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Understand the system, make stuff happen, or die trying.

Specialization. Most of the people who work for big companies do it. They're good at this one specific thing the company needs to get done. They work with other people who are good at other things.

On one hand, specialization is necessary and useful. It doesn't make sense to try and train everybody to be good at everything. As they say, jack of all trades and master of none.

On the flip side, specialization can narrow your viewpoint to the point where you can't see the big picture. You work for a big company, but you don't really understand how the system works. That makes you weak and easy to manipulate. In other words, you're a pawn, not a player. For all you know you might be sweeping the decks of the Titanic. Fiddling as Rome burns. Getting shafted, thrown out on the street while your johnny-come-lately CEO floats away on his golden parachute. On to the next gig. Making more money in a year destroying shareholder value than you will make in your lifetime.

Or the fates might be kind and everything works out. You take care of business, the business takes care of you. Like it used to be in Japan.

Me, I'd rather control my own destiny. As much as humanly possible. I've never trusted things to just work out. I'm more of a Murphy's law kind of guy. If anything can go wrong, it will probably will.

I'm not crazy (or so the voices tell me). I realize I can't specialize in everything. I have a couple of specializations. Technical skills I'm exceptionally good at in a very special way. That's never satisfied me. I'm a greedy little information junkie. I try to know a little bit about everything. Mostly that's driven by insatiable curiosity, not a sense of utility but I'd like to believe that maybe, just maybe it's possible to learn enough about the important stuff to understand how it all fits together. How the system works.

When you're like that, I think the only job title that you can really settle for, that doesn't shoe you in, is maybe "entrepreneur". That's a bit of an overloaded term which is Greek for "person who makes stuff happen". What you want to make happen doesn't have to be focused on making obscene amounts of money. There are social entrepreneurs that focus on charitable causes. Academic entrepreneurs that focus on teaching (e.g., Salman Khan). Environmental entrepreneurs working to save species and habitats. Anyone that takes initiative and risks his neck to make room in the system for something new and wonderful is an entrepreneur in my book.

There's a bit of glamor associated with the term "entrepreneur". Don't let that fool you. I chalk it up to selection bias - you usually only hear about the most successful ones. But I think a more inclusive view would show that usually being that kind of person is no walk in the park. Starting something new means you'll initially be doing almost everything yourself. Much of it poorly. That will be painful and it will teach you humility and the value of others. Not to mention that you'll most likely come face to face with financial suicide at one point or another. That will be scary and it will teach you the value of money, and perhaps even more importantly - the value you can't find in money.

When you're going out on your own, there's no well beaten path to follow. The first step is the hardest. It takes real guts. Sacrifice. An almost unreasonable willingness to step out of your comfort zone. Take risks. Fail. Fall. Over and over again. Maybe for years on end. And then stand up, dust yourself off and try again. Until you figure out what works. That is, if you're relentless, and talented, and lucky enough to make it. Then maybe one day, all of a sudden people start talking about what you've accomplished as an "overnight success". Ha! By then you'll know there's no such thing. It's a fairy tale.

I won't try to sell you a fantasy. If you go down this road, you may not make it to the promised land. Many don't. But you know what? If you're that kind of person at heart, a maker and shaker, an adventure that fails is infinitely more rewarding than the soul crushing, certain defeat of not even trying.

There is safety in numbers, but mostly just mediocrity. Don't settle.

Understand the system, make stuff happen, or die trying.

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