I recently wrote a post on a similar topic, but your comments on it and further reflection have motivated me to write this second one.
Many people find it fun to be a jack of all trades a master of none. I'm certainly guilty of that: I've enjoyed being a pianist, medical researcher, teacher, school psychologist, professor, rose hybridizer, college counselor, career counselor, actor, director, and writer of everything from columns to plays to movies to proposals for reinventing education. Currently, my learning time is divided among career counseling, men's issues, increasing higher education's accountability, playwriting, theatre management, the life well-led, libertarianism, futurism, life extension, and encouraging an honest national conversation about race.It's particularly tempting for intelligent people to dabble widely because they usually can progress from neophyte to good quickly. Alas, it typically takes a lot longer to go from good to great. And as Malcolm Gladwell reported in his book, Outliers, most significant accomplishers went deep for decades. I doubt that the person who will cure cancer will have dabbled at it.
And intelligent people can't rationalize, "Aww, even if I stayed at it for 50 years, I'm not smart enough to accomplish much." Intelligent people could.
So should we force ourselves to take the time to become a real expert at something? Answering that first requires us to address this core question: To live the life well-led,where should we strive to be on the continuum between hedonism and productivity/altruism?
Can we take the easy route and simply say it's a matter of personal choice? I don't think so. If everyone just pursued hedonism, most time would be spent eating, having sex, watching movies, hiking, etc. Soon, there'd be little food, health care, etc. Our sewers would never get repaired. In contrast, if everyone spent maximum time on productivity, we'd have more medical discoveries, better, less-expensive food, etc.
So I invite you (and me too) to take a look at the content areas in which you have some expertise. Is there one into which you feel you should go deeper? It doesn't have to be monumental--you could decide to become the go-to person on pricing widgets. After all, if you price a widget right, more people will buy it and hence benefit from it while ensuring that the widget company's employees have jobs.
Who knows? You may find that going deep gets you passionate about the field, even if it's mundane. I know people who, having become expert at some thing, became passionate about such prosaic products as accordion doors and tractor dashboards. It feels good to become an expert on something, almost no matter what it is. And going deep is likely to abet your career. Except at the very top of a field (for example, CEO), society rewards specialists, not generalists.
Of course, there's a downside of going deep: excessive narrowness. For example, we all know technical experts who are locked into lower-level jobs because they lack the leadership skills and organizational savvy to move up. Also, many such geeks lack the interpersonal skills to be good friends, lovers, and parents. But it seems wiser to start by becoming an expert in something and then learning those other skills than to start by dabbling in them all.
Candidly, I don't think I have the discipline to forgo my continuing dilettantism in favor of going deeper into one thing, worthy though that might be. For example, I believe I could make a bigger contribution by becoming truly expert in the career coaching of physicians, a niche of mine. But how about you, dear reader? Is there something into which you want to go deeper?