#003 Generalists as cartographers

Tracing personal patterns reveals hidden growth paths. Dive into your history to chart a future where curiosity and self-discovery lead the way.

#003 Generalists as cartographers
A Riso print of a good walk with my sister Alessandra, our dad, and our dogs.

This issue started with the intention to talk about maps. Paradoxically, I might have gotten a little lost while at it. This issue is about being a generalist and how a newly found curiosity towards maps sparked a journey of introspection and search for recurring patterns along my journey.

Last 2 Weeks Roll-up

Before we dive in, updates. The last few weeks have been an emotional and creative rollercoaster!

A printed mockup of the MakerLab Yearbook is finally in my hands. I want to make more books, new books, my books, and eventually our books.

The MakerLab Year Book printed mock-up. 300 pages of back-to-back interviews with tens of adidas colleagues, photography, and layout design. Labor of love.

There is no mission clearer than the one of Craig Mod. His membership (newsletter-based) program empowers him "to make books until I die". His words. His work. A gifted writer who can put a smile on my face on a bad day.

An excerpt from Roden #70 by Craig Mod. Love this!

A 4maybe5-month sabbatical is now on the horizon, and I could not be more blessed to have someone who encourages me to take leaps of faith and embrace the adventure. Thank you, Ele; I know I am so lucky. ❤️

I returned to playing around with routes and photography, GPX files, photography, and Riso printing (featured image). After-work fun-fun-fun and more of this in the coming future.

"Your best feed is your inbox". Have I come up with my newsletter meme?

Yay! rollercoasters! but mind the downward spiral

Walking and photography shape a big part of my identity. These two passions intertwined during COVID lockdowns, times during which I also set ambitious learning goals that brought me close to exhaustion.

Sorry, creative coding, you are very attractive, but we were not meant to be.

Creative coding surfaced my curiosity for maps. Or was it just the contagious enthusiasm of Daniel Shiffman AKA the Coding Train?

At that very moment, I heard my inner self shouting: "Please, not again! Not another one."

My first map tutorial, representing asteroid landings on the globe.

Hello, Generalist Dilemma

Personal point of view. Being a generalist is a double-edged sword. Mind how you wield it.

The broad spectrum and range, make a generalist versatile and adaptable innovator and connector. On the other hand, a generalist might be outcompeted by specialists and experts when challenges require a level of depth that they lack. Ask me about it!

So, the question is how to leverage the spectrum while deepening the most meaningful and impactful expertise.

A few practical thoughts

When defining myself to others, at times I feel both too many things and none at once. To overcome this, I started looking at myself as a set of modular blocks. Legos. Making my personal narrative modular, assemblable, and composable knowing that I don't have to use all the pieces.

Go where the specialists are. Specialists often need "translators" or mediators to create platforms and grounds that foster a shared language and collaborative environment.

If you consider yourself a generalist and you feel lost, I feel you as I live through this day in and day out, and consider it a struggle at times. At times not. Generalists enjoy lower guardrails and are blessed with freedom.

So, back to the Maps.

When I realized how cool it was that I could map asteroid landings on a map, before letting my enthusiasm and my FOMO take over, I decided to embark on a journey of personal history and observation to identify patterns that could validate that unexpected reaction and interest.

The Lost Generalist Needs a Compass, Not a Map

The opening words of Dante Alighieri, Inferno Canto 1, La Divina Commedia
"Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

We might feel physically or metaphorically lost at some point in our lives. The Dantesque introduction points right at us, lost in a dark forest, metaphorically and literally.

How can we get back on track?

An explorative journey in our personal history might show us new paths ahead of us.

There is nothing wrong with being derailed by our innate curiosity, as long as we can hold on to a trajectory. Even if we can't see the destination, we can reach it in many ways, following our compass.

Look for patterns

These are the words that help me find my center and the enthusiasm to pursue the new with more meaning and confidence. Embarking on a journey of self-observation and discovery can unearth opportunities for future interests and endeavors.

You can go as far back as when you were a little child.

One day, I thought about my childhood passion for fishing. I would obsessively read (and print) everything about techniques, gear, and the craft of making artificial lures.

Looking beyond the fishing, there was a little kid interested in tools and techniques, right there. Looking at me now, it makes so much sense. In some way, I am still that little kid.

1936, the first example of a lure was made by Lauri Rapala

Threads & patterns. Identity is like a tapestry

This is not a journey to identify what we are good at, but a journey to acknowledge the interconnected threads that weave our identity and that can define new leaps of growth and fulfillment.

We are after mindful self-observation that goes beyond our best achievements harnessing the cues and underlying reasons behind our past actions.

Looking at all our experiences as one big tapestry, we can identify the threads that repeat themselves, forming patterns that we resonate with and that accrue a compounding value that we can learn to nurture.

So before looking up maps on the internet, I looked for maps inside me, and little did I know, I would find so many!

Would the next logical step be to become a cartographer? The idea is quite daunting. So, what is the right question I should ask myself? What makes maps meaningful to me?

I found this answer in the way maps can display information. Spatially.

Esri, the entity behind the Geographical Information System, puts it quite simply and beautifully as "the science of where. (powerful meme)"

Maps are canvases that allow us to display and visualize information, they are storytelling tools that can help us understand situations through a universal visual language.

Thanks to acknowledging a recurring curiosity for maps, I could discern that I am drawn to the spatial representation of information as a creative and decision-making means.

Realizing to be a spatial thinker adds a new nuance to being a visual one.


This issue of hotpot started with the intent to introduce my interest and curiosity for digital maps and it evolved into a much more personal piece through the realms of personal development. This did not go as planned.

Over the years I learned to embrace the role of a generalist who like a cartographer, traces connections between dots, unveiling relationships between what are seemingly unrelated areas of expertise.

The dynamism of our times, the fast pace of technology, and its disruptive effect on so many aspects of our lives and behaviors have both challenged and nurtured the generalist in me.

Looking for recurring patterns within ourselves and along our journey is a future-proof strategy to develop and grow more intentionally, just like maps are continually refined and updated.

Looking critically at our past and present, we can weave a more meaningful future at every frame stop instead of letting it just happen.

Hotpot is a platform for us to connect, and I would like to leave you with the same question I ask myself every so often.

What are the recurring patterns that you can identify within yourself and leverage to develop and grow?

I hope you enjoyed this issue and that we did not go too much offpath. Every issue of hotpot has its flavor, and this was a very personal and introspective one.
I would have loved to talk more about maps, but writing surfaces what is more ripe, and keeps what needs more nurturing for future issues.

While I am not in a position to dispense universal and absolute advice, none of it was meant as such. I hope that by talking through my vulnerability, I could spark some thoughts in you.

If so, I'd love to hear from you. Don't be a stranger and feel always welcome to get in touch at hotpot@andreabrena.com

Thank you to those who reached out already. Your messages have filled my heart with joy proving to me that connecting through this medium is meaningful.

I look forward to starting working on the next, which will introduce the topic of community and a few projects I have been part of.

If you know someone who would appreciate this, please forward this email to them.

I hope to see you again on this journey.