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Master of None: Finding Value in Being a Multi-specialist

Two days ago, I was having a conversation about education and becoming a multi-specialist. Simultaneously, our founder wrote two blogs directly related to my conversations: [book review] Japan's education is not bad & Do what you love and love what you do! [vision] Ikigai framework, do not focus only your love!. Perhaps he was eavesdropping from afar or vice versa. Either way, I’d like to continue the conversation from the Ikigai Framework.

I grew up knowing that you can never have too many hobbies or interests. I did horse-riding, percussion, swimming, guitar, Aikido, and Capoeira by the age of 9. Looking back, I am very well aware that I am privileged enough to be able to do all this. But more importantly, I am grateful to be taught to not be afraid of starting new things.

I enjoy learning multiple things at once. I simply learn something I’m immediately interested in. With so many things offered in life, why enjoy just one thing? I realized not everyone was taught this way.

Reaching the end of High School, we were reminded on the daily that we will have to decide on a major, also known as a door that leads to a specific inescapable vortex. Okay maybe not everyone says it that dramatically, but at least a lot of us were convinced that the major we choose will be our career.

Especially in Indonesia, I had very few friends who had the liberty to choose their own majors. It is a stereotype that Asian parents want you to become doctors and I think it’s still mostly true. Because of this, everyone believed that they should pursue a medical degree to be a doctor, or economy to get a high-paying, law to be a lawyer, etc.

This does not only make people think in a linear life path but may also make people feel intimidated in doing something new. Because there is this idea that it takes time and effort to be someone, which doesn’t only apply to the world of academia. In high school, we often had guest speakers to share about their careers. Experts in this or that would say, I’ve spent xx years studying doing this. I tried bouldering a few years ago and I caught myself asking a climber next to me “how long have you been doing this?”. Perhaps I wanted a justification why he was so good. So, I do think people get discouraged from trying something new because they cannot imagine the time commitment.

Apart from time, I think there is an added pressure when tying things that you like to the word “professional”. Tak covered in his blog:

“At any rate, when you do art or sport on a professional level, it seems that you can no longer enjoy the activity itself. I suppose it's a similar thing with learning. Studying a new discipline is just as hard as studying professionally, so Japanese children do not enjoy it.”

This conversation could go in many directions. What I want to point out is that sometimes by using the word “professional” one may feel forever incompetent, have the impostor syndrome, or lose motivation to move forward.

And so, the Ikigai framework ties this loose end very nicely, but I feel that there is still a missing puzzle piece. Now there’s another struggle if you have not discovered any of these – mission, passion, profession, or vocation.

How do you even approach discovering them? What exact steps can you take? I might know a book that has the answers. Currently, I am also reading this book called Designing Your Life, recommended by a dear friend.

There is a lot to this book, but I will focus on chapter 3 - Wayfinding. Here, I was exploring all the activities I did and evaluated the engagement and energy levels. This exercise helps you identify things that actually get you into the flow or give you high energy. Then you take a closer look and reflect even deeper. Here’s a snippet of my list:

This is my version; you can format this however you want. Ideally handwritten, but I had many things on my list. Anyway, to understand this, engagement is how “present” you are and the star in my table indicates that I was in the “flow” state (being in the zone). However, high engagement does not equate to high energy. For example, I was really in the zone when teaching, but I still ended up with low energy.

Lemon Rosemary Cake

I learned several things about myself: I noticed that creative activities gave me high energy, while activities involving deadlines gave me low energy. As an action point, I can try to focus more on remaining calm when I have big deadlines. I also noticed that my weeks were stressful if I didn’t do enough of these creative tasks – dance, playing instruments. In those weeks, I don’t have the mood to do most things. So, despite loving my job, sometimes I do get tired. With this list, I basically discovered how to really balance my energy levels by making sure I do various activities throughout the week.

To connect back to the Ikigai framework, I think I learned that for my case, I don’t need to have an all-inclusive thing/career that captures everything. Of course, I am not suggesting everyone be the “jack of all trades” person, neither am I suggesting that specialists have no value (I will continue this discussion in pt 2). But if you struggle in finding your “niche” or purpose, I think exploration is the way to go. Once you’ve explored enough (and reflected), you may find ways to fill all these four things in the Ikigai framework without overthinking about your path.

Thank you for reading, I will be sure to post more blogs once I’ve gone through each chapter. Hopefully, you find value in exploring or appreciating that one thing you really like doing.

See you next week!

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