On Being A Generalist
“Every now and then, bite off more than you can chew,” says the quote on the paper end of my Sweet&Spicy teabag from Good Earth this morning. No problem. I do this all the time.
The first realization that maybe I was trying to do too much came in seventh grade, when the only time left in the day to practice piano was 5:30 a.m. I played quietly, and pondered the thought that this was probably not normal, but that’s about as far as that idea went. All my life, I have delved into a wide array of opportunities because, dang it, I don’t want to miss anything. Sports, adventure, games, reading, thoughtful conversation, joining rescue and other assistance groups, serving on various boards of directors, raising a child, training dogs and horses, lately, firefighting. Why not? Everything is fodder for a broader life, a chance to learn new skills, try new things, push forward into the unknown.
And so, it seems, I have become a generalist. I’m generally interested in learning about or doing generally anything. In a world populated more often these days by specialists, I am an outlier, but in defense of my approach to life, doesn’t the world benefit from people who keep the broad view? It is a way to maintain a sense of perspective. For example, it’s probably good that there are people interested in lasering their attention on the latest research on what foods are healthy—but I can’t help but notice the quicksand of trendiness. Butter was good, then bad, now good again. Chocolate and red wine are good, but alcohol is bad. Kale and Brussels sprouts have had their fifteen minutes of fame, but are deemed passé—out of favor—now. Mixed messages abound. As a generalist, I pay attention but I don’t let the latest newsflash ruin my dinner. I try to eat local (20% of our petroleum is used moving food around). I eat grass-fed beef (cows aren’t meant to eat corn). Genetic modification scares me, so I try to avoid those foods. But generally, I will eat anything in moderation.
I love that word: “moderation.” This goes back to the message on my teabag. Biting off more than you can chew implies loss of a sense of moderation. I admit it: there is nothing moderate about how I choose to use my time. I live large. I stay abundantly busy. As a writer, I am drawn to a plethora of topics. It is my job to learn about and try different things, and tell the world of readers (you!) what insights and knowledge my adventures have brought to us. I’ve done this for decades...and I love it. True, I barely have time for TV or movies. I’m too focused on life.
Lately, with the added joy of writing a book for NOLS, I have really done it. I’m overcommited to a degree never reached before in my six-plus decades. The book project is riding on top of my already-busy life, and dwarfs anything I’ve done since fire academy. The immensity of it has humbled me as much as the sight of the mountains has humbled many a new NOLS student headed into the hills. I will come out the other side of this task with a renewed respect for the concept of using caution when tempted to say “yes”!
And yet I wouldn’t change a thing. I think biting off more than you can chew is great. Try it—you never know where it can lead.