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Specialization Trees

Created: December 4, 2020

In English, we will often refer to someone who has a very narrow focus or specialization as having "pigeon-holed" themselves or as having fallen down a "rabbit hole".

While I do absolutely believe everyone (and every organization) should strive to find a tightly focused specialization that brings out their best talents and attributes, I see it through a different metaphor. It might sound odd at first, but stick with me.

I view each of us as an acorn - the seed which will grow into a tree. From the moment we're born, that seed is planted in the earth, and a tiny little shoot emerges, just peeking out of the ground. Each attribute we develop, each talent we nurture, each skill we hone - each one sends out the beginnings of a new root. As we invest in any particular root, it grows stronger and deeper, and - with continued investment - begins to send out branching roots of its own.

No one else sees any of that. All of that growth and development is happening entirely under the surface, building a (hopefully) strong and stable foundation. As we assert those attributes, talents, and skills on the world, then that shoot begins to grow taller and sprout leaves. Eventually, more shoots join in as we branch out and experience new things.

At a certain point, we choose a direction for our lives - a career of some sort, and the beginning of a trunk emerges. Our trunk is the funnel through which we push our skills and ideas and relationships to form a specialization. Exposure to new people and to new ideas provides us the sunlight and hydration we need to send out new roots or further develop old ones. As we focus in, the trunk thickens, growing stronger, steadier. Each relationship we explore, each path we pursue enriches the trunk. The deeper we explore and pursue - i.e. the more we specialize - the wider and stronger that trunk becomes. A stronger trunk is the foundation for more branches becoming available to us - the longer those branches can get, the more they can spawn new branches, and the more foliage they can display.

This is when people notice. By narrowing our focus and deeply investing in a strong trunk, those investments in ourselves and our trusting relationships grow in harmony and begin to bear fruit - massive, beautiful, jaw-dropping fruit.

For many of us, there comes a point - or maybe several points - where we drastically change direction; our entire trunk forks either by choice or by chance. That's OK; plenty of beautiful, strong trees thrive that way. Perhaps the first trunk didn't sprout the way it needed to, or didn't grow as much foliage as you'd have liked. That's OK, too.

As long as the roots run deep, you continue to invest in your root structure, and nurture the relationships with those who sustain you, your tree will survive and thrive.