For years at work, I always felt that I was just a generalist. I knew a little about this and a little about that, but I was not an expert at anything. I never got a degree. When I graduated from High School, I was shy, and my parents were not wealthy. Going to college would have been a real stretch for me personally and for them financially. I had learned general clerk-typist skills in High School so that was good enough. I went to work right out of High School.
As the years went on, I worked at a bank, a computer services company, an advertising agency, two law firms and a start-up biotechnology company. All the jobs I held were for the most part general secretarial positions. There was nothing special or specialized about what I did. Anyone could have done those jobs, and I was able to move from company to company and do what I did and do it well without a huge learning curve.
I felt frustration at the biotech company in particular. We were all stretched to our limits there especially after they ran out of funding and began to lay people off. We were all asked to do more than we knew how to do. We had to do other jobs besides our own. I never felt my lack of knowledge and generalist background more keenly than I did there. I never felt quite up to the task and felt like I was pretending I knew what I was doing half the time. When I was asked to go outside my comfort zone, I felt like I was faking it.
The only place I ever specialized at work was in the Intellectual Property or Patents area. Working in IP is a different skill set. While at my last law firm, working in the Human Resources department, I got burned out. We performed the same processes and cycles over and over again. It was so bad I could have told you what I’d be doing 20 years from any particular date. While I enjoyed my co-workers and loved my boss, I couldn’t do it any longer. As it turned out, there was an opening for a Patent Paralegal and the Paralegal Services Manager (also part of HR) suggested I apply for the position.
I knew nothing about Patents, but I was told it didn’t matter and they could teach me. I remember thinking I’d never figure it out – it all seemed so strange, different and complicated. I stayed in that first Paralegal position for 4 years, and it turned out to be a great fit for my skill set and personality. The attention to detail that is required in the position is so much a part of who I am personally (over-organized) that it was work I actually enjoyed doing. I only left that position because I needed more time at home and couldn’t commit to the extra hours and flexibility that the job required.
When the job at the biotech company ran its course (after 9 years), I was in a different place with my family (my boys were older). I looked again for something that was more specialized, and I went back to Patents. This time it was with a different law firm, and the attorneys in the IP group handled Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights. I added more skills to my “resume”. The position that I am in now is so specialized that the law firm does not train back-up support for what we do. Other administrative positions throughout the firm have floater support available to them. When administrative people are out sick or on vacation, a floater fills their position. IP work is too complicated, and the floaters don’t often stay floaters long-term. We don’t have floater support available to us. We back each other up in my department.
So this generalist has once again become a specialist, and I feel like I am back where I belong. The work is difficult at times, and there is always plenty of it to do, but the days seem to fly by. I enjoy coming to work, and I feel like what I do matters.