If you are rapidly approaching 40 ( like me) and you feel that your career is heading towards a dead valley and you wonder whether you can still start another one, read this book.
If you feel that 10 year old your kid is slow in picking piano and he has no hope of becoming another Mozart who started at 4, you are right. But then, you don’t need to be a Mozart to be an outstanding musician; read this book and it will show you musicians who boom late.
If you think that doing deliberate practice ( the so-called 10,000 hours deliberate practice) can let you master any fields, think again. Deliberate practice can work on domains with well-defined rules and when correct immediate feedbacks exist always, such as chess. But real world is a lot messier than this. In this real world, rules are murky if ever defined, and feedbacks are either not immediate or non-existence or downright wrong. In this case, deliberate practice can easily lead experts astray.
Parents always that hope their sons and daughters would one day be successful. In doing so they voluntarily assign themselves to be the chauffeur of their children, sending them to different classes as early as their age permit. The reasoning is that if you want to develop a skill, play an instrument or lead in a field, then you need to start early, focus intensely and do as many hours of deliberate practice as you can. There is no time for anything else: sleepovers at your friend’s house? Forget it; TV time? Get your practice done! Even reading extra-curricular books are forbidden, they have nothing to do with your exam. What about doing some extreme passions like hiking mountains in Nepal? DON’T YOU EVER THINK ABOUT SUCH DANGEROUS ACTIVITIES!
In the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein tries to dispel the myth that start early and deliberate practice is the key to lead a successful career. He shows that surprisingly, a lot of professional sports players, businessman and scientists are late bloomers and dabblers. At their early ages, they sample quite a variety of different skills or professions, and they specialize fairly late into their careers. Instead of just sticking to one single profession, they dabble into different professions at different times.
One might think that being a generalist is just a waste of time. There aren’t simply enough time to understand a field deeply, so why be so greedy and sample them all? But this is not the case, through numerous examples, David Epstein shows that activities in different domains give the generalists different perspectives, which make them less susceptible to groupthink, and more able to think outside of the box. A generalist might not be able to go as deep as a specialist, but that doesn’t really matter, he has the Range that a specialist lacks.
Too much specialization can actively harm; just take medicine for an example, a recent study found that cardiac patients were actually less likely to die if they were admitted during a national cardiology conference when thousands of cardiologists were away and not available. It is suggested that the reason for this is because the cardiologists have gotten so used to treating chest pain with stents that they do so even when the treatment is unnecessary or dangerous. So removing the specialists from the treatment is actually an effective way to save lives! This is a classic ” if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” problem.
I suspect that one of the reasons why people avoid involving into other fields is because of the fear of stepping out of their comfort zone, because learning new things are always inefficient, difficult, frustrating and usually heading nowhere. But even if you fail, the effort is not wasted. Your brain has been primed for subsequent learning, and you gain new perspective. It’s not uncommon that a solution often comes to our minds not after a long fruitless attempts, but after we have done the necessarily struggles and then do something else. Sometimes you just have to go through the winding road, there is no shortcuts. Sometimes you just have to make the mistakes, or else the lessons won’t stick.
So, back to the question of can it be ever too late to change your career? The answer is a resounding NO. If you ever need to ask this question, this means that you are aware of the dead valley you are in, and you definitely need to change. True, changing is painful, but no pain, no gain. And with your diverse experience, you can bring new things to a different field, you can still be successful, as numerous examples enumerated in the book.
You need to step out of your comfort zone, learn new things, think more different and fail more often.