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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Can a Dilettante Be Successful?

It's school vacation in our state, so I don't have time for a long blog post. I'm too busy visiting family and reopening psychic wounds to post anything long. On the plus side, perhaps there will be fodder for future posts to excavate from the effects.

But I am thinking about this. A friend of mine, who is decidedly successful professionally--you can tell because now she is a consultant--mentioned that she often feels dissatisfied with herself. She said she finds that she's always thinking about her weaknesses, so that she can improve those areas, and balance out her skills.  Whereas men she knows, entrepreneurs and professionals, don't worry about areas they might be weak in; they focus on what they're good at and interested in, and keep on building on it.

I don't know about you, but I related to that. I might decide I don't know much about, say, philosophy, so I'll start trying to brush up on that topic. Which is of course, a lifetime's work. Doomed to incompletion. Adding to my resume as a generalist.

I see it in my daughter, the 8th grader, too. A young girl who has many natural gifts, to whom academics come so easily, that she could just climb on them and go sky-high. But what is her passion? Ballet. Something she actually struggles to do. Something that can make her feel discouraged about herself. An area in which she puts herself second (or third, or twelfth) behind other girls her age.

I watch her bring herself down over that and I want to point out to her how far she could go just building on her natural gifts. Why not spend her 10,000 hours on those? Why take the time to build up an area that is not easy?

I ask you, my dozens of readers, does this have fallout for women and how successful they can be?


  1. To specialize or generalize, that is the question. I'll set aside the gender factor for now, because it is a variable that deserves its own treatment.

    From spending 20 years specializing in written communication, specifically ghostwriting speeches, I've learned that one can easily be replaced. Maybe it's the skill, not the fact of specialization, that killed off my career before retirement. Everybody thinks anybody can write, except those of us who do. I suppose if I'd been gifted in the science field and spent two decades building on it, it would've turned out quite differently.

    Still, I've read enough hollow-inside life stories to know that if you don't pursue what you already know to be your passion, in 20 years, maybe fewer, regret will be your constant companion. Success might be there as well, but only as perceived by others.

    1. Good points, Scrollwork. There is a risk with specialization. You can be rendered obsolete. On the other hand, playing to your strengths seems like it would get you "farther" in life than always shoring up your weaknesses and never really developing that area of native strength.

      I'm not sure where I fall on this question. I think life is more interesting when you're a generalist, because you've always got new ideas to work with. But you're spending your 10,000 hours of practice on several things, not just one.

  2. A wise person once told me, "Your talents are a gift, don't waste them." Women, in particular, seem to view what they are good at as "no big deal," but someone else's talents -- ah, they are really valuable. We do need to learn to respect what we are good at and not undervalue those special attributes at the expense of what others excel at.

    1. I hear it all the time from my female friends--those self-deprecating comments about their talents. I do it, too. It's a hard habit to break.