There's a common misconception that artists have a monopoly on creativity...But the very act of making waves - no matter the career - is a creative one. The Chase Jarvis Live Show is an exploration of creativity, self-discovery, entrepreneurship, hard-earned lessons, and so much more. Chase sits down with the world's top creators, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders and unpacks actionable, valuable insights to help you live your dreams in career, hobby, and life.
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In our conversation, we dive deep into Chris’ career path, and the wayward journey he’s been on. After nearly 20 years as a professional photographer, he feels like he’s finally hitting his stride. That might sound odd considering his work has been seen by millions, but the truth is there’s rarely a straight line to our career growth.
Of course, a long-running debates in career development is whether specialists or a generalists have a higher career trajectory. I know often, I’m asked if creators need to find a niche or if they can pursue a combination of their passions.
There is no clear-cut answer. There are areas where specialists thrive more than generalists and vice versa. That’s one of the reasons employers hire both.
“Being a specialist is incredibly valuable,” Chris writes in his new book, Wayward: Stories and Photographs.
However, being a specialist doesn’t disqualify expanding one’s craft into different avenues. Consider what hiring managers need and are looking for.
Be a specialist in your subject and your desire
When working with clients and hiring managers, you want to show that you’re knowledgeable about the industry you’re working in and the job you’re considering. You can’t tell an employer that you’re a talented generalist who quickly learns how to do a specific, technical task. Very few people will send you on an assignment that you haven’t first demonstrated you have some level of mastery over.
Go deep and immerse yourself. You’re hired by clients, brands, or whoever because you’re the best at what you do.
“The one piece of advice I give everybody starting out is: Go deep and immerse yourself,” says Chris. “You’re hired by clients, brands, or whoever because you’re the best at what you do.”
Remember, specialists are often hard to replace and better paid because they’re able to perform challenging tasks and solve high-level problems using their deep technical knowledge and specific skills.
Because of their vast experience using their core competency, specialists can also streamline their workflows and do their jobs more efficiently. This leads to higher productivity and fewer errors.
Another reason why it’s very valuable to be a specialist is that you can focus on your area of expertise and thus come up with more creative ideas. Also, you can hone your intuition as a result of being immersed in that world. The power of intuition cannot be underestimated.
The last reason specialists thrive: they become trusted experts and leaders in their industry.
Be a generalist in your skills and approach
Chris continues, “that doesn’t mean I can’t expand my craft or understanding of other things. It just means the way I do it is go all in. If I’m going to study aerial photography, I’m going to spend years doing it prior to even putting out a portfolio where I can claim I can do it”
Gaining technical experience and mastery in your specific role, you can still learn broader skills that will help you advance in your career, especially if you aspire to a leadership position.
For example, your ability to communicate well with people, lead a team, plan and manage budgets, train new employees, and forecast or model scenarios.
This doesn’t mean you’re a jack of all trades and master of none. It means expanding your horizons and equipping yourself with new tools that will help you do your job much more efficiently while growing as a person.
Such an attitude will help you lead a fulfilling personal and professional life. It’ll also allow you to help others when needed.
While your desire being specific to the role at hand is important, but you don’t want to come across as inflexible or narrow-minded.
Instead, show that you’re flexible and through a variety of tools and draw on your (seemingly weird and random) experience to get the job done.
It all comes down to who you are
“Generalizing specialist” is a term some experts use to describe people who have a core competency but are eager to gain a working knowledge of other relevant areas. In other words, they have a deep area of expertise and some shallow ones.
While this may sound ideal, the truth is that specialization can be more of a prison than a blessing for some people. There are people who are naturally curious and don’t want to be pigeonholed. They want to try their hand at as many professions as possible.
Chris Burkard tries to shed the pronouns, and really just considers himself a storyteller. “I don’t make money from my camera every month.” Whether he is speaking, being a brand ambassador or helping direct a film, those are completely different skills.