Inspired by David Epstein’s outstanding book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in in a Specialized World”, last year Saurabh Mukherjea of Marcellus co-authored with Anupam Gupta “The Victory Project: Six Steps to Peak Potential”. Saurabh’s book made the point that to succeed in complex working environments all of us need to build a range of skills through reading, training and life experiences. This piece from Arthur Brooks expands on this point using the latest research done on the subject of ‘specialisation vs generalisation’: “In his 2019 book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein shows that people with varied skills are becoming more valuable in the modern economy, and tend to have the most fulfilling work lives. This has led some academics to question the value of the doctoral degree, and some firms that employ knowledge workers to look specifically for polymaths—or, as the writer Emilie Wapnick calls them, “multipotentialites”—who weave many interests and skills together to form a rich, fun life.”
Brooks then tackles the key issue which scares talented people away from becoming generalists – lower earnings due to lack of laser-like focus on a specific career: “My students often point out that pursuing a dual career might put them on a lower earnings trajectory than throwing themselves single-mindedly into just one thing…not everyone has the luxury of choosing lower pay. Still, you might be better able to afford a dual career than you imagine: Some economists and investment planners believe that many Americans overestimate how much money they need. Lots of research—and human experience—shows how easily wants become needs, resulting in the relentless pursuit of maximum income, which won’t make you happier.
If one of your interests has no earnings potential at all, you can still pursue it with passion….you can pursue an avocation in a serious way—in other words, work hard and play hard. Research has found that a high level of commitment to a hobby makes leisure time significantly more satisfying.
Your interest can also take the form of serious study, whether or not formal classes are involved. My father, a mathematics professor, was every bit as absorbed in his avocational interest in fossils and human origins as he was in his professional career. New hominid discoveries were as likely to be dinnertime conversation as Fermat’s Last Theorem. He never made a dime off his Neanderthal pals, but they lit him up like nothing else, and he knew as much as many paleoanthropologists.”
Brooks’ essay concludes with the point that all of us have to ask ourselves whether we want to have a fulfilling life or whether we are simply focused on being “successful”: “In addition, to being fun and making you happy, a commitment to multiple skills can make you better at each of them……you…can conduct your life in two meters at once, creating playful clashes, cheerful dissonances, and unanticipated harmonies. You might not be the next great composer of music…you can compose a fulfilling life.”
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