When you need to learn more about a specific subject, or get advice about a narrow application of tools or processes, chances are you’ll need a specialist’s opinion – no matter what industry or field of study is involved. There are potentially infinite ways in which any person could train and develop their expertise to become truly specialized in what they do. The benefits may prove invaluable; in order to address the underlying causes of neuropathy, for instance, you’d want to consult at a pain treatment center with the only board-certified neurologist in Tulsa. But just like businesses don’t always manage to secure a niche market, many people don’t take the necessary steps towards specialization. Here are three things to know about becoming more specialized in any endeavor.
Implications of specialization
Becoming a specialist in any field is always going to take some combination of time and focused effort. And the return on investment is often quite obvious; generally, specialists get to command higher rates for having expertise which is less common in the field. Employers and clients also tend to trust a specialist more than a ‘jack of all trades’. On the flip side, specializing can disengage you from other aspects of your profession; some skills can atrophy in a way, and you could feel a sense of boredom in fields where the pace of change is slower. In some professions, specializing carries the risk of external developments rendering your skillset obsolete – programming, for instance, has seen many developers scrambling to learn Swift after Apple’s 2014 announcement that it wanted to move away from Objective-C in the future.
The essential characteristics
Even if specialization sounds like a good thing to you, there are other aspects to consider before making such a commitment. The 10,000 hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell may be imprecise, but illustrates the picture sufficiently; it will take away a significant chunk of time which many people would otherwise spend with their families, social activities, or unwinding with leisure pursuits. Being determined and truly interested in pursuing an in-depth exploration of your field helps; so does a genuine enjoyment of working with like-minded experts. If you don’t thrive in such situations, or would prefer not to make this huge commitment, then specialization may not be the best path to pursue.
When does it matter?
It’s already been mentioned that specialization can yield a high RoI yet also risk becoming irrelevant if new innovations disrupt your field; your mileage may vary in this regard, and weighing your career outlook based on industry volatility should play a part in the decision to specialize or maintain a broad focus. As for job satisfaction and fulfilment, that’s largely a matter of individual preference; both a neurosurgeon and a GP are likely to find meaning in their ability to save lives and improve their patients’ quality of living. Specialization matters when it aligns with your personal interests and competencies. If you like to be on the cutting edge of business research, or help in managing high-risk scenarios where ordinary practices don’t apply, then a career as an actuary will let you apply your skills and make a difference.
Even though you’ll often encounter situations where people absolutely need a specialist, pursuing such a path isn’t easy; neither does it guarantee success or fulfilment. As with any career decision, make a careful evaluation based on your strengths and preferences as well as the opportunities within your industry, to find out if becoming specialized makes perfect sense for you.