Generalization or Specialization? How to Determine your Professional Path

Person holding smartphone. Laptop in front of them.

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“Jack of all trades, master of none.” This phrase’s meaning has shifted since its origination in the late 16th century. During that time period it was virtually an insult, whereas today we admire people who can do almost anything. However, the question arises: should I learn as many skills as I can or should I excel at just a couple of activities? For athletes there is no question, they must be good at the sport they play, not all sports. However, for the PR professional things can be murky.

I personally came from the ‘learn everything you can’ school. This was somewhat by accident but it ended up working in my favor. I had friends who focused specifically on one or two major skills and that worked in their favor too.

Here are two things to consider when trying deciding on your professional path:

Workplace

If you were interested in working for a smaller organization, like a nonprofit or government organization, it would benefit you greatly to be adaptable and flexible. These types of companies usually have smaller budgets and therefore rely on a smaller staff that all do multiple things. Having worked at both a government agency and a nonprofit, I would not have been able to do either job if I wasn’t at least proficient in multiple areas. They did not expect me to be a Photoshop master or an award-winning social media producer, but being able to understand these things and at learning on the job was critical.

Many people probably have dreams of working for large Fortune 500 corporations — we all know Google has great perks — but these large companies have strict standards. If you aspire to be a junior graphic designer or videographer for a company like this — go ahead and focus on one or two skills or programs. You’ll need to build the best portfolio you can in your area of choice.

Burnout

Somewhere I once heard ‘If you’re trying to learn a lot of things, remember there are a lot of things to learn.’ Burnout can come from both professional paths. If you want to be the jack of trades, it can be tiring always having to learn something new, or never feeling like you can truly master the programs you’re working with. On the flip side, doing the same thing day in and day out may be boring to you as well. There is no guarantee that where you start in your career is where you’ll end up, but you should be happy where you end up.

Ultimately, you have to decide what path you want to take. No amount of web articles, guidance from professors, or Q&As can tell you exactly what to do. Hard work and concentration are the prerequisites of success, no matter if someone has many talents or just one. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of the creative effort.”


Landis TindellLandis Tindell is currently the communications coordinator for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. He currently serves PRSA as the new pros membership chair, as the Southwest District treasurer, and as the Oklahoma City Chapter professional development day chair. Landis was a PRSSA member at Harding University (Searcy, AR) and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at Texas Tech University. In 2019, Landis was named a Rising Star by PRNEWS 30 Under 30.

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