Why Being a Generalist Can Be a Strength

Recently, a friend shared an interview that is on YouTube that I haven’t been able to get out of my head.

Jacob Morgan interviewed David Epstein, the author of the book called Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. They discussed the topic of being a generalist versus a specialist.

It resonates with me because I’ve been lamenting my own feelings of being more of a generalist than a specialist throughout my career. In fact, I’ve been a little down about it recently.

I feel like I know about a lot of things and have experience doing many different things.

I started my career doing environmental work as a NEPA Compliance Specialist as a Department of Defense contractor. A few years into that, I felt like I needed to focus more on the private sector, more on business, so I got a sales job. You know, like every other person with no tangible business experience, no specialized business degree, who lives in a place where they don’t have an extensive local network. These were the days before LinkedIn. Before a time when geography was simply a ‘nice to have’ feature of your network.

I say ‘nice to have’ because I consider myself to have a pretty good network – it could be better – but it’s a good network. I’ve lived in Spokane, WA for four years, and I practically know no one here. That does need to change and is something I’m going to work on. I’ll double down on this once COVID is no longer a threat.

Sorry to digress, but I think that’s something notable to add since there will likely be more people working remotely after COVID. It’s also a reason my network here is so small—more on that in a future post.

Back to being a generalist.

After my first few stints in sales, I decided it wasn’t for me and went back to school to figure out what business area most appealed to me. I enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus.

I really liked the business law classes I took but knew pursuing a career in that would mean more school and more debt.

Then I took some marketing courses, and the sparks began to happen.

It would take me a while to really get my marketing career going. Still, with persistence and insatiable curiosity and a desire to learn and put in the time, it finally happened.

My journey into marketing was not a common one. I went from being a consultant with no experience and very little knowledge to becoming the Director of Marketing for a B2B company in Denver within a couple of years.

Imposter syndrome is something that I often feel. Because I never had a chance to work with other marketing professionals and learn from them, day after day, in a professional setting.

I feel like there are nuances and things I’m unaware of.

And maybe that’s what continues to fuel my fire to learn and stay curious.

I say all of this because 22 years after graduating from college, I’ve been in sales roles, account management roles, consulting, nearly 15 years in corporate and agency recruiting, and now over a decade in digital marketing. I know the math doesn’t add up, but I was getting marketing experience at the same time I was recruiting. I was side hustling before it was called a side hustle.

And it worked.

Now I find myself leading a marketing team and being pulled in to help recruit and hire when new roles open up. I’m currently recruiting for two sales roles, including sourcing, conducting phone interviews, and reference checks.

I’m also pulled into sales discussions and have provided coaching and shared my perspective and experience with some folks on our sales team.

I’ve become a project manager and spend part of my time each day in Asana.

I’m experienced in sales, HR, and marketing. That’s essentially the backbone of any business. Throw in project management and leadership, and it’s starting to become a pretty unique and diverse skillset.

This cross-functional experience provides me with a more in-depth perspective, not only of business but of ideas and ways to do things differently.

When you think about new products and services that come to market. Most of the time, they’re not new. They’re merely two things that already existed that are combined in a way that creates something ‘new.’

I feel like that’s what I’m able to bring every day. And that’s valuable.


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