best company, with the finest employers, and the most capable group of employees I’ve ever experienced. I guarantee that working for a rural telecommunications company was never on my list of career goals as a teenager. Regardless, it was unquestionably my best career experience.

Furthermore, the experience gave me the knowledge and confidence necessary to start a small business of my own, for which I am most grateful.

Advice for career generalists

My advice to career generalists: You should think of every job as a challenge. Approach it as if you are climbing a mountain. You may reach the summit, but even if you don’t, the experience may prepare you for your next achievement.

Seize the opportunity to learn, prepare, accept the risks, and give the job your very best effort. If you do, what you achieve will help you feel as though the sky is the limit.

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About the Author: David Cox

David Cox is a Co-owner of TPB Business Copyediting. He writes to encourage us to apply our multidisciplinary training and experiences to develop our current career role further.