I, like just about everybody else on earth who doesn't innately cringe at the words Harry Potter, have recently seen J.K. Rowling's latest film: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Since then, I've happily fallen into the pop culture analyses of it all: the hints to racial politics, depictions of a pre-Depression New York, critiques of the dickish decision to cast Johnny Depp, and - my absolute favourite - the significance of Newt Scamander, the Hufflepuff hero we didn't know we were waiting for.
For the fandom, the difference between each of the four Hogwarts Houses is practically etched in our muscle memory: Gryffindors are brave (but obnoxious), Slytherins are cunning (but slippery), Ravenclaw are wise (but smug), and Hufflepuff are... Sweet? Loyal? Maybe a little "soft"?
I grew up in the nineties, where people still adhered to the John Hughes-esque grouping of cliques as a tool for self-identification. In the age of Pokémon cereal and Friday nights in the aisles of Blockbuster hour upon indecisive hour, we'd gradually come around to notion that girls may not be so inferior to boys after all (thanks, Spice Girls). Still, there was a lingering presumption that people had to be defined by some strict parameter or other. So we pledged ourselves red or blue, an answer in a Dolly magazine quiz, or - go figure - a Harry Potter house.
To be specialised at something was to claim it for your own. Everybody, deep down, hungered to be the best at something, and so to make a decision as to what that would be was a triumph in and of itself. The accolades associated with specialisation have their own peculiar counter-reaction: a snobbery against generalisation.
I get it. I do. When I was a kid who devoured books literally every hour of the day - to the point that teachers and parents alike were forced to confiscate them - I staunchly determined that I, ever the Ravenclaw, would be an author when I grew up. This, I told myself with all the binary indignance of a child who will undoubtedly change her mind about her 'calling' a dozen times before adulthood, is my destiny.
Flash forward: at age 21, I've written a novel. The year after, I wrote my second. Then came a third, and now, I'm editing my a fourth: my first ever nonfiction book, and my most demanding project. But can I rightly call myself an author, to the exclusion of all other identifiers? Hell no. Between grinding my teeth in front of Scrivener, I've flirted with an array of different hobbies, and, like writing, mastered exactly none.
When you're rolling off a running list of a person's greatest hits, it's only natural for it to sound impressive. Take me, for example: nabbed black belt in taekwondo, travelled solo across four continents, written four books, toured internationally as a Spoken Word Poet, represented gender equality initiatives at the United Nations, and have lived in Lyon, London, and soon, San Francisco... but these are mere morsels of one vignette.
I meet people who inspire me every single day. I count my muses amongst friends, family, and colleagues who have risen to the ranks in any one field in which I've dabbled and made it their own: the Olympic fighter, the perpetual freelance traveller, the published author(s), the expatriate who lives and breathes in only their alternate language, the social media celebrity, the PhD candidate, the International Development expert who delivers their own programs on the very frontline: these are the specialists who have made lives out of their identifiers, and the definition of humbling is to project my fair-weather dalliances against their expertise.
I can understand why people like me might feel defensive about how "society" (quote-unquote) values specialisation. There is a weight tethered to the expression 'Jack of all trades, master of none' that cannot be denied, even as people collectively are more forgiving of people who have carved their own paths. Success is no longer defined by the stereotypes of our parents' generation, because there's simply no way to predict who will be the most accomplished person at your high school reunion: you could flip a coin between the person who chased the White Picket Fence and caught it, and the one who sold all their belongings to haul a stick and bindle into the sunset. Never before have sabbaticals and self-determination been so encouraged, but many of the generalists I know still seem to foster a misplaced anxiety about having to be forever 'on'. It could be that they have difficulty committing to any one thing. It could be that they don't quite know where their skills are best suited. It could be that they're secretly scared that if they double down on one thing, they might fail.
But it's okay. Perhaps that just means we're all fostering a little bit of Hufflepuff in us. And in this social justice era, there's never been a better time to embrace our own vulnerabilities. I suspect I'm that deep down, I'm more Hufflepuff than Ravenclaw. After all, I'm soft edges and too many kisses and a sensitive spit-fire and a marshmallow heart. I play video-games on easy mode because I'd rather know how the story ends than conquer an unconqueable AI. But I am ambitious, and curious, and swallow new information with the recklessness of Kirby in a bookstore, and I'm loyal, and ferocious, and can breathe fire when I have to. There isn't a Hogwarts house that fits all of that cleanly... Possibly because nobody should be filed into categories so staunchly in the first place.
I'm not sure I believe anybody is innately destined to be an expert, just as I believe nobody is innately meant to be a generalist. People are too wonderfully complex to live by binaries. Maybe being a Master of something is less of an insight into character than a reflection of one's ability to commit to a decision.
I may not be a published author yet, but perhaps that's just because I still need to work on my attention span.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.