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The meandering path of the Generalist or the "Late Specializer"
In a world that encourages early specialization, most choose a specific field of study early in life, put in the volume of work, gain domain-specific skills, and get ready for employment. Most want to do this as early as possible and get a head start in life. Who wouldn’t?
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Meanwhile, our imaginary friend Ben would do something different. He takes a break after school and chooses to do YouTube. After a year of dabbling with it, he tries graphic design. Later, he studies Computer Science, in the hopes of getting employed and having a stable future. After a few years working as a developer for a Tech company, Ben quits his job and starts a YouTube channel offering coding tutorials, leverages his audience to create an E-Learning platform for coding, and runs an online business as an entrepreneur.
In search of “Match Quality”
The life path chosen by Ben describes the example of the “late specializer” (as opposed to the early specializing that people prefer). Notice the winding or meandering path Ben takes to become an entrepreneur. This could be looked at as a path of self-exploration. A path where Ben is constantly trying to find a missing clue to some life puzzle.
The late specializers are searching for a personal fit or what David Epstein author of the book - Range - Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World calls “match quality”.
Personal fit could be explained as “your chances of excelling at a job if you work at it”.
Match quality is used to describe the “degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are”.
But why would Ben search for a match quality in the first place?
Research has shown that people’s values, preferences, and personalities keep changing over time. This is especially of significance during the ages between 18 and late 20s when these changes are fastest or maximum.
It is hard for people to understand their abilities or interests. Given your work and life preferences keep changing, trying to specialize or narrow down on a specific field early in life, is like trying to predict your abilities and interests for a future “you” who doesn’t exist today. This is also why narrowing down on your passion or trying to find one early on, doesn’t work.
People get to know themselves in practice which is what our friend Ben did. Exploring, fumbling, acquiring skills, and finding his “match quality” eventually - being an entrepreneur.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with getting a law or medical degree or PhD. But it’s actually riskier to make that commitment before you know how it fits you.
- “Range - Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein
The “Late Specializer” is a generalist
Late specializers are also generalists in some sense. The early exploring gives them a range of experiences and skills to draw from and apply later in life. Take Ben’s case. His early explorations with YouTube and graphic design, helped him apply his Computer Science skills to build an online business. Now, this is not necessarily the right path. I am not talking about right or wrong. All of us would eventually specialize in some way. It’s just that the late specializers often feel left behind in life. For those exploring and trying to find their “thing”, as long they are learning and making progress in some form, there is no “falling behind”. In fact, looking at the brighter side, experimenting, and exploring eliminates boredom, gives you diverse experiences, and helps you stack skills that you could draw upon to solve problems or uniquely use to create a space for yourself.
This article/post is a synopsis of the book Range - Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein.