We all want a higher paycheck. And today, one of the best ways is to specialize, which is a fancy way of saying that you become an insufferable know-it-all in one very narrow and specific thing, like the mating habits of sea lions in Ecuador’s southern beaches and its effects on the local ecosystem.
In a way, specialization makes sense in a career. Becoming a specialist in a desired field marks you as an expert that can be trusted as a resource. Along with that trust also comes that much-desired higher paycheck.
That’s the good thing. But there’s an inherent danger to becoming specialists in our lives.
Better than boring
Bob is an accountant. He knows all about balance sheets and inventory turns and knows all about bonds and can even calculate an amortization schedule in his sleep.
Bob is also super-specialized in his sub-field of managerial accounting and uses his sharp skills to prepare forecasts for corporate so that they can make decisions based off of his reports.
Want to go on a date with him? Want to be his friend? Want to sit next to him on your next transatlantic flight?
Bob is all of that, and does love his job. But he’s read up on his US politics and knows a bit about the major international news stories. He has a varied taste in music and even knows a little bit about how music is made.
He likes to cook and know some of the terminology of the kitchen, though he does mess up every now and then. Bob’s been to a few parts of the world and traded stories with people he’s met.
Does he sound more interesting?
That’s what I thought.
That’s the danger of specialization. If our friends are reflections of who we are and where we’re generally going, sticking with the same group or with a group of similar people will yield similar results: someone who can talk for hours on end about one topic but be completely useless about something else. In a way that’s fine, but anyone who does that risks losing so many human connections and opportunities to grow because of it.
As an accountant, Bob already knew this. The only way to make yourself more robust in conversation is to expose yourself to different ideas, topics, and opinions. That includes challenging your beliefs and stepping out of your comfort zone. There’s no way around it.
As a species, we seek the comfort of the same without realizing the stagnation that’s associated with too much of it. Yes, comfort brings with it relaxation, but without enough discomfort growth will forever be retarded.
So what can do?
Cultivate. Our groups of friends are gardens from where we reap the fruits of habits, beliefs, and personality. Starting from the moment this tab disappears we need to be aware of the people and personalities we let into our lives. If they’re too homogeneous then we need to take action.
All around our cities, there are group that meet to explore different interests or are of different cultural groups or fields. I promise you: letting difference into your life will make you a more interesting person who can hold an intelligent conversation with many more people for much longer.
It worked on Bob. It can work on you.
Feature photo by Oscar Keys. Do you like what I write? Follow my 140 character rants on Twitter