We’ve talked before about David Epstein’s wonderful book Range, which advises against premature specialization—in athletes, in kids, in intellectual development. It tends to be better, he writes, to pursue a wide variety of activities and build a base of competence than it is to be like Tiger Woods and dedicate yourself to golf at two years old.
But it’s important that the message of this book is not oversimplified. There undoubtedly must come a time, as Epstein points out for someone like Roger Federer, where you decide to commit to something and it becomes your thing. While you don’t want to do that too early, it’s important you don’t get to it too late either. Getting serious about becoming a Navy SEAL at age 40 is an exercise in futility.
Which is why it’s important that we also pass along the advice that David Brooks has for young people in The Second Mountain. “Get to yourself quickly,” he writes. “If you know what you want to do, start doing it.” It’s ironic that the rise of specialization for kids seems to have also coincided with an increasingly extended adolescence for many kids. Now everybody is told to go to college. Then encouraged to travel. Then move to a new city. Date around, have flings. Try a handful of different jobs. People seem to be delaying getting serious about their lives…and then they wonder why they are falling behind, why they aren’t truly great at anything.
So this is the delicate balance you’ll have to figure out as you guide your kids through life. Don’t take options off the table too early…but don’t put off choosing forever. It’s great to be interested in lots of things…but you should still search for a true love. Don’t overly specialize…but if you have a calling, chase it!