It seems more and more that people are moving away from strict specialization in favor of focusing on varied interests. We take a closer look at Max Salk, an investment analyst and landscape photographer (among other things), to gain some insight into his open mindset, and how it can help you achieve your goals.
The past few years, a case has been made for (and against) The Generalist, namely “a person competent in several different fields or activities.” There are many reasons for the conversation: more people opting out of college or other more traditional avenues to pursue their careers on their terms, the internet providing exposure and opportunity to those who had not had it prior, and the millennial reaction to do things differently than the generation before them (which they have, and get equal flack and praise for).
Although a lot of cases have been made for the pros of not sticking to a mold, not everyone is sold on the idea. After all, we still live in a world where specialization is imperative, particularly in fields such as medicine or architecture, and it seems difficult to ever truly poke holes in the idea of being an expert on something.
However, a multi-dimensional approach does not mean only having superficial knowledge on things, or always reacting to things on the fly. Author David Epstein’s most recent book, which came out May 28th, is about generalists, and how even in specialized contexts, they excel. The book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, argues that “in most fields — especially those that are complex and unpredictable — generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel.” He studied successful people in several fields, and drew the conclusion that in juggling several interests instead of one, generalists often make connections or creative decisions that specialists can overlook. Essentially, their lack of specializing affords generalists an openness that is key to problem solving and innovation.
So, what better way to see the benefits of staying open to your interests than getting to know someone who does just that? We took a look at Max Salk, an investment analyst and landscape photographer based in New York City, to get a little more insight into how being an expert doesn’t have to mean sticking to one thing, and how leaning into his natural interests and passions led Max Salk to where he is today.
Who is Max Salk?
As said before, Max Salk is an investment analyst and landscape photographer based in New York City. Originally from Illinois, Max studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in finance and history. He had discovered an interest in markets during his college career and developed the interest and his knowledge by investing in and researching stocks in his free time.
But that was not the only passion Max Salk cultivated during his undergrad. His junior year, Max studied abroad in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where he discovered his love of photography on a foggy morning walk around the harbor with his camera. One of the shots he took there would eventually become the first photo featured on his photography website, maxsalkphotography.com.
Following graduation and his first job, Max joined an investment management firm in Chicago called PPM America, where he was in his element, researching capital and financial markets and making investment recommendations for a living. After three years at PPM, Max moved to New York City to join Blackstone, where he currently works. In addition to his job, where he is a Vice President and U.S. credit research analyst, Max Salk still pursues photography, documenting his travels and what speaks to him in the landscapes of the places he visits. He features these photos on his website and his Instagram.
So…How Did He Do It?
However satisfying or unsatisfying Max Salk’s answer is, it is one we hear a lot when people share their keys to success: he just did it.
Okay, so it may not be quite that simple, but it’s not far off. In a recent interview, Max reflected on whether or not he doubted that photography (or his career) would work out for him at the beginning. He mused, “I think it is natural for anyone to doubt his or herself at times, and I am no different.” He went on to say, “I am genuinely interested in and enjoy what I do. I think this goes a long way in any career. If you don’t like what you’re doing, or you’re not that interested in it, it is difficult to motivate yourself to go the extra mile. When you enjoy and are interested in what you are doing, it doesn’t feel like work.”
This is an idea we’ve all heard before: do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. But there’s something a little more tangible in Max’s trajectory, maybe in part because it’s so tangible. In addition to his work with Blackstone and his photography, Max is an avid sports fan and music listener.
With the internet, social media, and a 24-hour news cycle, it can be easy to feel jerked around, or uncertain of where your interests and strengths lie. However, Max’s advice is to look inward instead of outward to find your passion. In another interview, when asked what advice he would give his younger self, Max said, “The world is full of opportunities, and there is no one path to success or satisfaction in almost anything in life. Find something you love doing, and pursue it relentlessly. If it doesn’t work out, try something else. You’re young.”
In the end, it seems that all it requires to juggle a variety of interests is to keep yourself open to opportunities, possibilities, and new things that come your way. It may be easier said than done, but it’s also easier done than you may expect. Take Max Salk as an example – he followed his passions, and didn’t have to give up one for the other. He just kept his outlook open, and didn’t get bogged down by how to label himself.