Healthcare professions are a great example of modern specializations in adaptation to an ever increasing body of work. As my own physical therapy world continues to rapidly grow and cement itself in the healthcare system, it too continues to specialize. The education requirements shifted towards a Bachelor’s starting in the 1950s, to the Master’s in the ‘80s and as of today a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is the standard. On top of that there are eight specialties and, finally, we have the emergence of residencies and fellowships to consider as well. As someone who is known to contemplate the future, I am often asked what field I want to go into. I feel others are often surprised when I shrug my shoulders and list off three or four areas du jour.
My incessant desire to excel has always struggled to cooperate with my equally incessant desire to learn about a variety of topics.
I generally subscribe to the notion that to be truly excellent at something you must specialize to some degree. It makes sense intuitively, it is in line with what countless people who are high achievers report, it is in line with the 10,000 hour rule and faced with a finite amount of time and a multitude of responsibilities, it is challenging to think otherwise.
Occasionally I see and listen to how singularly driven these specialty figures are and I envy their narrowed focus. I respect their hard work and trials to attain their status, but from my vantage point my mind would rest easy. Perhaps most of my discontent is rooted in my education. Sometimes I am compelled not to pursue topics that I know I could master. Sometimes my schooling has gotten in the way of my education outside of the classroom and equally as likely, sometimes my schooling did not dive into a topic in a manner in which I wish they had. For the bulk of my life and for at least the next two years I have been faced with this seed of internal irritation that I’ve had to reconcile over and over again.
One reason may be that I simply haven’t been learning efficiently enough. Possibility. But I’ve generally been successful in school, I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit outside of school, all the while performing athletically and maintaining my health. Improved learning efficiency is an area that I will continue to pursue, but isn’t terribly high on my priority list.
Another reason may be that I don’t have the focus or the fortitude to remain fixated on one topic for more than a couple months at a time. I say fixated because that is my reality. The thoughts don’t leave me. I never go more than a couple weeks before I find something new to occupy my thoughts. Summers were particularly rough. I had a girlfriend who never understood how I could pause a movie or stop a TV show midway through. That’s my norm though. The usual routine is to start the show and then switch to split screen. This progresses to pausing of the visual media for extended periods before I just give it up completely and focus on the inner nuclear pull of whatever is yanking on me at the time. I can still operate functionally and learn everything that is required in school of course, but the true quiet moments are few and far between. Every activity I do is punctuated with the new project of that quarter. The day’s conversations are littered with mental machinations abutting each end. I can tell when I start getting particularly obsessive when I find myself not looking people in the eye, have trouble finding my words, can’t respond to jokes and can’t step on the intersections of projected diagonal lines on sidewalks.
So here’s been my strategy: keep learning. It’s one of the only things that gives me a deep satisfaction. While I have always romanticized the specialist and have tried to stay focused on one sector, I can’t sustain it nor can I just sit around stare at the boob tube in my down time. I recognize that if I stack 10,000 blocks straight up, they will reach tremendous heights and will do so rapidly. However, let’s say I stack 15,000 blocks of varying shapes. There induction into the structure will take tedious care and installation. The path upward won’t always be perfectly discernible and there may be instances in which the blocks must be rearranged in order to reach as high as the 10,000 blocks. I can still see it grow though. I can see new shapes fashioning that I hadn’t seen before. I can see new pigments in the blocks that weren’t in the original pieces. I can see piece after piece snugly notched against another. The structure itself becomes a paragon of a wonderfully heterogeneous, ever-changing aesthetic.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway.