Specialists, glorious generalists, unifiers

I’m reading a book called Mash-Up! about building what the authors call a plural work life; blending a range of skills and disciplines.  The passage below reminds me of Grace Llewellyn’s Teenage Liberation Handbook.  Grace celebrates the notion of what she calls a “glorious generalist,” someone who makes a point not to stay confined to one pursuit. The Mash-Up! authors happen to use the word glorious as well as to describe a close relative of what Grace has always encouraged young people to give themselves the freedom to do:

A teacher didn’t suggest you mixed up a load of random subjects; she suggested you specialize in one area… Clearly defined.  Black or white. The trouble with the black and white world is that it misses the glorious spectrum of technicolor that sits in between.  That kind of delineation may be great in theory, on an organizational chart or in a linear career trajectory, but reality tells us there is a disconnection between this single-specialism focus and how people really, truly are.

The Mash-Up! authors encourage readers to identify a “personal unifier,” which is just like it sounds: the thing that pulls a group of apparently (but probably not) disparate capacities together.

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It’s not as though there’s no place for specialty, but many of us are much more effective, could be much more effective, especially in a world like the one that currently swirls around us, if we didn’t have to narrow ourselves down.

If we let kids know that just as it’s OK to pick one or a few things to give themselves entirely to, it’s also OK to cast a wide net for exploration and acquisition of skill, we increase the chances that they’ll find a way to make a unique contribution and find themselves most fulfilled, not only when they reach adulthood but all along the way.

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