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  • Writer's pictureKelly Adams

Building Range

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Person playing the guitar.

I don't know about you but growing up adults always emphasized the importance of specializing early. If you want to become a piano player you must start as early as possible and practice continually for years. The advice was early specialization gave you major advantages. They often used Tiger Woods, a majorly successful pro-golf player, as a prime example for this theory. I for one, have never been one to specialize, I had too many interests growing up and even now as I write this I have a multitude of hobbies including: fitness, web development, productivity, and photography, just to name a few. Even in high school I had a wide range of extracurriculars such as stage crew, volunteering at my local museum and web design.

I was truly and still am, the opposite of a specialist. And I've always felt shamed for that, adults would tell me "you should be focusing on extracurriculars that will get you into a good college" and now, "you should be focusing projects that launch on your career". In college it was all about joining clubs and extracurriculars specifically for your major. If you wanted to become a computer programmer you should only join clubs with other computer programmers and get a part time job in IT. While I don't think they were necessarily wrong I do believe we can all benefit from a bit of generalization.

In this article by Ransom from College Info Geek, "The T-Shaped Person: Building Deep Expertise AND a Wide Knowledge Base" he presents the idea of a T-shaped person. The basic definition is a person who has "deep knowledge/skills in one area and a broad base of general supporting knowledge/skills", illustrated by the diagram below.

They are a mix between someone with a large set of general knowledge but no specialization (a "dash" see Figure 1 below) and a person who is a specialist with no general knowledge (an "I" see Figure 2 below). He encourages individuals to build a range of knowledge and skills.

On a similar note, In the his book Range, David Epstein, dives into the topic of the benefits of having range or what he means as breadth, diverse experience, and interdisciplinary thinking in your life. He says that modern work demands knowledge transfer or the "ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains". Individuals with a broad sense of knowledge are generally better problem solvers. Professionals who remain deliberate amateurs in many fields and have a wide variety of hobbies and interests are incredibly useful because: the can move easily among different teams; and cross organizational and disciplinary boundaries and create new collaborations.

Both of the sources have encouraged me to build a "range" of skills and hobbies. Instead of trying to focus my attention on one "type" of hobby or skill, it in a way gave me "permission" to pursue any interest because not only is it enjoyable for me but it can actually benefit me in my life. As of right now I have about 5 different hobbies and I'm loving every minute of it.

I am evening applying this idea of range to my physical fitness. Instead of focusing on one type of fitness style like barbell training. I also do calisthenics, martial arts and free weight training.

But I don't want you to think of hobbies as trading cards and that you "need to collect them all". If there's a hobby out there that you're interested in, I encourage you to do it. Even if it doesn't seem "productive" or "useful". Hobbies have more benefits that just helping you with your career. They improve your mental health and you can find a new community to join.

For hobbies the important thing is to do it because you enjoy it. Work on your photography skills if that's what interests you or learn to play the piano! Do it because it's fun not because I or anyone else tells you to.

If you need advice on how to pick a hobby I suggest listening to this podcast episode, "You Need A Hobby. Here's How To Find One" by NPR's Life Kit. The episode goes into more detail about how to pick with a hobby and get started. Listen here on Spotify.

For skills, I try to make sure I'm learning at least one useful skill such as cooking or learning how to take care of my car. I encourage you to learn what you want, but remember to include useful skills in there. Maybe you have 2-4 hobbies that are just for fun but you should be dedicating at least some time towards learning a useful skills either in life like, personal finance or cooking, or you can learn a specific skill that will help you in your career (e.g. a computer programmer learning a new programming language).

Right now as a few of my hobbies are: volunteering at my local animal shelter, learning photography and running a book club with my friends. But I am learning one useful skill in life: cooking and one in my career: SQL (I'm hoping to become a data analyst). This may seem like a lot, and it can be for some people, not everyone needs to be doing 10 different things at once. But I think most people would benefit from one hobby and learning one useful/career related skill at a time.

See you next week!


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