High School is a great opportunity to try a lot of different things. In the search for a vocation and purpose in life, it might be tempting to specialize too soon, especially if you find yourself fulfilling other peoples' dreams instead of your own. The Modern Mrs. Darcy wrote a terrific blog post on this topic last week, and I just have to pass on part of what she said. Though she is talking specifically about the very best of the very best, I think the principles she discusses are true for the rest of us as well. Successful people in all walks of life pick a specialty that they practice until they get good at it. Choosing that specialty is tough sometimes, and the process of making the choice often takes unexpected paths.
"David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, [writes and speaks] about what differentiates elite athletes and musicians from the rest of the pack.
I first encountered Epstein when I fell down the deliberate practice rabbit hole several years ago. Epstein hates the 10,000 hours rule, instead insisting that attaining excellence in any given discipline is a complex combination of biology and skill-building.
Practice is a vital piece of the puzzle, says Epstein, but the rule ignores an important prerequisite: to excel, we first must find where we are trainable. If you weren’t born with the eyesight and quick reflexes of a major league pitcher, no amount of training will earn you elite status. If your genes didn’t grant you the wingspan of an NBA point guard, 10,000 hours of practice won’t get you much more than mediocre.
The question we must ask ourselves, says Epstein, is which of our skills are ripe for improvement?
Deliberate practice is crucial, but it must be applied in the right discipline. The only way to find the right discipline is to sample widely.
Elite athletes and musicians aren’t the ones who have been playing a single sport since they were 5 years old: early specialization is fantastic for producing the best 13-year-olds, but terrible at getting the best 20-year-olds. Elite performers are far more likely to be the ones who tried a wide variety of sports, or instruments, before they specialized.
The sampling helped them build general skills, but its most important purpose was to reveal which specific discipline was ripe for specializing. World-class performers must find—through experimentation—the discipline that rewards their specific mix of talent and biology. Specializing early aborts this process, and ensures they won’t reach their potential."