20 Oct

Generalist or Specialist?

Not long ago, I saw an interview with Range author David Epstein. He researched successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors and scientists. He discovered that in complex and unpredictable arenas, generalists, not specialists, tend to excel. Generalists usually juggle multiple interests, rather than focusing, and often find their paths later in life. They are also likely to be creative and mentally agile, making connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

It turns out that trying, failing, trying something different, quitting, and trying again is the best way to learn. Epstein says people who quit frequently often feel most fulfilled. He argues that people who think more broadly and pursue diverse experiences will be even more valuable as computers and artificial intelligence develop expert skills in specific areas.

I loved this concept, as my career path has been indirect, to put it mildly. On good days, I say “Renaissance Woman.” Insurance executive, management consultant, theater executive director, adjunct professor, museum marketing manager .. and that’s before we count cocktail waitress, house cleaner, beach guard and grocery cashier. Basically, I bore easily, do not tolerate fools well, and have therefore changed direction frequently. The one constant has been art in various forms, and the last 20 years have been all about pastel.

The vibrant colors and immediacy of pastel painting appeal, along with the forgiving nature when I (frequently) make mistakes as I find my way through a painting. Try, fail, and learn, as Epstein said. As I did in this painting of Mont St. Michel, when I struggled to convey the long, forbidding approach over salt marshes that enhances the ominous feeling of the isolated citadel. The finished painting is on view at Coastal Arts Studio at the Velvet Mill, in Stonington, CT.



  1. And that, the boredom, being tired of the same old, wanting more & different – is why I retired. Aside from the stresses of COVID & life, there is so much more to do. Every day is a learning experience – something unknown about myself, something new about others. Truly a gift.

  2. OMG – I so see myself in this post!!! The timing is perfect as I was just ruminating about quitting a certain something right now and feeling really bad about it. After reading your post – – – – not so much!!!

  3. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

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