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Tuesday, July 22, 2014


This was inspired by a different source than my dabbling post, but it feels connected. 

On the wall outside the weight room at my local Y, there's a gallery of the various personal trainers who work there. You know the deal: each trainer has a framed picture with a list of their credentials, experience, and a little quote on their training philosophy. Each trainer has a list of specialties--usually a couple of things like "fat loss" and "senior fitness" or whatever.

But there is one who has, I swear, about twenty separate "specialties" listed. Fat loss, athletic performance, powerlifting, olympic lifting, injury rehab...the list just keeps going.

I don't doubt that this trainer knows something about each of these subjects, but seriously? That is not a list of specialties. That is a list of dabbles.

A specialty is an area where one has concentrated their efforts. By implication, if not direct definition, there is a greater effort put into this study than is normally reserved for that study.

Just because you've studied something doesn't mean you specialized in it.

To draw an example from the medical profession: all specialists (in that context) are doctors, but not all doctors are specialists. And the idea of having multiple specializations is ludicrous. (One of my wife's frequent complains when watching TV is that "doctors", particularly in sci-fi shows, are trauma surgeons, brain surgeons, infections disease docs...they are every specialty that the plot requires. She can handle wormholes and aliens, but that stretches suspension of disbelief too far.)

I've seen this in martial arts as well---people who purport to specialize in five different art forms, or whatever.

It's ridiculous, and should stop.

Look, I get it. Specialists are cool. But you don't need to be a specialist in order to be a good fighter, or a good teacher. There's a reason not every doctor is a specialist. Sometimes you need a brain surgeon, but sometimes you just need a general practitioner to tell you "no, it's just a headache."

If you want to specialize, that's cool, but be prepared to put time and effort in far above and beyond that of most other practitioners.

And remember that "specialization" is not a synonym for "thing I like".

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