Specialists vs. Generalists


#1

So after hearing Ido Portal talk shit on specialists– a couple of different times, I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts and reflections on this dynamic as it relates to rewilding in general. Basically, Portal suggests that over-specializing in a specific field can lead to a personal weakening due to the lack of strength, creativity, and adaptability that diverse activities gives you.

Personally, I feel like I’m a generalist to a fault. I’ve waded into the waters of all sorts of different skills and knowledge and haven’t felt like I’ve really swum in any of them (getting closer with some things like bark-tanning and human-plant relationships).

What do others think?


#2

I’ve had thoughts about this in a variety of contexts before. I agree with over-specialization leading to deep voids.

I got to be really good at programming and, with all the time spent doing that, I didn’t have much time to learn some of the very basic things in life. In fact, I’d even put a different spin on it and say that I didn’t learn how to live for real. But, in the context of my job, I liked doing different things and whatever was required to achieve a goal and I would just do them even if it wasn’t as easy as my normal tasks and outside my domain. And, in that very modern context, being a generalist was a good thing but I also still had a specialty that was tied to most of my work.

A few months ago, I started telling people that I would prefer “sucking at everything rather than than being the best at something”. I still mostly think that way but reflecting on my professional experience and trying to extrapolate from it, I think it might still be valuable to have one thing that you’re better at than most. Not necessarily to do trade for the sake of it but because it might be an incentive to work with others (and an incentive for others to come see you). You know, an excuse to get together with a good group as opposed to simply sustaining a more lonely life.

All said, I don’t see anything wrong with not having a specialty. Or if you specialty is just being available to provide help with anything :slightly_smiling:.


#3

This is from personal experience

when you are not specialized that obviously means you are not as good as something…Let me tell you a ultra quick story of an experience before I specialized in anything…

Went out for a trip, Wasn’t good a shelter building…Built a very leaky shelter (was pouring)… Also wasn’t good at bowdrill yet…Didn’t get the fire… spent most of the night cold and wet/miserable waiting for dawn. So IMO if you don’t practice makes perfect with the basic skills (specializing) then you are going to have a very rough time in the woods for a little while anyways…This is my honest opinion…I think that if you can generalize with lots of dedication for quite a while you can be a specialized generalist. (great at many things) I am not saying I am the really good a lots of things…I’m just saying I’ve definitely met people who are and I would much rather be like them that “sucking at everything”.


#4

Definitely!

I guess the argument here is for well-roundedness vs. expertness at the expense of general capabilities. I feel like starting fires and basic shelter-making ought to be general skills that people should learn by the time they’re teens… Of course I’m still an amateur in both of those areas!

I think the very nature of a lot of rewilding skills requires a level of general adeptness and competence. It’s one of the things I like about the “movement”. Learn how to weave a basket, and the way of thinking and knowledge weaving gives you will be applicable to more than baskets!

I think mainstream competition-based sports, skills, and crafts force us to dedicate ourselves to narrow fields of focus in order to be considered legitimate. In order to succeed as a filmmaker, that has to be your life. In order to be considered a professional or highly capable athlete, that has to be your life. Etc, etc.

But it’s enriching to have many overlapping, segue-ing, diversifying passions.


#5

I totally agree with that 100 percent…

My problem is that I love my specializing so much…My probably most pointless specialty is bird watching…but it’s my favorite…I love it so much i can’t think about going a day without it…So yeah i could practice a lot of other things other than walking down the trail, but i always have that urge to go look for that owl or hang out with the ospreys…

So I guess what I need to do is fight the urge to do the thing I already love and try new stuff…thats where I’m at anyways