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The Cost of Specialization

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We all have good and bad sides. We cannot all be good at everything. Sometimes, it can be easy to beat yourself down for being a certain way. However, keep in mind that being that way may simply be the cost of specialization.


We, humans, spend time doing lots of things. Early in our childhood, we find that we are slightly better at certain things. The reason that we are slightly better at it could be for many reasons. It may be that we have inherent natural talent, that we have to adapt to our family situations, or we may just happen to find ourselves in life situations that bring that out. Regardless of the reason, those things will naturally start to attract us. And as we continue to spend our time on those activities — we get good at it.

This seems obvious for tactual activities. For example, if you spend a lot of time playing football or drawing, you will eventually become good at it. However, it is true for brain processes as well. If you spend a lot of time as a child in a social context and having to use the social part of your brain, you will gain more social skills. If you spend a lot of time thinking of ideas, you will become good at quickly finding solutions.

Getting good at a certain subset of activities can be called specialization. We specialize in some things in life.

The cost of specialization

But being good at something always comes with a cost. When you spend a lot of time doing something, you consequently spend less time doing the opposite. If you use a certain part of your brain more, you spend less time using the opposite part.

For example, if you spend a lot of time thinking about logic, you spend less time on your emotions. If you spend a lot of time reading others, you spend less time with your own opinions. If you spend a lot of time contemplating the future, you spend less time responding to the here and now.

Specialization becomes personality traits

Using these different brain processes more or less shows up as personality traits. For example, if you are good at being analytical, you may not be as good at “communicating feelings”. If you are good at looking at the big picture, you may not be as good at attention to detail. If you have a cheerful and relaxed disposition, you may struggle with being on time.

The examples so far show how there might be a negative cost to positive traits. However, it can also play out in the opposite way. There can be a positive cost to negative traits.

Someone who is very charming may be so because they have a lot of anxiety about reading other people. So while being charming might be seen as something positive, it can actually be a side-effect (cost) of being hyper-aware (specialization) of how others feel and think of us.

Thinking about the cost of specialization can be helpful for understanding why we are the way we are. There are real reasons why we become good at something. And there are real reasons why we become bad at something else.

This is true for everyone. Not everyone can, nor should, be good at the exact same things. That would make society non-functional. Being different makes society work better. We need people who are good at certain things. But then we must also allow those individuals to not be good at the complete opposite as well. It is the natural cost of specialization.

Accepting yours and others weaker traits

This way of thinking can be helpful in finding more grace with others. So when you find yourself frustrated about certain personality traits of your partner or friends, consider if they could be the cost of something else that is really awesome about them. Oftentimes, we are attracted to people who are different from us. It could be that the traits you get frustrated about, are actually the cost of the very traits you find most attractive.

This way of thinking is not only helpful for when being graceful with others, it is especially helpful in being graceful with yourself — self-acceptance. We simply cannot be good at everything. Your worst traits are likely the cost of other wonderful traits. They are parts of the same package.

I’m not saying, you should never work on your weaker sides. If they are limiting yourself from living fully, or hurting others, you should of course work on them. For example, while shyness may come as the cost of being highly observant of one’s surroundings, it might inhibit you from making meaningful relationships. Or constantly being late can cause others to waste their time waiting for you.

However, keep in mind that those negative traits often are simply the cost of specialization. Completely obliterating “negative” traits may come at the cost of becoming less skilled at your specializations.


So when you find yourself beating yourself down for being a certain way, consider if it could be a cost to specialization. Are you really good at the opposite? Could your “bad” trait be the cost of something else that you really value about yourself? And if so, would you really want to give that up? Is it worth having some less good sides since it allows you to be really good at other things?

2 thoughts on “The Cost of Specialization”

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