How to thrive if you identify yourselves as a Type A Generalist?
I am not a fan of typecasting or pigeon-holing people into personalities. In fact, over time and across activities, people can display different traits. For example, when you were young you may have been an introvert and now you are an extrovert. I should have prefaced that with the words “under majority of circumstances” because for example you could be a hedgehog when it comes to cooking but exhibit a fox personality while doing other household chores (if you are not familiar with fox vs. hedgehog, do read up on Philip Tetlock’s work). Further, one may never be a 100% of a certain type, we are usually a combination. For example, when I took the Myers-Briggs test, in each of the 4 personality types, I ended up right in the middle of all of them!
At any rate, there are so many personality tests out there and we often take those tests to identify with some personality traits. This article is for those that identify with Type A and with being a generalist. To clarify, a Type A person typically is ambitious, competitive, and has a sense of urgency. One may not be a Type A in everything they do, for example, you can be a Type A when it comes to work and while playing sports, but not a Type A when it comes to cooking and playing a musical instrument. While that is possible, the goal of the article is to focus on the activities where you would consider yourself as a Type A. Then also consider the aspect of being a specialist versus a generalist. A specialist is one who is extremely good at one thing, but a generalist is one who is good at many things, i.e. depth versus breadth of experience.
The point of this article is that if you can identify belonging to Type A and are a generalist, then how to survive and thrive? As an example, let us take sports. You may not be the best (or even second best) in any position in the sport you play, but you can play in most of the positions well enough. However, you are also Type A and totally driven to excel, that you find it difficult because you have to live with being not the very best at anything. Needless to say you will be an excellent coach but we are now talking about thriving when you are a player. Let us pivot (not a pivot if you are a sports professional) to the work environment, salaried or not. It is quite a struggle because to compete and succeed when you are not one of the best in anything, is difficult.
The good news is that there are innumerable articles that make a strong case for organizations to hire generalists, as opposed to specialists. This is because generalists are flexible (fitting in many roles), capable of holistic thinking, and make wonderful leaders. It is easier for generalists to be open minded and they typically get along well with others. They typically show a lot of empathy and have compassion for others. So, if you are indeed a Type A generalist, that is fantastic. You surely do not need to change to becoming a Type B or becoming a specialist, although those are quite tempting options. Here are some ways to thrive while being a Type A generalist.
Help others succeed
Whether it is your organization as a whole or your co-workers, make sure your work results in their success. If you make that your ambition, it would satisfy your Type A personality. The specialists in your organization cannot do many things you can. You are the best person to help those specialists. But this would take time and as a Type A person you may have a sense of urgency. So you have to get mentally prepared that this is for the long haul and you may not see success immediately.
Volunteer for things
In many situations, you may not be approached by others and hence it would be difficult to help others. In these situations you need to volunteer. For example, someone may not know you can be a wonderful reviewer. You could volunteer to look through their writing. Of course, it is crucial to be patient and do a thorough job. Being a generalist, you can perhaps bring to the table things the person you are helping may not realize. That is huge.
Seize opportunities when they knock
To volunteer for things to help others succeed, you need to look for opportunities. This is a critical first step as many times we do not know when or where the knock happens. Be sure to carefully parse through everything thrown at you (viz. emails, bulletin boards, and conversations). Soon enough there would be something you can volunteer for. But it is important to be patient and wait for the right knock.
All in all, it is the sense of urgency among the Type A characteristics that needs work because many of these suggestions take time. The best way is to reflect on how you have been resilient, shown grit, and worked for months or years before you found success in some of your endeavors. This can help you find a way to tame your inner urgency. Keep trying, calibrate and fine tune. You will be glad you stuck to being a Type A generalist.