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Be a master at one thing, or be highly capable of many things, but never excel?

I was thinking more along the lines of one area or subject. Examples could be sports, education, arts, etc.

Feel free to share any ideas. Interested in hearing your thoughts and opinions.

Thank you :)

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    Jul 16 2012: When it comes to the decisions we make, I think it is useful to consider the options that actually face us. I think the option of developing competency in a number of areas along with mastery of one or two is a goal many can attain. This approach also facilitates interdisciplinary work and interdisciplinary understanding, which are fundamental in the solution of problems which do not fall along specific disciplinary lines.
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    Jul 29 2012: Change your frame of reference. The person who has a wide variety of skills - but not the "master" at any one of them is, however, in a position to be a master facilitator between others. To coordinate projects that require many specific experts, to translate between groups, and so on. A CEO needs to understand some IT, for instance, and some organizational psychology so he can understand and coordinate the people under him who know a ton of psych but no IT and vice-versa. Ship's captain. President. Peacemaker. etc.
  • Jul 16 2012: It seems right to me to suggest doing one thing well! Probably most of us know people who try to do too much and don't do anything well. Maybe this topic is very subjective in nature--depending on the person!! Maybe doing one thing includes many tasks, but management of it all well, giving one's full attention, is the one thing well done.

    What is the basis for your question? Could there be truth in saying doing one thing well results in greater benefits to society? Is it true that if a person cannot do anything well because he is too busy trying to do too much that such persons do not help people? Is such a person foolish?

    Could there be benefit in being talented at doing many things?

    Sometimes I thinketh we humans thinketh too much!

    • Jul 17 2012: The question arose from a discussion my boyfriend and I had about majors and careers. He believes that it is important to stick to one thing or major so that you can put your all into that area or else, just like you said, one may try to do too much and not do anything well. Whereas I found that to be questionable because if you chose something for the sake of choosing, you may end up putting your all into one thing and miss opportunities that could have better suited you. It's all circumstantial of course, which is why I find this to be a difficult question to answer!
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      Jul 17 2012: Mark and Daniella,
      I love that Mark..."sometimes I thinketh we humans thinketh too much!" true!!!

      I agree Mark that this topic is very subjective and depends on the person. You help cleaify your question with your comment above Daniella.

      I think/feel one thing that is helpful is how we define "excel" and "master" as individuals. I don't feel that I am a "master" of anything, and I DO feel that I have excelled at many things in the life experience.

      I agree with your boyfriend Daniella, in that it is important to put energy wholeheartedly into our experiences. That being said, we have a lifetime to pursue a number of various activities, careers, and experiences.

      For me, there have been priorities throughout my life. One thing or another takes center stage. When I first had babies, being a mother was a priority. I owned and managed businesses from my home and played sports, but the kids were the focus, and my life revolved around the family.

      As they grew older, I pursued a career that took me further from the home. I was obviously still a mother, and very much engaged in that, and as the kids grew, they didn't need my physical presence as much, so I had time to pursue other things.

      At the same time, my interest in sports was increasing, and I got to the point of participating in a couple different sports competitively.

      Over the years, my interests have changed, time committments changed, careers have changed, physical abilities changed, and I've had a very full life (in my perception) excelling in several activities and master of none. I believe that what we focus on at any given time is the important piece of the puzzle. I have followed my heart, and used the logical mind to determine how to achieve certain goals. Never, have I chosen something "simply for the sake of choosing". Once something is chosen, however, it has my priority for a certain amount of time, and there is no looking back for missed opportunities.
      • Jul 18 2012: Colleen you seem like a very well-rounded person and I enjoyed your response.

        I do agree with my boyfriend as well, however I feel that there are people, students in particular, who are pressured into finding their niche or major right away. This is where I derived choosing something for the sake of choosing.

        I suppose, though, that this situation could be comparable to marriage. You chose a person you are passionate about and try to work things out for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, etc.

        Maybe it is a matter of knowing when to keep putting your energy into something because you know it can work out, or realizing that it's not going to work the way you had imagined and move on. I know he also believes in marriage to be something eternal and if it doesn't work out, you never give up. There is always the possibility your partner may need a few years to get out of some phase or funk they are in. This is why I'd like to compare the two because I find myself in agreement with him more and more, yet at the same time I can understand, for example, why divorces exist.

        "I believe that what we focus on at any given time is the important piece of the puzzle." I love this and I agree with you 100%!
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          Jul 19 2012: Hi Daniella:>)
          Thank's for your kind words. I do indeed feel "rounded" and "grounded" as I navigate the life adventure:>)

          I agree that unfortunately, there are people who are pressured to take certain paths. It's important for all of us not to feel pressured in ourselves, or contribute to the feelings of pressure by others. We are all on different life paths, and part of the enjoyment for me in the life adventure, is recognizing that we ARE ALL DIFFERENT, with different thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs and opinions.

          My daughter and I used to have this conversation when she was a teen. She was interested and participated in almost everything....intellectual pursuits, music, drama, art, sports, etc. She had 3 very special friends in high was an accomplished musician (not interested in sports at all...prefered to spend time playing/studying music), one an accomplished writer/scholar (passionate about writing and studying the writings of sports or music) and one an accomplished athlete (all she wanted to do was play sports...not interested in music or intellectual pursuits). My daughter was close to the top of her class (the intellectual friend was at THE top) played several sports, played 3 instruments, was involved in drama, chorus, various other interests, and had a job.

          Sometimes, she expressed the feeling that she was "speading herself too thin", and perhaps she "should" focus on one or two things. I always told her to follow her heart...pursue whatever she felt like focused with what you are doing in the moment, and don't do more than you think/feel you are comfortable with.

          All 4 of these girls (now in their 40s) are accomplished young women... still very good friends. One important thing they have in common, is that they all followed their heart...pursued what they were passionate about...continue to live life with integrity, curiosity and love....that's what it's all my humble perception:>)
  • Jul 16 2012: I think that I would be the master of one thing. I mean, if you're THE master, you have all of that time to go around learning NEW things and to try them out. I think that I would make myself the master of playing Bass.
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    Jul 19 2012: No one will pay you to teach mediocrity... Well actually... They will. But, it's a problem.

    Mastery of anything, is a guarantee that when the next generation comes along, you have something worth while to teach them.
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    Jul 17 2012: I think it depends on the economic climate at the time, allied to your own interests and natural talents.

    In times of instability and change, it is better to be more of a generalist - enabling a grasp of the workings of specialisms within the bigger context. It is the knowledge of the bigger context that will facilitate lasting change - not specialisms on their own.

    When things are stable economically, it is ok to specialise. It seems less crucial to have generalist knowledge, because we would then know that the broad context is healthy.

    To give an analogy in ecology - if one (or many) species are in danger of extinction, we know that something is going wrong somewhere. To benefit that species, one does not only study and try to conserve the species alone. It is necessary to study and conserve the entire ecosystem in which that species lives. This favours lasting change for the whole ecosystem, rather than the temporary and unrealistic change for a single species.
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    Jul 17 2012: You can master anything you are determined to master. The question is why master it?
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    Jul 17 2012: i heard it from many of my friends and even people saying its good to be a master in one rather trying hands on every other thing.
    my mind keeps on vacillating inorder to decide one out of two.
    i feel its good to know couple of things in life because we cant say when the knowledge of a particular thing would be helpful,but at the same time,if you want to be successful in a particular area,you need to be the master in it.
    'Master in one which you are most interested in.'
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    Jul 17 2012: Why not master two things?
    • Jul 18 2012: In reality I would encourage people to master as many things as they can handle! But just for fun and discussion, if you had no other choice, which of the two would you chose?
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        Jul 18 2012: You can't simply master everything, and everyone isn't the same; some may never be able to master something, so what, plenty more things than where that comes from. Never give up on a passion though, even if you are terrible, like me and snowboarding.

        A lot of thoughts when suggesting being a master:
        + It takes 'time' more than anything else to be a master; practice and education.
        + Most important, as in everything else, desire!
        + A lot of factors go into being a master of any single subject, skill, ability, talent, etc.
        ++The biggest being the communities that would create the criteria of a 'master.'
        ++ Each type/group of community has their own culture.
        + Personally, I find that 'master' is the ability to re-master the terms of mastery. Reconfiguring and reassembling given data, style, thoughts, aesthetics, hypothesis, etc. and expanding, create new systems or thoughts to build on..
        +Being a master is no small feet, is all I am saying! Unless it is a self proclaimed master status, lol.

        If the question was if having basic knowledge in all categories - tense, that I can put my mind to.

        But, even as far as specializing - we shouldn't aim for one or all. We should aim to combine, work with and/or practice two, or even three.

        We are a generation of enhancers, re-innovators, and creative pioneers. There are plenty of sub- and sub-sub-fields/arts that involve the categories in which mastery or specialization (things). Need to inspire to create more of them and do our generational duties! lol I mean, to be an originator today is to reanimate older ideas, I would argue! The philosophy of video games, geometry of cognition.

        Random notes:

        + In college, if someone is a liberal arts student, you should be dual majoring or double minoring. Approach different fields, differently.

        + Also, the attempt to master something may be very euphoric in life.

        + Originality isn't usually original.

        My two only fields? Cog. psychology and humanities - both pretty broad field
  • Jul 16 2012: I agree. Develop at least one skill to a very high level, but learn many others too.
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    Jul 16 2012: I would spend time finding out what area pays well and mostly what you r purpose is.

    I would also note that knowledge is not just book learning the application is where rubber meets the road and in my opinion is infinitely more important as application is the acid test of finding out if you know it or you don't.

    There is also the idea of having to do something for 10,000 hours before you become really good at it. In this video (I recommend it for you) the one salient point is that quantity trumps quality every single time.
    • Jul 17 2012: The video was great! Especially in response to this question. It reminds me of my high school years actually. I never thought of myself as a "math person" or having a "math mind", so I never really put in the effort to go forward and ended up doing the bare minimum. Now that I am in college, rather than have the mentality that I am incapable, I put in the true effort and time it takes to understand concepts (youtube has helped me immensely). I believe patience plays a key role in that. I think knowing that there is struggle in learning and with time comes understanding, is really empowering. I only wish I put in those hours in during high school!
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    Jul 16 2012: To master one thing is excelling in my book. I am content to allow others to use their strengths and I will use mine where I can. How does one define success?
    • Jul 17 2012: I think my grammar may have been a bit confusing. What I meant was: being a master at one thing vs. being highly capable, but never excelling.

      The definition of success!
      One word that comes to mind: achievement
      Another word: complex :)