The Struggle of Defining Your Role vs Pursuing Your Passion

A solution to the debacle between specialization and generalization.

Are you an “SEO” or a “Marketer”?

Are you a “UX Designer” or an “Artist”?

Are you a “Ruby Programmer” or an “Engineer”?

Are you a “Copywriter” or a “Novelist”?

The struggle of “Specialization vs Passion” is a completely evident dilemma to me as I look around the web and even in the mirror.

Through a lot of soul-searching, reaching out to colleagues and genuine theory crafting I think I’ve reached the solution to this dizzying problem.

Here are the steps.

1. Specialization is the starting point.

It’s where you begin your career and define yourself in a space. It’s where you become an authority and start to gain access to a community. It’s where you get a job and start to get real-world experience.

Specialization is the entryway towards your passion.

It’s version 1.0.

If you want to be a well known writer, start blogging, try to do freelance work, then try to get a writing job for a popular publication like adage, forbes, wired or something of the like.

Then branch out towards becoming a novelist as your passion drives you.

2. Branching out is the mid-game.

Once you have specialized yourself, you know your industry well.

You’ve mastered an industry and started to mold the frames of it yourself.

You can start to branch out into the other areas that might lead you to your overall passion.

If you’re an SEO maybe that would mean learning social media, content marketing, PPC, CRO, and the rest of internet marketing so that you can become a better “Internet marketer.” Which is still very specialized, but far more broad than an SEO.

From there you can learn more about overall marketing and advertising, where you will can start towards your passion of being a CMO or working for an ad agency as a marketing director.

You may find though during this that you’re on the wrong path and you may want to specialize in something else entirely. The fact is, you’ve already specialized. Use what you know to direct you towards where you want to be. Connect the dots. Use the job you got specializing in a niche to make a living as you learn to specialize somewhere else.

Don’t be afraid to change paths, but be sure you are not taking the change lightly.

This is where most of us lose our way, never reaching the third phase.

3. True passion is the end-game.

There’s always a starting and a middle point.

A Formula1 driver never went straight to Formula1.

That was their passion, and that’s where they ended up.

Step one was specialization as a track driver. They raced go-carts, then probably a more advanced cart form, then Formula3 or Formula2, then moved up to Formula1 once they had an established “track record” (no pun intended) and a certain level of prestige.

The beginner’s struggle and a few pro-tips.

There will always be a struggle when starting out to call yourself a “Marketer” or a “Designer” because you want to get all sorts of work, or open your possibilities up to a larger market.

The fact is that no one will hire you for those larger markets because you don’t have the prestige built through specialization.

Specialize first, however much you don’t want to.

Then branch out, and work towards your end-game.

You’re pursuing your passion the entire time, but it’s a “pursuit” for a reason — you don’t start out being where you want to go.

Specialization is how you get there. You may even find along the way that your passion wasn’t fully realized.

That your passion is actually down a different path.

This usually happens in the “branching out” phase and it’s totally fine.

It’s also not a bad idea to be very specific about your end-game goal before you start to specialize. If you just want to be a “racing driver” then there are plenty of avenues to pursue. You could be a rallycross driver, a NASCAR driver, a Formula1 driver, an endurance driver. So what you decide to specialize in is a bit more diluted.

Try to specialize your end-game.

This helps you get less messed-up and confused in your mid-game.

If you say you want to be a motorcross driver, you won’t waste your time driving carts.

You’ll get a dirt bike and start tearing up the soil.

The great thing about specializing your end-goal is it reduces steps along the way.

If you want to be a professional gamer, you can pick up an Xbox remote right now. It’s all a matter of finding your game and your niche within that space.

If you want to be a professional kite-boarder, you can buy a training kite for $100 and start flying it on the beach today.

While specializing in SEO I started to gain a good grasp on the community and earned a following resulting in a very good job.

Then I realized when I started to branch out that I enjoyed content marketing so much more than average “SEO” practices (which is now essentially what SEO has become anyways).

I started doing more content marketing and realized that what I really enjoy is writing and providing thought promoting ideas (also building marketing systems of scale for businesses).

I ended up completely re-developing my personal site to be more focused on just my marketing and writing rather than my “SEO” content.

I may even delete that SEO content altogether or just re-publish it on industry blogs around the web.

It’s just not what I want to focus on anymore.

Having goals is the starting point. Pursue a passion, but don’t be afraid to change your path along the way.

Besides if you pursue something you don’t enjoy anymore, you’re not pursuing your passion. It will be a hollow victory when you reach the end-game.

Pick something to specialize in, get a foothold, explore your self-interests, reach your passion.

If you dug this article please give it a “recommend” and tweet me @snsmth!