Should you be broadening your skillset, or doing one thing well in particular?
When I was in school, I was always preached to about how I needed to make myself as marketable as possible. I was forced to take a variety of courses, gain experience on all kinds of projects, and spend time in ways that I may not have necessarily considered ideal. I was told that this would put my work in demand; it would keep me competitive in the workforce and give me the edge over my peers. And, “with the poor economy,” I needed to do everything I could to make sure my resume was at the top of the pile.
It all made sense to me, so I took the advice. Every few weeks, I was doing something different: coding a website, designing a postcard, editing a video, recording music. My resume began to fill itself to the point where I had trouble choosing what to fit on that one page. I became the guy that everyone would come to with questions. And for a while, it felt pretty good.
The problem with this is that staying on top of multiple industries can be taxing. I always had to learn how to use the latest software and become familiar with the most efficient techniques. My brain had to switch directions every few weeks with every new project and reset into the correct frame of mind. I never got enough practice with one thing to become truly great at it. I started feeling unclear about what I did and did not like doing, and became increasingly frustrated with myself to the point where I was no longer feeling motivated or inspired. My social life was affected because I was always thinking about work. I noticed I had trouble holding conversations or listening to others talk. And, ultimately, the boundaries of a healthy live/work lifestyle became fuzzy.
The one nice thing about being knocked down is that it is a perfect time to ask questions and evaluate what went wrong and how you got there. What if I didn’t need to know everything?
This isn’t to say that having multiple skillsets doesn’t have value, but it does require a lot of determination and effort on your part. To be be considered a professional generalist, you really do need to be good at everything and understand the challenges that you’ll face along the way.
I think what I’ve found that works best for me is that it is okay to only do what you are into. Right now, web and plugin development has been a really interesting experience for me, so it doesn’t feel like work to dive right in and learn everything I can, because I want to do it. The idea of doing what you love will inherently keep you competitive, since you’ll be learning at a pace that matches your interest in the subject.
If I ever do come back to video production or motion graphics, I may not be right on top of the game, but you can bet that I’ll learn at a rapid pace driven by excitement.