Shifting Identities

Jonathan Snook with a sentiment that’s all-too-often on my mind:

In the web industry, I often shifted my topics of interest and as I talked about those new interests, I would gain a following within that new sphere. Over more than a decade, some people knew me as a designer, some knew me as a JavaScript developer, some as a CSS developer, some as a PHP developer, and maybe some even knew me as an ASP or ColdFusion developer. 

Getting pigeon-holed as one particular thing often made me uncomfortable because I didn’t feel seen. My skill set is much broader and being called “just” anything felt constricting.

Yes! My professional identity shifts from CSS developer, JavaScript developer, WordPress developer, web designer, technical editor, and educator depending on who you talk to. I’ve never been able to find a container that neatly describes what it is I actually do, and relenting to “just” anything feels defeating, if not downright depressing when taking stock of yourself.

At the same time, I’m totally in praise of the all-powerful generalist! The web is huge and saying I’m interested in one piece of it gives me massive bouts of FOMO, leaving me feeling like I’m missing some sort of outlet for all of the things I care about.

I like how Jonathan describes experience as “U”-shaped as opposed to “T”-shaped:

I’ve always enjoyed being more of a generalist while having a deep understanding of a number of topics—something I referred to as being U shaped instead of T shaped.

The way I explain it to others is that my expertise is miles wide and several feet deep. I know a lot about a lot, but am a master of none. I often compare myself to Mario in the classic Nintendo game: good at most everything, but there’s always going to be someone better at a particular thing. I’m totally OK with that, but sometimes do struggle with the whole “Just be U” thing.

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✏️ Handwritten by Geoff Graham on March 7, 2024(Updated on 3/09/2024)


  1. # March 10, 2024

    I always liked calling it the broken comb because it’s like looking at a big comb with lots of different teeth of different lengths.

    Range by David Epstein is a great book on why generalists often have advantage in creative fields. It offers some really great anecdotes and insight on why having interests in a broad range of things can help people connect unexpected dots.



  • 💬 Jeff Bridgforth

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