22 Aug 2023

The Esemplastic Generalist - Will change your perspective!

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

Your career has been non-traditional. You’ve had several roles that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, and your interests are both broad and deep.

After many years, you’ve finally found a community of like-minded people and a vocabulary to describe yourself. You are a proud generalist. Yet you still struggle to describe the special qualities you bring to an organization or a problem.

Generalists tend to be good with people. We often care more about improving our world than we do about specific disciplines. We make excellent problem solvers and, while we may give away a little depth to our specialist friends, we have broader range.

But there is another special quality we bring to the table— our esemplastic abilities.

Merriam-Webster defines esemplastic as “shaping or having the power to shape disparate things into a unified whole.” Generalists often have the unique ability to take concepts and information from many different disciplines and relate them to each other.

This is why we often have so many interests. It’s not that we are interested in more things than others, it’s that we don’t see them as different things

Note from Milly — this is the exact moment the penny dropped for me! 🤯

In our world of immense and ever-increasing knowledge, specialization has become necessary because no individual can have super-deep knowledge of so many different domains.

However, this can often lead to siloing of idea generation, stagnating creativity, and difficulty with problem-solving.

This is where we love to flex our generalist muscles and show the value we can provide to organizations and problem spaces.

🛣️ My own life has taken me on an unusual, sometimes frustrating, journey.

I started out thinking I might become a psychologist or rabbi because I was fascinated with how the mind works and how to harness its abilities for greater fulfillment and actualization of individuals and society as a whole.

Sometime in university, I changed my mind. Once I had graduated, I decided to turn my interests in psychology and exercise into a career as a physical therapist, but that too didn’t feel right after a year and half of school, at which point I decided to go to medical school.

Despite being a top student in medical school, I could not bring myself to be interested in a single organ or discipline enough to specialize, even though that’s where the money and prestige are in the U.S (where I live).

I even contemplated dropping out of medicine on several occasions because of its rigid structure.

I finally completed a family medicine training program—the most general training one can get as a physician. It took me a long time, but I now see the benefits of the esemplastic mind.

Early in my career, I worked at a clinic for the underserved. My interests and reading about psychology, evolution, and spirituality came in handy when trying to understand my patients’ struggles and behaviors.

I had more empathy and was able to discuss these things with them in a way I never would have if I had just stuck to science and medicine. Later, when I took a job as an executive at a digital health startup, these different interests allowed me to more easily learn from, and work with, people from disparate fields, like marketing, finance, and tech.

When it came to solving problems the company was facing, I didn’t just bring my medical background to the table. I was drawing from books, podcasts, conversations, and relationships that gave me a very broad view of problems. I needed my specialist friends’ expertise, but I often had the most unique ideas and point of view.

There are many things at which generalists tend to excel. We have broad experience and can bring great value to organizations. We can wear multiple hats when called for, and are especially good at those roles called for a broad range of skills.

Our esemplastic minds mean we see the world as a unified whole rather than discrete units that need to be fit together. It already all fits together in our heads. Let’s not forget this quality, and remember to tell others about it while we’re at it.

About the author:

Tzvi is a board-certified family physician, obesity physician, clinical lipidologist, and founder of Consonant Consulting. His interests include psychology, evolution, and spirituality.

Connect with him on LinkedIn or read more of his thoughts on Substack.

See you next week — Milly 👋🏾

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Our content is brought free to you, courtesy of the Generalist World community memberships.