I write a lot about the importance of specializing in your career. The bottom line is that if you are great at what you do, you will get better hours, better pay, and more flexibility in how you run your life. But no one is great at everything.
Specializing means figuring out what you don’t do. If you are a programmer, you can’t be great at hardware and software. If you are in marketing, you won’t be great at marketing to kids and business-to-business marketing. You need to know your niche if you want to be great.
But I receive tons of mail from people arguing that if you specialize, you run the risk of being great in an area that no one hires for anymore. This is true. Especially now, when the workplace is changing so quickly. The solution to this problem is that everyone, no matter what their career, must be not only a specialist, but a trend spotter as well.
For a good look at how people become trend spotters in order to stay relevant in their field, check out the new book, Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death, by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. The book is filled with characters like Lou Stellato, a sort of a futurist of funeral directors, who declares, “Funeral service as we know it is over.”
Cullen’s book explains the issues of the shifting funeral industry, and incidentally, the process that individuals take to shift their careers so as not to get left behind. This is a great lesson in specializing because the funeral information is hilarious (for example Costco breaking the casket monopoly) and shocking (people turning their loved ones into diamonds – yes, there’s a new process…).
The biggest problem for funeral directors is that by 2025 most funerals will not involve caskets. This means no big profit from the panic of a last minute, overpriced casket. No profit from renting a room for a viewing. In fact, there is the possibility that most funerals could bypass the funeral home altogether.
But something happened after 9/11. People needed to hold funerals without having any part of the body to bury. And, since many of the dead were very young and well-connected in the community, the funerals included literally thousands of people. So funeral directors became event planners.
And then, the smart funeral directors noticed that if they honed their event planning skills then they would be useful even as the industry shifts away from casket-centered funerals.
Your industry is like this one. Whatever industry you’re in is shifting because all aspects of culture and business are shifting. These funeral directors are not happy about having to change, but they face the need head on and they figure out, in the funeral world, how they can be specialists in a way that will keep them relevant to their customers.
Remember Me shows that there are many ways to adapt to change, and you only need to find one that works. For example, not everyone is abandoning the casket world. Some are adapting it – Goliath Casket Co. is making caskets to fit the obese (at least one overweight body was squeezed into a standard-sized casket with a shoehorn.) And Batesville offers low-cost wood veneer alternatives (positively revolutionary for the price-gouging industry). And to address the fact that more people are choosing cremation, some funeral directors are focusing on audio add-ons, a one casket company partnered with Nambe – the renowned purveyor of wedding registry silver — to create coffee-table quality containers for cremains.
To become a specialist in your field takes a little vision and a little luck. Usually one’s specialty comes by dint of the opportunities that present themselves. The way I got to be a career writer is a process of finding a specialty. I started writing fiction, but I was not that great at it. I realized the only thing I was getting paid good money for was business writing. And within that field, I found that the way I really stood out was in my approach to writing about careers.
Trend spotting takes diligent information gathering with an open mind, but there’s big payoff in having a relevant, specialized career. I always aim for a dynamic, innovative career like one of those trend-spotting funeral directors, and you should, too.