A More Beautiful Blossom Later in Life
Think of this as a hybrid book review along with some personal take-aways.
Early this morning, I finished “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein. Weaving thorough research with compelling story-telling, the second book by Epstein drew me in almost as much as “The 7 Habits…” by Covey in the late ’80s. Like Covey’s timeless bestseller, it came to me at the right time.
Late to the Game?
You see, I turned 50 last September. Throughout my 30’s, I really felt like I was behind in life. While most of my college friends had already settled into relatively successful and stable careers, I was just getting started with a drastic career change after spending most of my 20’s in Japan.
Because I’ve chosen to follow a nonlinear career path, I have often felt insecure about my success, or lack thereof. Although I’ve gotten over it, for the most part, the comparison game still gets to me sometimes. Reassuringly, one of Epstein’s parting notes were:
“Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you. Everyone progresses at a different rate, so don’t let anyone else make you feel behind. You probably don’t even know where exactly you’re going, so feeling behind doesn’t help.”
— David Epstein, Range (2019)
Whether or not that last sentence is reassuring, I get it’s debatable. When I admit to myself that, at 50 years old, I’m still not really sure where exactly I’m going…shame comes to mind. I’m learning that’s the result of many years of social conditioning.
10,000-hours vs. The Sports Gene
And that’s one of the important questions posed by Epstein. When Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule, everyone seemed to jump on the wagon (I know I did) and really push for the head start in some sort of specialization. For example, start really young with violin lessons and then dedicate 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve extraordinary expertise.
The Sports Gene, which was Epstein’s first bestselling book, proposed a twist. Then in Range, he expands on the importance of early life experimentation–or what I like to call dabbling–before diving deep into some area of specialization. That’s not to say that early specialization isn’t good. It’s just not the only way to create an extraordinary life. Famous examples of late blossoms include Van Gogh and Julia Child.
I agree with Epstein when he says the world needs both…Specialists and Generalists working together.
I acknowledge that I like reading anything that supports my decisions, even if those decisions happen to be wrong! So I’ll keep that in check. That said, here are a few key thoughts I’ll continue exploring:
- Don’t feel behind. Success in life, or any endeavor, should not be defined by early and immediate accomplishment. Some of the best things (and people) take time to bloom.
- Don’t feel guilty about experimenting with your various interests. Especially if your interests seem totally unrelated and don’t appear to create anything of value as deemed by others. Some of the most meaningful and influential discoveries (e.g the effective treatment for HIV) in history have come as a result of someone’s tinkering with something that, at that moment, seemed utterly useless and a waste of time.
- Keep yourself in check when you subconsciously start comparing yourself to others. It’s not healthy. You become unnecessarily anxious. Truly successful people don’t really give a shit. You already know this.
I gave Range a 5-star rating in the Goodreads app. Even if it doesn’t connect with you as strongly, I’m confident you’ll still agree it’s a worthwhile read. At the very least, it will round out your view of the 10,000-hour rule. Highly recommended for those of you who consider yourself Dabblers.
*Originally published for the Dabbler publication on Medium