The fear and necessity of specialisation

I’ve always been an all-rounder. Generally pretty good at everything. In fact, fairly early on in my life it became apparent that if something warranted a bit of effort, application or concentration from me, I wouldn’t bother. It wasn’t often that things fell into that category during primary school, but as I progressed through high school and on to university and then into the workforce, I came to a frightening conclusion: it’s not good enough to be okay at everything, even if you’re clever and capable enough to be okay at things without any effort. I discovered I had a distinct problem with self-motivation, drive, ambition, and ultimately in my 20s this lead to something akin to depression. I was terrified to discover that I wasn’t passionate about anything! Not really. Because being passionate meant really immersing myself in something. It meant choosing and being disciplined enough to stick to something. And risking failure.

Now at 35 years old I am experiencing some pretty harsh realities and finding it harder and harder not to specialise. As this very insightful article I just stumbled upon explains, if you don’t specialise you become unemployable. I would go further to say that if you don’t delve into your passions, you are living small. I’m not going to be so arrogant as to assume that everyone knows what he or she is passionate about, or that everyone has the means to explore passions to the greatest extent. But I think that most excuses for not really grasping your passion fully are cop outs; it might frustrate some, but the old cliché is true: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

This question of will comes up for me now. As I mentioned earlier, I was shocked to realise I wasn’t really passionate about anything, or at least passionate enough to really get up close and personal with any one topic. In the past, I’ve put this down to being ‘pretty good at everything’. But what I realised recently is that I’m not good at everything, I’m good at what I’m interested in. It seems pretty simple, but the moment I realised that, I also realised I was pretty arrogant to dismiss specialisation in any given field purely because I was just so fantastic at everything. That was the ultimate cop-out.

I’ve talked for years about doing my Masters. In fact I realised recently that it’s been ten years since I last studied! What?! That not only makes me feel old, it makes me feel like I’ve slacked off. So what has held me back? I could say that I was just having too much fun, doing too many other things, that it wasn’t really that important. But that’s not true. What’s held me back is the awareness that I’d finally have to specialise. That’s scary, as the article I linked above so eloquently explains. It’s scary because it means having faith in yourself, in all the sweeping statements you’ve made in the past about ‘being good’ at things. It’s also scary because it can feel like a limitation, like you are having to relinquish some pretty interesting ideas in order to make space for the big idea, the big passion, the speciality.

Anyway, I am finally looking into really doing my Masters, but doing it in a way that doesn’t allow me to slack off, cop-out, give up, make excuses or fail. And let’s face it, my chances of failing are pretty slim, given I never studied throughout my undergraduate degree and it never occurred to me I could fail until my very last semester at uni when I discovered friends had to take a unit again due to having failed the first time. I actually did come close to failing once or twice. I remember the struggle I had studying history in first year uni (Culture and Society in Britain and France 1750-1850 – I was 18 and had never really even heard of the Industrial Revolution and my knowledge of the French Revolution revolved around vague notions of people getting their heads cut off a lot). It was a year-long unit, which made it extra painful as I had no option but to see it through right to the end of the year. I had no study skills whatsoever, couldn’t absorb the texts as I didn’t understand any of the context, and there were all these crazy philosophy dudes in my tute group sitting round and pontificating about things I couldn’t comprehend. All I knew is, I didn’t get it, and I hated it. My tutor was a really lovely English woman who could see exactly what I was going through and kindly gave me a pass mark (52, I think it was) at the end of the year, probably because I managed to read most of Voltaire’s Candide and write a vaguely coherent, grammatically correct essay about it. But did I feel ashamed or upset that I’d let myself down by getting such a low mark?  Oh no, I just decided that the kind of history they were teaching at uni was garbage and not worth learning about. Yes, I was arrogant. I put my nose in the air and enrolled in linguistics where I proceeded to write entire essays the night before they were due with absolutely no referencing or citation, claiming I’d just come up with the ideas myself and that was enough of a reference. Hmm. I must have been a bugger to teach!

The one last thing to say about this latest educational venture is about the way I’m going to tackle it. It’s a bit of a secret at the moment so I won’t go into details until it’s clearly set in stone, but suffice it to say, I’m excited. It’s going to be an adventure, especially as my family – Mr C, the Dude and the little girl joining us sometime towards the end of August – will be along for the ride, directly affected by everything I do. Specialisation, here I come!

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Author: curiosikat

Writer, editor, linguist, social historian...

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