“You don’t change your identity overnight. You have to start with these little keyhole experiments until something that you think that was just an interest becomes a real passion or a vocation.”
Conventional wisdom dictates that mastery demands an early start. Relentless focus at the exclusion of other pursuits. And as many hours of deliberate practice as humanly possible.
Be it violin, painting, basketball or boat building, there’s simply no substitute for a life wholly devoted to developing that narrowly defined skill.
Hence the “10,000 hour rule” zeitgeist embrace — an edict divined by psychologist Anders Ericcson and made famous by Malcolm Gladwell.
But is this actually true?
Today’s guest put this theory to the test, researching the world’s top performers across a wide variety of disciplines to discover a most counter-intuitive truth — that early specialization is actually the exception to the rule. It turns out that the most successful among us are those who developed broad interests and skills while everyone else was rushing to specialize.
Today we explore why breadth is the ally of depth – not the opposite. And why generalists are the ones most primed to excel.
Enter journalist and multiple New York Times bestselling author, David Epstein.
In addition to being an exceptional runner (he set the Columbia University record for 800 meters), David is a former investigative reporter for both ProPublica and Sports Illustrated with master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism. Three of his stories have been optioned for films. And his TED Talk, Are Athletes Really Getting Better, Faster, Stronger? has been viewed over 8 million times (and even shared by Bill Gates).
David is currently best known for his two smash-hit bestsellers, The Sports Gene: Inside The Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance and Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. A #1 New York Times bestseller, Range is arguably the must-read breakout hit of 2019 — a book as much about parenting as it is about performance.
This is an insanely informative and engrossing conversation about the benefits of being a generalist — in career, sports, science, art, and life.
In a world that heavily favors early specialization, we discuss why it’s often the late bloomers who prevail. Why it’s the jacks-of-all-traders rather than the nose-to-the-grindstoners who ultimately blaze a path to greater success, happiness and fulfillment in both career and life.
We discuss David’s infamous debate with Malcolm Gladwell that changed the famous thinker’s mind — and spawned David’s groundbreaking books.
We talk about the benefits of inefficiency. Why frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. And why failing isn’t just good, but the best way to learn.
Our greatest masters — professional athletes, Nobel laureates, musicians, inventors, and scientists — all resist siloing themselves in a single field. Instead they think broadly. Embrace diverse experiences. And constantly cultivate new interests.
My hope is that David’s message will inspire you to do the same.
And if you’re a late bloomer like myself, this exchange is certain to reassure and delight.
Peace + Plants,
Images by Ali Rogers
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Note: One of the best ways to support the podcast is to support the sponsors. For a complete list of all RRP sponsors and their respective vanity url’s and discount codes, visit my Resources page and click “Sponsors”.
Background, Context & Reference
- Connect with David: Website | Twitter
- Book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World*
- Book: The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance*
- TED: David Epstein: Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?
- NY Times: You Don’t Want a Child Prodigy What ‘Roger’ dads do better than Tiger moms ever will
- NY Times: Remember the ‘10,000 Hours’ Rule for Success? Forget About It
- The Wall Street Journal: ‘Range’ Review: Late Bloomers Bloom Best
- CBS This Morning: “Range” author David Epstein explains why generalization beats specialization
- The Atlantic: The Case Against Grit
- Scientific American: Jacks-of-All-Trades Make the Grade
- Kirkus: Review: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
- Publisher’s Weekly: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
- Outside Magazine: David Epstein Makes the Case for Being a Generalist
- Medium: Lessons from “Range” by David Epstein
- Morning Brew: A Conversation With “Range” Author David Epstein
- NPR: ‘Range’ Argues That Specialization Should Not Be The Goal For Most
- Book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success* by Carol Dweck
- Book: Mudbound* by Hillary Jordan
Notable People Discussed
- Brad Stuhlberg: co-author of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout and Thrive with the New Science of Success* and podcast guest
- Malcom Gladwell: author, staff writer for New Yorker Magazine and host of Revisionist History
- Roger Federer: professional tennis player; currently ranked world No. 3 in men’s singles tennis
- Michael Phelps: Most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals
Russ Roberts: economist and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution
Freeman Dyson: heoretical physicist and mathematician known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering
- Lance Mackey: merican dog musher and dog sled racer from Fairbanks, Alaska, who is a four-time winner of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest and four-time winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
- Sam Harris: philosopher, neuroscientist, host of the Making Sense Podcast and author of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion*
- Carol Dweck: Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success*
- Bill Simmons: former sports columnist, analyst, author, and host of The Bill Simmons Podcast
Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy
- RRP #429: The Paradox Of Passion With Brad Stulberg & Steve Magness
- RRP #425: Tom Bilyeu On Exiting The Matrix, How To Develop ‘Techne’ & Why Mindset Is Everything
- RRP #317: Where Do You Thrive? Gretchen Rubin On Playing To Your Strengths & Building Better Habits
- RRP 144: Casey Neistat’s Absolute Disregard For Failure
*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
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