Friday, August 7

Horizontal Specialization

At this point in my life, I have acted, built sets, written a screenplay, wrote poetry and fiction of all types, wrote a book, learned music theory, learned basic electronic music, been a radio DJ, assistant directed two films, edited video, shot photography, painted, drawn cartoons, made a card game and a roleplaying game, sung in a choir, sung in a band, wrote for the school paper, and in my seventh grade woodworking class, I made a duck out of wood. (I gave the duck to my mom, who broke it at the neck and glued it back together.)

I have studied the basics (if you call college courses basic) of art history, world history, national history, film history, anthropology, biology, both organic and inorganic chemistry, calculus up to linear algebra, physics, meteorology, philosophy, literature: of which I have over 200 units in college courses. It took me forever, but I have a B.A. in Creative Arts, which is pretty much the equivalent of saying that I have a degree in Artistic Chaos.

I can hike, swim, row a canoe, backpack, rock climb, rappel, pitch a tent, sleep the night in a forest using nothing but a plastic bag, shoot a bow and arrow, and shoot a rifle and a shotgun. I can cook. I can clean. I can drive a car. I can throw a baseball. I caught my two kids as they came out of my wife.

I'm not writing this so I can brag about how smart I am. In the sixth grade, my teacher wrote on my report card that I had a problem with "tooting my own horn," which is a perfect example of what I'm trying to say:

No matter what I do, I can't shake the feeling that I'm a complete idiot. When I look back on my life, I think "Holy crap, what did I do? Why did I say that? Why didn't I do this instead?"

I've always been at odds with the typical definition of knowledge, where a person is an

and makes a lot of money doing whatever it is they happen to be specialized in. It seems like that type of vertical specialization is what we think of when we want a doctor, lawyer, computer programmer, piano virtuoso, or whatever we think of when we say someone is a genius.

On the other hand, I've always been more interested in the relationships between topics. I like summaries. I enjoy the interplay between science and art. I revel in combining aspects of one field with another, like computer biology, or video games (which are music, computers, visual art, games, and storytelling, all in one). Which is the definition of a

though more often labeled as a

This sort of horizontal specialization is under-appreciated in our society. No one wants to hire a generalist for a job, since every worker has their place, like a cog in the machine, and they had better do that job at peak assembly line performance.

Again, I'm not saying that I am special, and that I'm an under-appreciated genius that deserves a fat paycheck. (Though I wouldn't turn down a large sum of money at this point.) Instead, I'm trying to say that there must be many people like me, floating along in occupations that don't really fit their abilities, who see the glue that holds all of these seemingly discordant specialties together.

Just as focus can be a virtue, so too is diffusion.

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