Be a Specialist in Your Work and a Generalist in Your Leisure

Posted by Dave Allee on

This is advice that I believe most people need to hear—myself included.

Let’s tackle the work part first…

Many people pride themselves on being a Jack of all Trades at work. As an entrepreneur for the last 15 years I can relate to the need to wear a lot of hats.

During any given week I am:
- calculating margins in a spreadsheet
- filling out customs paperwork for an international shipment
- collaborating with Griffin on a new surfboard model idea
- writing a short article that our customers will find useful and inspiring
- drawing-up stock boards to fill the racks of the shop
- fixing an issue with our website
- pausing to talk to a customer in a way that makes them feel truly heard
- taking out the trash
- ...and making strategic decisions about where we should best invest our time & energy as a team.

But there will always be a ceiling for the Jack of all Trades.

Do you know who I call when I hit that ceiling? A specialist.

When an issue with the website is above my ability to fix, when I need new illustrations to keep our soft goods range looking fresh, when I need more advanced reports, when it comes time to actually shaping/glassing/sanding/polishing the surfboards, when we need proper photos taken, when I want to combine all the recent articles into a neat little guide book… I call a specialist.

Specialist have dedicated themselves to their craft and are paid accordingly. Typically, the more specialized the skill the more they can charge.

If you find yourself in a position where you are a Jack of all Trades in your work and you want to progress in your career, pick something to specialize in and master it. Better yet, pick a sub-specialty. The more specific your skillset, the more valuable your expertise.

The surest way to increase your earning potential is to specialize in a single skill and do that thing as well as anybody.


When it comes to leisure and recreation, I believe the exact opposite is true.

Do not become a specialist.

Specializing in a single pursuit narrows your view of the world. Recreation is meant to broaden your horizons and open you up to new experiences.

In 99% of cases, I think it’s better to be a curious, competent intermediate than it is to be a genuine expert when it comes to recreational pursuits.

Expert fishermen, surfers, duck hunters, and the like tend to become so obsessed with their craft that they narrow in on one way of doing things. There’s a right way and a wrong way—and if you don’t do it their way and use their equipment you’re doing it wrong.

The further you climb up the recreational pyramid the more clouded your vision becomes. Don’t fall into the trap. Remain an eager intermediate in as many disciplines as you find intriguing.

Much more interesting is the man—or woman—who is reasonably competent at surfing, wood-working, diving, bird-shooting, sailing, fish-gutting, open fire cooking, horseback riding, sand castle building, jerky making, canoeing, fly-tying, and reciting poetry than the fellow who only sets up his duck decoys the exact same pattern every season, only wears one brand of camouflage, and despises anybody who doesn’t see the overwhelming merit of a 16 gauge.

There is no practical benefit to being a specialist in your leisure. So dip your toes into anything and everything you think is interesting. Read from the experts, study those more experienced than you, and don’t expect success to come right away. Invest the time, commit to the process, and carry your experiences with you like an invisible merit badge. One of the great mysteries of life is that lessons from one area can color in some wisdom in a completely unrelated pursuit.

Try to be more interested than interesting. The most curious person at the party will always leave a more positive impression than the fellow who wants to convince everyone he meets that he is something special.

Be a specialist in your work and a generalist in your leisure. Good things will come in both arenas.

← Older Post Newer Post →