3 Career Paths Toward Specialized Knowledge

“An educated man is not, necessarily, one who has an abundance of general or specialized knowledge. An educated man is one who has so developed the faculties of his mind that he may acquire anything he wants or its equivalent.” – Napoleon HIll in “Think and Grow Rich”

Since working in the career matchmaking world, it is clear to me that too few job candidates possess a strategic and thoughtful approach to the career movement that they desire. Instead of a proactive, action-oriented approach, many job seekers rely primarily on their whims, wishes, and fleeting ambitions. 

In addition to the the dreamer types, there are achievers. These are the hard-charging, achievement-oriented individuals who accumulate money, status, and prestige. Of the 3 paths that are outlined below, the dreamer and achiever paths both have deep flaws within them. 

The third path can seem uncomfortable, but it is the best one if your goal is to find a fulfilling career. Since it is aligned with individual strengths, it is the best chance for career movement and success in the long-run.

These paths are not comprehensive, although they do provide a useful contrast between positive and negative behavior, particularly when it comes to the application and accumulation of knowledge.

Each path is named after a classic song. Which song will help you the most? 🎵🎶

1. Passive Dreamers – “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees 

Now, you know how happy I can be
Whoa, and our good times start and end
Without dollar one to spend
But how much, baby, do we really need

Daydream believers will often delay joining the workforce in hopes of opening more career opportunities. They may pursue formal education, often viewing this as a shortcut to career progression. Sadly, disappointment often comes when they find they lack experience and are over-educated for the jobs they want. This group tends to be passive by nature.

They believe that someday, they will, hopefully, get there. But someday never comes. In the interest of avoiding risk, they gravitate to their comfort zone. Action steps like testing job search expectations, risking rejection or using their time in an unconventional way are avoided because there is too much discomfort associated with these tasks.

This is a seductive and common path to career advancement. Except that it is not consciously chosen and it does not lead to a positive career trajectory. It is the ultimate “play-it-safe,” career strategy.

As time moves, it often passes these individuals by. In their minds they will wonder about what could be, or what could have been. They have big dreams of landing a sexy job or becoming self-sufficient as a creative professional. 

Daydream believers dream often, but do not make a habit of planning and taking action toward their goals. This path often results in a slow, perpetual dissatisfaction.

If you feel you have some of these characteristics, that is okay. Cheer up ‘Sleepy Jean.’ Hope is not lost. We all have our problems, including this next group.

2. Active Achievers – “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles

Will you, won’t you want me to make you
I’m coming down fast but don’t let me break you
Tell me, tell me, tell me the answer

The name for this group is based on a Beatles song by the same name that even Beatles fans would admit, sounds like utter chaos. It turns out that chaos was the creative mission of Paul McCartney when he wrote the song. 

In an interview, rival musician Pete Townsend described his band’s song, “I Can See for Miles” as “loud, raw, and dirty.” Legend has it that Paul McCartney was inspired to take “loud, raw, and dirty” to a chaotic new level, which led to “Helter Skelter.”

“Type A” personalities who are ambitious and hard-charging typically fall into this category. Like McCartney, they are motivated, bold, and competitive. Action is taken constantly and often at the expense of the finer things in life, including personal relationships. 

These are the people who take bold action with unbridled ambition and energy. Achievement, particularly when it comes to extrinsic motivators is typically the driving force behind behavior. These individuals achieve status and prestige in the eyes of others.

Sadly, there is often a disconnect between what looks to others like achievement and the internal level of personal fulfillment. Despite what appears to be outward success, they often feel empty and dissatisfied. When this happens, they seek a path that will bring them more enjoyment. 

This change of heart often comes later in life. They may need to start-over in a sense as they reinvent themselves and start a new career.

But what if they could have seen this coming and better positioned themselves for more long-term success through heightened self awareness?

3. Personalized Success “My Life” by Billy Joel

I don’t care what you say anymore this is my life
Go ahead with your own life leave me alone

One way you could describe this group is to take the reflectiveness of the daydream believers, combine it with the action orientation of the helter skelter crew, and remove the inhibitions that come with the fear of failure. If one were to do this, they would be ready to optimize their career proactively, incrementally, and strategically. These are the “my lifers.”

When it comes to achieving personalized success, you are the one who decides what success means to you. Decisions relating to which type of learning is most important should be based on what is most desired in your life, rather than some vague calling of personal destiny, or a reaction to the judgments of others.

Balance is everything on this path. These individuals tend to be able to provide confident and thoughtful answers to questions like these:

  • Which employers do you want to work for in your area?
  • How can you convince them that you can help them solve their problems?
  • Do you want to work for yourself or someone else? Why?
  • Which factors impact your decision most? Things like autonomy, salary, work/life balance should be considered. *Even if you have the skills to demand perks like these, it can be difficult to find all of them in one role.

Each person in the “my life” group capitalizes on their thoughtfulness and independence as they define their own success. These individuals understand that career movement takes time, so they use this to their benefit, rather than detriment. Their targets move as plans and goals shift. They are not locked in to any major predetermined outcome, other than maybe completing a required degree program.

Circumstance and ever-evolving interests are both inevitabilities in life and they will drive these changes. Our ability to adapt is what allows us to live harmoniously. This mitigates much of the stress in career development and allows more positive energy to enter.

When we adopt this approach, we are able to achieve maximum career fulfillment. We are nimble, flexible, and capable of taking calculated risks. We blend our interests with just enough room to leave our comfort zone.

Each person in the “my life” group capitalizes on their thoughtfulness and independence as they define their own success. These individuals understand that career movement takes time so they use this to their benefit, rather than detriment. Their targets move as plans and goals shift based on circumstance and ever-evolving interests. 

When We “do,” We Learn

What we learn is infinitely more useful when it is immediately applied to our lives. For example, on the job training takes less time away from us and is far more cost-effective. After all, you get PAID to do it verses paying tens of thousands of dollars for an advanced college degree.

There is a useful distinction between “general” and “specialized” knowledge.1 General knowledge comes from information that is not related to our immediate plans. It is often gained through coursework, unrelated to business, career, and sometimes life itself.

This type of knowledge gets crammed into our minds only to be stored. But it never gets used unless acted upon. Instead of the knowledge advancing our careers, it often fades into oblivion. 

Conversely, when we gain specialized knowledge and we use it in the formation of actual plans, we remain close to the career ladder. If we want to achieve career progress, this is exactly where we want to be. When we learn this type of information, we find ourselves seamlessly and naturally taking productive next steps.

Napoleon Hill writes about this distinction between the two knowledge categories in “Think and Grow Rich.”

“As knowledge is acquired it must be organized and put into use, for a definite purpose, through practical plans. Knowledge has no value except that which can be gained from its application toward some worthy end.” Napoleon HIll in “Think and Grow Rich

When we “do,” we learn and when we learn, we grow. Learning just for knowledge’s sake does not have the same effect, no matter which path you are on.

Final Reflections

Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. To have career movement, we must have motion. And we know that objects in motion also tend to stay in motion.

We are not supposed to know all the answers, but a learn-as-you-go mindset where we adapt to change while prioritizing our personal interests saves us from wasted time.

If we are stagnant, failure is constant. If we are growing, failure is temporary.

Nothing is wasted if we continue to learn and grow within ourselves.

Which song will lead to the best career outcomes?

*Hint: Whose life is it?

Further Reading:

1Napoleon Hill’s chapter on Education in “Think and Grow Rich” is where the distinction between general and specialized knowledge is explored.

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