As a natural dabbler, the concept of expertise is problematic for me and, fortunately, rapidly becoming irrelevant.
I’m plugging into a lot of new social groups lately and the experience is consistently one of saying to myself, so I’m not the only one, other people are doing this, this is allowed? Fabulous. I’m not an outgoing person at all, but I’ve started reading extensively, and (gasp) even commenting at times, in these circles. What I’ve noticed most, apart from the feeling of relief and acceptance, is that there is constant crossover between the most seemingly unrelated areas. Take, for instance, the Size Acceptance and Health At Every Size movements and multipotentiality.
Bear with me for a brief introduction to both. Size Acceptance is a civil rights movement to end discrimination against and stigmatization of people based on body size or shape. HAES is a related practice, which prioritizes healthy habits, including food and exercise choices, without placing emphasis on weight loss or maintenance as the end goal. Multipotentiality is about a type of person who, rather than specializing in a single, specific niche, has many interests in divergent fields and often a career or ten that reflect that diversity.
What’s the crossover? For me, it’s this:
I have started to understand that conventional results, relevance, and expertise are seldom seen, but the benefits are still there.
I am and always have been a dabbler, someone who becomes interested in new subjects on a regular basis, learns a bit about them, and then moves on when the curiosity is satisfied. I may or may not come back to learn more on a particular subject later. I may or may not incorporate that knowledge into something “useful,” which meets traditional expectations of work and productivity. I have long been told that these shifting interests mark me as “flighty” and “flaky,” a dilettante, poser, and child. I’ve started to figure out that those labels are bullshit and that my dabbling is an asset.
Over at Dances with Fat, there have been numerous articles on the subject of exercise and how to see it outside the filter of weight loss. (Start here and here and then read everything else, because Ragen is fantastic.) One of the issues Ragen has talked about is how people get discouraged from exercise when they do not see immediate results, read: weight loss. Studies show that exercise and other healthy habits do, in fact, improve a persons health, regardless of their weight before, during, or after. Yet there remains an expectation that exercise will lead directly and quickly to weight loss and when it does not, it must be because we are doing something wrong. So we give up and miss out on the health benefits that were there all along. We look for the wrong kind of instant gratification and end up with no gratification at all.
Meanwhile, at Emilie Wapnick’s Puttylike, I’ve had one of the most amazing experiences of finding a place where I finally fit. It turns out there is a whole community of people who couldn’t and didn’t pick just one thing to be when they grow up, stick with it, and settle down for fifty years of doing the same thing every day. (If you get the impression that I regard traditional employment with unconcealed horror, you earn one million points.) There are people who learn just enough about something to be going on with and then go on, just like me. What’s better is that these people are putting together careers and projects and plans that don’t just tolerate this dabbling; they glory in and rely on their desire and ability to juggle lots of different interests. This is the manifestation of no knowledge being useless and it has been empowering to learn that people are making this work for them.
You know what turns out to be one of the best advantages I get from all this scattered, piecemeal knowledge?
Synthesis becomes the word of the day, every day.
See what I just did up there, where I took two largely unrelated interests of mine and found common ground between them? That is the value of all my flighty, childish skipping from interest to interest. I’ve taught myself, along with basic metal crafting, kendo and fencing, and a smattering of veterinary field techniques, how to make connections. How to see patterns. As Emilie puts it, to smoosh ideas together and get something new and better and more perfectly suited to me.
If I sound a little belligerent, a little teeth-bared hostile, when talking about this, you’re not wrong. I’ve been told that I lack focus, ambition, and competitiveness. I’ve been told I need to settle down and get a real job. I’ve been told that my interests are pointless if I can’t be an expert, use them to get or support a career, or both. That might even be true in some fields. If you’re going to be a brain surgeon, yeah, it’s probably best that you be as intensely and deeply educated in that field as you can get. I think, however, the vast majority of people could not only make room in their careers and lives for this kind of toe-dipping curiosity, but could make great use of it. I’m tired of nay-sayers insisting that everything be properly marked and boxed up, without any of this messy crossover. I’m tired of them saying there’s no point in playing if you can’t rank number one.
So let’s have sushi at high tea. Let’s make jewelry commemorating half-forgotten holidays from ancient civilizations. Let’s seat writers and mechanics and personal shoppers at the same table and see what happens. Let’s get messy. Let’s grab a little from column A and a little from box 2 and something from the unmarked bargain bin. Let’s make something wonderful and weird.