The Career Tax of Not Conforming
We dive into: The 4 Archetypes of a Generalist, a framework for squiggly career progression, I'll then spin these into real-world examples of what a *delightful* generalist career flow could look like
And then... a pinch of spice 🌶️ I'll be busting the myth that generalists can't reach mastery
The Tax of Not Conforming: When Things are a Little Harder as a Generalist and What to Do About It
As a generalist, you may often find yourself feeling like the odd one out in a world that seems to favor a certain path. Deviating from the norm can result in additional work and extra steps to compensate for not being part of the dominant group. This burden is particularly prevalent in the generalist career path because most organizations are designed to support specialists.
💡 This tax manifests in several ways, including:
Having your resume passed over by recruiters - they are looking for specific experience in a domain and you may possess the underlying skills but not the job title.
Spending extra time explaining your choices - whether with friends, family, or colleagues, there is a need to explain what or why you do things frequently.
Honing your unique story - because you have a non-linear path, you must overlay the narrative and connect the dots for people.
Having fewer job options - although the opportunities for generalists are increasing, there are still far more specialist jobs available in the marketplace.
Struggling to establish credibility - because you don’t have a long history going deep in one domain, it can be difficult to gain credibility in a new role or company.
These are constant reminders that you are a little different, which can cause your brain to work harder, resulting in less capacity and energy for other pursuits. It can feel unfair, and you may find yourself needing to do things that other people don't. You can't assume that the default autopilot mode will work for you, which can make you feel like you're being annoying or have to raise your hand more often than others.
In my experience, two factors have been particularly influential in shaping my career trajectory: the need to effectively communicate my story and value proposition to others, and the importance of aligning myself with mentors and leaders who recognize my potential and can help me reach my goals. While these factors have not been overly restrictive, I have noticed their impact when navigating career transitions and seeking new opportunities.
It's important to remember that people aren't intentionally doing these things to you; they just have a different frame of reference and priorities.
🚗 Navigate the generalist career tax like a pro by following these tips:
Acknowledge the pattern and be prepared for it: Recognize that you may need to take extra steps and do additional work to make up for not being part of the dominant group. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for this reality.
Practice telling your story: You'll likely need to explain your choices frequently to friends, family, and colleagues. Take this opportunity to hone what you say about yourself. Know what matters to you and how to share it with others.
Be confident in your value: Understand that you have a unique skillset and perspective to offer. March to your own drum and surround yourself with people who support and encourage you.
Know your needs and articulate them: Be clear about what you need to be successful and communicate this to your leadership team. The better they understand your needs, the more value you can provide to the organization. Don’t be afraid to be the squeaky wheel.
Champion generalists: Take a proactive stance and become an advocate for generalists. Talk about the unique skillset and perspective this group brings to any organization. Cheering for others might even help you feel more confident on your generalist path.
Surround yourself with other generalists: Spending time with others who are living the same experience is truly valuable! I found my tribe in Generalist World and feel seen within a like-minded community.
The tax of not conforming is real, but as a generalist, you have the power to overcome it. Know your story, be ready to advocate for yourself and other generalists, and of course - find your tribe!
About the author: Kathryn Montbriand spent a decade championing culture change at a Fortune 500 company. She pioneered a first-of-its-kind team of ‘Culturists’ that focused on employee engagement and creating authentic connections in the workplace. She used that same spirit of positive disruption to create Montbriand Services which provides Fractional Chief of Staff support, and Lived and Loved which enables people to access their stories in an innovative way.