What Is Your Specialty in Life?

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Do you have a specialty in life? (Doesn’t everyone?) A subject you love more than anything else. A topic you want to share with others. An area of interest you always think about? I tend to believe everyone has one, but they don’t always reveal it. I’m not sure we know what interests our family and friends, what warms their heart of hearts. I don’t talk about my specialty with most of my friends because I know it will bore the crap out of them.

And of course, our specialty changes all the time. What fascinates us in our teenage years might be completely forgotten by our thirties. Or what we dwell on during work hours might be ignored nights and weekends. Or even what we think about waking up might not be what we dwell on before bed.

I know during my middle years I was obsessed with computers. I began computer school in 1971 with mainframes. They were interesting but not exciting. Then in 1978, I got obsessed with microcomputers, and until I retired in 2013 I spent most of my time at work and at home thinking about PCs and what they could do. I spent decades programming dBASE, FoxPro, HTML/ASP/SQL Server. I thought after I retired I would continue to program, but I haven’t. I planned to get into Python and artificial intelligence as a hobby. I keep thinking I will still, but it hasn’t happened in six years.

I’ve often wanted my specialty to be something other than what it actually was. I don’t think we have any free will over what fascinates our minds. I’m not even sure we can explain where our specialties originate. For some reason, our neurons are drawn to highly specific aspects of reality. Often, with no rhyme or reason.

Being retired is somewhat like living in limbo before dying. I love being retired, but it’s not like growing up when we were expected to study, or the work years, when we were expected to be productive. I suppose retired people are expected to have a good time in their waning years, and I do, but they are lacking in future goal thinking. When we were little, we prepared to grow up and become what we thought we wanted to be. When we worked, we prepared for the freedom of retiring and doing exactly what we really dreamed of doing when we were kids. What’s our real future goal now? Preparing to die? I guess if you’re Christian you can plan your heavenly years in eternity.

It really helps to have a specialty in retirement. The only thing is I never imagined the specialty I’d end up having in my retirement years. My current specialty is science fiction anthologies. My dream before retiring was to write science fiction, but I can’t make myself do that. If I had free will, if I had mastery over my domain, I’d be writing science fiction. I have all the time in the world to write science fiction, I just don’t.

What I currently like doing and thinking about doing is collecting and reading science fiction anthologies. I’m even in a Facebook group of 187 people that share the same specialty. Although there are only three of us that seem to have this as our major, the other 184 people probably only pursue it as a minor. Still, my specialty is what gets me up in the morning, and keeps me working all day long. When I’m too tired to do anything else, I try to watch TV at night, but I’m finding that hard. I can’t really focus on the shows. I wish I had the mental energy to keep reading science fiction anthologies or writing about them. I have to accept that specialty.

What’s yours?


19 thoughts on “What Is Your Specialty in Life?”

  1. Well, you’ve pretty much summed up my existence in retirement, similar obsession but not as focused on one subject. For me, it’s the intersection of books and life – the hold that literature can have on us, why does a certain grouping of symbols (words) on paper affect us in a certain way. It fascinates me, I study it, I try to analyze it, I analyze myself. Then I take my afternoon nap.

  2. Ah, a simple, direct question that deserves an equally simple, direct response:
    Remaining madly, passionately, deeply, truly, and eternally in love with my wife of now 40 years. Everything else has proven to be simple distractions…some quite fun and meaningful, of course, while others–like those 55 years of blue-collar employment–little more than “necessary evils”.
    But mine has indeed been only the best life ever…because she made it that way.
    James, stay safe and be well.

  3. Hi James,

    I appreciated this article in so many ways. My speciality is solving problems using data. Many people call this being a data scientist. I have been calling myself a computational scientist for many years, long before the term “data scientist” was created.

    One reason I appreciated this article is that I have written numerous articles that were attempts by me to understand why I am fascinated with data and why I’m really good at solving complex problems. In my case, it turns out that a lifetime of continuous learning and mathematical applications have helped me achieve “my specialty”. The great part about my speciality is that I can work in any field, from business, to mathematics, to natural sciences without too much difficulty.

    One of the articles that I wrote a few years ago focused on the realization I had that getting older makes me better at my speciality. This is one benefit to my specialty – being experienced really helps. Thanks again for your excellent thoughts and articles. Keep up the great work!



    1. Ken, Your specialty is one I’ve wished I had, but alas, I lack the math skills and discipline. I have stumbled onto your blog from time to time while researching something, and it’s always impressed me.

  4. For me, my key specialty is writing. All else flows from that, including the curiosity needed to investigate material to write about. It also gives direction. And although I am approaching retirement age, writing is not something that one retires from. A benefit all around, at least for me.

      1. Writing is what I do for a living now as a professional career. I suspect ‘retiring’ in that context merely means getting a new set of wheels and carrying on!

  5. I’m not sure I have a specialty, however I was always fascinated in philosophical pursuits, asking myself why certain things in nature were they way they were, with a focus on the evolution of us humans as a social animal and why we act and behave the way we do.

    I’ve been retired for almost 2 years now so I have much more time to research and discover. I’m currently writing a treatise arguing from a position of hard determinism as to how the brain perceives, interprets and resolves information from the environment.

    Meantime I’m building a fence in the backyard and after that a porch for by daughter’s ‘fixer upper’ so that will cut into my other ‘work’ lol

  6. Great perspective here :)) I’ve phased through: Ocean swimming and bodysurfing; Malibu and Hawaii; bicycling; backpacking; flying airplanes; raising children. But, through it all, my greatest life-long passion and specialty is, and has always been: Horses! For more than 50 years and 4 generations of homebreds, I’ve done all I’ve ever wanted in the horse world: Endurance riding; all kinds of trail riding; carriage driving; vaulting. (It’s also my career. For 30 years now, I’ve worked with horses’ hooves, trimming and nailing on horseshoes — as a farrier.)

    I also write — as in, I must write! (Journaling, my primary outlet.) My Dad was a studio musician (20th Century Fox Orchestra — he played Sax on the original Batman TV show :)) and he was Bandleader at Disneyland (hired by Walt). People who know this, ask me what instrument I play? Simple: My ‘music’ is writing, and horses. https://soulhorseride.wordpress.com/virtual-rides/

    (I also tried my hand at a short SciFi story — please give it a read, and let me know how I’ve done :)) Dawn

  7. I, too, am a retired computer scientist. My specialty has always been learning new things. I always loved school, and I always loved reading (non-fiction and science fiction).

  8. The longest job I ever had was teaching for 27 years ..I taught 729 students of which each person I knew for 10 months at a time. Many of those students were 10 or 11 years old . Most of the years I taught gifted students and it was exciting and different each day I was a generalist in teaching art biology botany chemistry some genetics some geology astronomy and models and Frameworks to use in learning these subjects. I especially enjoyed history, modern and ancient. Their reading curriculum was based on narrative historical fiction which made the history more interesting and the reading more practical… most of the math was elementary but the interesting part was problem solving using mathematical Concepts

  9. Very nice collection of books on those shelves! I see THE GREAT SF STORIES series, Don Wollheim’s YEAR’S BEST SF series, and plenty of other SF anthologies! Like Rodney, I loved College (High School, not so much). I would have been happy to be a student forever, but after earning three Master’s Degrees and a PhD. I taught College classes for 40 years (and enjoyed that, too). But, if you asked my wife what my specialty is, she would respond: “Hoarding.” True, I have thousands of books, hundreds of music CDs and Blu-rays/DVDs. But, since my retirement three years ago, I’ve been slowly “de-acquisitioning” my books, CDs, and other media. Maybe, in 10 years or so, I will have liquidated most of my holdings and my specialty will be similar to Marie Kondo’s.

  10. Excellent question, James, as is obvious from the answers. To not have a specialty (or several) as you put it, seems a puzzling way to spend thirty years or so. But I disagree with the idea that we are “waning” all that time!

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