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David Epstein

How to Find Your Highest Potential

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE THE BEST.

So often we feel behind.

Other people have already figured out what they want.

Other people got started earlier.

They’re sure of the path they’re on.

But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

I would have never thought I’d end up where I am now. My whole life I’ve been a generalist.

I’ve never been the best at anything.

There was always someone bigger, faster, and stronger.

But I had heart and vision, and I was willing to work just as hard. This allowed me to collect a lot of different skills.

Those skills, even though they seem random, make me successful on the path I’m on now.

If you take your time and follow your inspiration, you’ll end up somewhere you couldn’t have even imagined.

On today’s episode of The School of Greatness, I talk about finding your perfect career path with an expert on fulfilling work: David Epstein.

“If careers were dating, we wouldn’t pressure people to specialize when they’re 15 years old.” @DavidEpstein  

David Epstein is a New York Times bestselling author and a science and investigative reporter. He co-authored the story for Sports Illustrator that revealed Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez had used steroids. His writing has been honored by an array of organizations, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Center on Disability and Journalism, and has been included in the Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology. 

David gives example after example of people who had diverse backgrounds that seemed unrelated to the thing they ended up being famous for.

He says that his most important projects are things he never could have planned.

So get ready to learn why setting rigid long term goals may actually hold you back on Episode 817.

“Take life and add meaning.” @DavidEpstein  

Some Questions I Ask:

  • How do we know what our best skills are? (22:30)
  • What advice would you give your son about figuring out his career? (26:00)
  • How do we do the matching process for ourselves? (43:00)
  • Why do we have an obsession with being the best? (57:00)
  • How do we know when we’ve found fulfillment? (1:04:00)

In this episode, you will learn:

  • About the concept “skill stacking” (10:00)
  • Why David wrote his book on generalists (11:00)
  • About The Dark Horse Project (13:30)
  • Why “self-regulatory learning” is the most beneficial (16:00)
  • About the “end of history allusion” (25:00)
  • How David uses a “book of experiments” (48:00)
  • Why we get stuck in the rut of competence (52:00)
  • Plus much more…
Connect with
David Epstein

Transcript of this Episode

Lewis: This is episode number 817 with NYT best-selling author David Epstein. Welcome to the school of greatness my name is Lewis Howes a former athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today, now let the class begin.

George Elliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

I am so excited about this interview because I get the question all the time from people and said “Lewis, I’m too old to start my dream. I don’t have the resources can I still go after what I want? I am too young nobody is gonna listen or follow me I am too young.”

I love what David just did recently, he wrote a book called ‘Range: Why generalist triumph in a specialize world.’

Now, for years you have probably heard that you need to specialize, you need to double down on your strengths, you need to never focus on your weaknesses only focus on your strengths and go all in with your strengths. Know what you’re good at and just do that thing and outsource everything else, but there is science proven that is actually not true.

My entire life I feel like I’ve been a generalist, I feel like I’ve been a master at mastering many things but I never specialized in one thing to be like the best in the world or the best skill at one thing. I’ve done so many things and I always wondered ‘is this the right way to go? Should I just spend 5 or 10 years on one thing?’ 

In my personality I just always like trying new stuff. I like taking on something I am not good at and becoming better at it. I did this with the public, I did this with playing the guitar all these things I wasn’t good at. In fact, I was pretty horrible at when I got started but I became really good over the years of practicing all these things and because I mastered the art of range and really kind of tapping into lots of different things I believe it makes me bulletproof. It gives me so much confidence I never would have had mastering one thing.

I am really excited about this and I hope you guys can get a lot out of this. If you don’t know who David is he is the author of 2 top 10 NYT best-selling books one called ‘range’ and ‘the sports gene.’ He was previously a science and investigative reporter and prior to that a senior writer at sports illustrated. His writing has been honored by an array of organizations from the national academy of sciences engineering and medicine to the society of professional journalist and the national center of disability and journalism.

His story on sudden cardiac death on athletes called ‘following the trail of broken hearts’ was chosen as one of the top 100 stories of the last 100 years by Columbia journalism alumni. His Ted talk has been viewed 7 million times in was shared by Bill Gates.

In this interview, we talked about why doing is the key for sustaining motivation. How comparison can slow you down and stop you from achieving your dreams. How to create range in your resume to create your ideal career, not specializing in one thing but creating range. The importance of consistently learning about yourself and who you are to grow in all areas of your life. The profound benefit of getting out of your comfort zone basis.

I am pumped up about this stuff and David has got all the science and the data and the research to back his findings. I am super excited about this make sure to share lewishowes.com/817 and tag me @lewishowes on Instagram.

Before we dive in a big thank you to our sponsor today zip recruiter. Now, finding a new job is a lot of work just like finding relationships. And what if you have your own personal recruiter to help you find a better job. Now, zip recruiter’s technology can do that for you, you just download the zip recruiter job search app and let it know what kind of job you are interested in and its technology starts doing the work for you. The zip recruiter app finds jobs that you’ll like and puts the profile in front of employers who may be just looking for someone just like you. And if your employer likes your profile then zip recruiter lets you know. So, if you’re interested in a job you can apply for it. My listeners should download this free zip recruiter job search app today because it’s gonna let the power of the technology start working for you.

All right my friends I am excited about this one let me know what you think about it while you’re listening let’s spread the message of greatness. 

Without further ado let’s bring on the one and only David Epstein.

Lewis: Welcome everyone to the school of greatness podcast we’ve got David Epstein in the house.

David: Thank you for having me.

Lewis: Super glad you’re here, you’ve got a new book out called ‘range’ which when I saw this come across my desk I said ‘yes.’ My whole life I’ve been a generalist I’ve never been the best at anything. I would say I was a gifted athlete because I worked very hard to become that but I was never and most talented athlete in any team I’ve ever played on, there’s always someone more athletic skill or bigger, faster and stronger, but I feel like I had a heart in vision and I was willing to work just as hard as anyone else. This has been my whole life becoming the master of general ideas, skills and having a collection of a lot of skills and I have no clue if being 80% at a lot of things or a 100% good at one thing.

David: Yeah.

Lewis: We were talking about parents and especially in sports or music they put them in one thing and they drill in them for 8 hours a day.

David: Yeah.

Lewis: It’s like soccer in the USA you just play select soccer all year round and you get burnt out when you’re 18.

David: Yeah.

Lewis: So why did you want to dive into this topic about generalist?

David: You mentioned a couple of interesting things by the way. You talked about this concept about being good at a bunch of different things and maybe you’re not number 1 but you know some people call this concept skill stacking, where it’s like you may not have to be the very best at an individual thing like that’s for a small number of people but if you can kind of cobble together skill and number of different domains you sort of make this mosaic where you’re not in zero some competition with someone anymore because you’re kind of competing on your own ground. 

To your point about soccer and how I decided to write about this book. Two things one was after I wrote my first book and [?] would say ‘several pages to criticize his work.’

Lewis: Why were you criticizing his work?

David: Well because some of the work underlying the 10,000 rules was very soft and there’s a ton of work showing that there, in fact, you know the strict 10,000-hour school said ‘it doesn’t even matter’

Lewis: 10,000 hours and you’re gonna be amazing.

David: That’s right. But in fact there’s a ton of evidence that shows actually learning about your talents and trying to match to those talents is actually incredibly important. So this message like it doesn’t matter what you pick just pick a thing and go 10,000 hours, I think was really doing a disservice.

Lewis: If I’m like the tallest person in school but I want to be a point guard, you know I may not match my interest or my body type or my genes is what you’re saying right?

David: Yeah maybe you can be a big point guard but it turns out the way we learn about our interest in our abilities is by trying things and then changing. We learn who we are in practice not in theory. And what it means is there are this personality quizzes that want to convince you to ‘take this and it will tell you.’ There’s this wealth of psychology that shows ‘we aren’t that good at understanding our abilities and interest until we actually try something and then reflect on it.’ So, you have to learn who you are in practice as oppose to just introspecting. 

Lewis: I think there are so many people who have like ‘I don’t know what my purpose is.’ If you are just doing hard all day that you don’t enjoy it’s gonna be hard right?

David: Yeah, I mean nobody loves every part of their job but again you’re like glancing of your stuff. So, that idea of knowing you’re a teenager like your mention of what you want to do.

Lewis: Don’t set a goal.

David: So, it really jives in this research called ‘the dark horse project.’ It turned out that they are talking to all these people who are financially successful, a lot of them worked but they were all fulfilled. These people would come in and they would tell the researchers ‘Don’t do what I did because I started in one thing and it turned out I didn’t want.’ 

Lewis: Right don’t tell them to do that.

David: like 90% of the subjects they found all came in.

Lewis: I’m an outlier.

David: It wasn’t titled that before they called it ‘the dark horse project’ because 90% of them view themselves as having come out of nowhere to find success in this area because they cobbled together these different experiences.

Lewis: So they weren’t like 16 and saying ‘okay I’m going to medical school?’ 

David: No, some of them set long term goals eventually, but they were still very open to sort of reorienting. So, their common trait was short term planning.

Lewis: It’s always like your 5-year goal right?

David: Right instead of saying this is younger than me and has more than me, they would say ‘here’s where I am right now.’ They just keep doing that until they find this place.

Lewis: I think a lot of people say ‘I failed over here and this thing didn’t work out for me’ but from our examples from ourselves like the thing that didn’t work out just set us up over the next thing.

David: And the other thing is and I think this applies to the both of us too, those people didn’t view. So a lot of it was learning about themselves and call self-regulatory learning. They end up analyzing their own strengths and weaknesses and more similar to how like their peers and bosses do because they get better self-knowledge, but they also tend to not be just experimentation as the lost time they bring like one knowledge from one area and sort of fuse it with others. 

Lewis: Right.

David: So for me, I was trained to be a scientist, I was living in the Arctic when I decided to become a writer. 

Lewis: So that was like from college when you went over there? 

David: Yeah. So, I live down like to research in the Pacific Ocean for a while and I move up to the Arctic and all these stuff. There were probably 30 to 40 people in the Arctic and then like a couple of scientist and mechanics.

Lewis: You’re doing just research all day and logging your information?

David: Yeah, I was up there for half a year but in the spot where I was you couldn’t be there.

Lewis: Wow.

David: My work is getting you know so narrow and start asking myself you know ‘am I the type of person that wants one thing in the world?’ So, I sort of like find that lost time and I’m behind. So, when I get to sports illustrated I get there. So then I decided I want to be a writer and I had to take some of you know very not glorious jobs, like my first stable gig in journalism was work at the daily news. So, I sort of zigzag my way through a couple of jobs. I guess when I’m 27 or something like that.

Lewis: How did that make you feel?

David: You know at the time I felt like [?] growth trajectory it didn’t even bother me. What I didn’t realize was that my very ordinary science skills suddenly take them there and I’m an extraordinary scientist and its sports illustrated because there’s a huge number of people waiting in line to be the next NFL B reporter. So, I start writing these science articles and suddenly I am competing with nobody because nobody is waiting in line to do that, so it’s just a question if I can perform well I have a job.

Lewis: Right.

David: Anything like science can touch.

Lewis: No one own that yet?

David: No one really wanted to do that stuff because of the different skill. So, pretty quickly I had more stuff than I could really do, and so I had this crime reporting experience again this became a very valuable thing. So suddenly I can’t do any more stuff.

Lewis: How quickly did you get to that point?

David: I think I went from fact-checker to a senior writer in about 3 years and it happens so quickly that actually there’s a paper where some of my [?] research got published in the journal or Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Tundra.

Lewis: Right.

David: That my contact info on the paper is a senior writer for sports illustrated. So, it was happening pretty quickly.

Lewis: So you learned about that stuff, you quickly realized that your skills from one thing you didn’t think would apply did apply?

David: Totally and it turned out it was some and still is the most valuable skill that I have.

Lewis: No one is willing to put that time and energy to create a work of art like that.

David: Like also I couldn’t have prospectively seen that, like when I was in S.I and you get contacted by people who want to work there and want to get to sports media and say ‘Should I major in sports English or journalism?’ My first instinct is journalism and my second instinct was English.

Lewis: Right, interesting.

David: You know you end up with these skills that are normal in one place and totally abnormal in other place and that makes you more valuable. There were some people in the dark horse project who did follow a linear path, it was just the small minority.

Lewis: A dark horse is someone who’s fulfilled in their work?

David: And they tend to be very successful also. That’s exactly like I want to be in my own ground, so it’s just a question of how well can I do? 

Lewis: So tell me about this matching thing. How do we know what our best match is?

David: One of the neat studies was by one economist who was [?] the tradeoff between the early and late specialization. So, he looked and found a natural experiment in the higher Ed systems in England and Scotland, where they are very similar except in England you have to pick a specialty earlier because when you’re like 15 or 16 you have to take what test you are gonna take to get into a specific tech program. In Scotland you don’t it is sort of more like the American system.

Lewis: Live in large.

David: And you know less constraint because you can go take like because I would argue that some of them don’t have like enough [?] in science. And so this questions who wins the trade-off? It turns out the early specializers did jump out to an income because they have more domain-specific skills, but the late specializers end up get the sample and pick a little bit. So their growth rate is much higher and a couple of years after graduation they erased that income gap completely and like fly right by, and meanwhile, the early specializers start quitting their career tracks in much higher numbers.

Lewis: Because they are bored or burnt out.

David: They pick so early that they made a bad choice.

Lewis: And we’re completely different people from 16 to 27.

David: So there’s this concept called ‘the end of history.’ And this is the psychological concept that at every time point of life we say ‘I changed a lot in the past based on my experiences and the things I’ve learned, but now I am pretty much set.’ And we say that at every time point in life and every time we were wrong and it leads to like this is just one of those funny experiments. If you ask how much they would pay right now to see their favorite band from 10 years ago the average answer is $80, because we underestimate how much our tasteful change over that time period. At every point we underestimate how much we change our values and what we think our skills are and the way we spend our time. In the period from 18 to about your late 20’s is the fastest time of personality change of your entire life.

So, choosing that period or earlier before that period is like truly trying to make choices for someone who has not existed, but we change.

Lewis: So let’s say your son is 16 and he’s saying ‘dad all my friends are getting ready for college and I have no clue. Should I start specializing in one thing or should I just have a gap here and have fun?’ 

David: So first I would say “Don’t worry about being behind.” But about those stories that we tell them a little wrong and delve into those. Tiger, he showed this prowess and interest that his father responded to, as he said “My father never ask me to play golf, it was always my interest.” It’s a child’s interest that matters. Mozart from his childhood and there was a musician in their household, Mozart’s father was a musician and little Mozart comes downstairs and like “I want to play second violin.” And so that musician who is writing a letter starts to like ‘I agree to play with little Wolfgang in the other room.’ Next thing you know they hear a second violin piece coming in there.

Lewis: Yeah.

David: And the letter comes in and Mozart’s father kind of like in tears and he’s, and the guy writing the letter says “Little Wolfgang was [?] by our [?] and he insisted that he could also play the first violin.” And he goes on and played with his made up finger.

Tiger and Mozart are incredibly rare but you don’t really have to worry about missing them because it was their parents who were responding to unusual.

Lewis: Forced into something.

David: Right. And in fact, their parents then facilitated a ton of effort after that. Those are incredible outliers, but if you want to maximize the opportunity to that you should expose them to a bunch of stuff and see if they grab onto something. So, the approach I think I want to take as a parent akin to this system I write about that the army uses in a range where the army had this very strict upper route structure for career tracks for high potential officers, which of course is the army. And that worked for a long time in like the industrial economy where organization were facing the same kind of challenges over and over. 

Lewis: Right.

David: Suddenly graduates of the U.S military academy all of a sudden who use to become like the top leadership of the army suddenly half of them are quitting like the day they can leave the military because they learned these skills and about themselves in their early 20’s, and now you can move laterally and move a lot more because there’s more emphasis in knowledge and problem solving rather than this [?]. Then they start like ‘okay, we haven’t developed you know a great whatever overnight, we’ve developed [?] problem.’ So, the higher potential they were the more higher the army gives them scholarships and the more likely they would to leave as soon as they could. And so they started a program like this they called ‘talent based branching’ where they pair you with a coach.

Lewis: Yeah.

David: Start with one and the coach will help you reflect on how it fits your talents and interest and then try another and another and then keep bouncing around and have autonomy on where you fit, and that worked better in the attention that throw money in people, because they want some autonomy in their career than matching. 

Lewis: That’s cool. How long they do each activity or career for in the army?

David: It kind of varied how it was going and if they want to see a little more they could see a little more, and this is developing very much right now. Sometimes there are other programs like talent based branching where if by the time they got a commission they already changed their mind they could say ‘all right, I’ll take on some extra years if you allow me to change my career track to this over here.’ With talent based branching they start by dubbing a couple of months at first, but then as they sort of triangulate those periods you can get longer.

Lewis: So you would tell your son to you know what if they were like “I just want to be a soccer player?” and from 4 to 18 he’s an amazing soccer player. He does everything that he supposed to do and he’s like ‘you know dad I am burnt out I don’t want to do this anymore.’ What would you say to that situation?

David: I mean the first thing I would say is ‘let’s take a break and see if you recover.’ If after a break you still want to do this like you know nobody should be forced to go to the national team.

Lewis: Right. 

David: I would try to manage it leading up to that.

Lewis: Yeah.

David: You look at France and Germany which have won the last 2 world cup, they have a French youth soccer player plays half as many organized games as a U.S player.

Lewis: Why do they play half many?

David: Because all the science show this unstructured play is the best for this kind of problem. So, there are 2 kinds of problem: Using procedure is like execute plays and certain technical skills, making connection knowledge is sort of broader knowledge that teaches you how to match a strategy to a type of problem.

So, it turns out that this unorganized play and is like a much better way of learning those skills. You know if you go to Brazil the kids are all playing futsal. Futsal is like a small field. And so that is like, so France is sort of trying to mimic that sort of development and they have this saying ‘there’s no remote control for the players.’ Meaning doesn’t try to micromanage them they try to solve the problem on their own. So like they restricted the coaches to talk like 15 minute periods during development.

Lewis: This is interesting because I remember people trying to say ‘you should do one sport in high school and college.’ I was in the [?] I was playing 4 sports in high school, 3 sports in college and I was probably like in the last.

David: You played 3 sports in college? 

Lewis: Yeah and I got injured playing basketball and sprained my ankle coming down from a dunk and rolled it and was out for 2 months. So, I just did football and track the last couple of years, but I remember there was a guy in high school who only played basketball and I was better than him as a basketball player freshmen, sophomore and junior year. Then he decided he would go all in basketball. I remember coming in senior year and he was like fully dedicated and started developing more as a human and athlete, and I was thinking ‘this guy is probably better than me.’ He had been training all month all year and I just came out of football practice. I haven’t touched a basketball in 4 months and probably be a little rusty, but I was still dominating and I was a little rusty. I am still dominating and good if not better than this guy and I felt like I had a mindset that was stronger, like where he was weaker in a lot of areas he had a weak mindset because all he was doing was training, I was competing every single day in a sport that was mentally challenging. I felt like I had the edge even though I didn’t train for those skills.

So, for me being a generalist is the key to having that edge in sports.

David: Woodland who just won the U.S open he was a really good basketball player and like.

Lewis: I feel like this you know because he won the Heisman trophy, he’s like playing baseball for 6 months a year and then football for 6 months a year and he’s the best player in both sports.

David: So one argument is that he is just a superior athlete. Those practicing in some other sports can zero in your main sport, but separately from that, I wondered it was just starting these athletes better.

Lewis: Like Bo Jackson.

David: Obviously there are traits across sports. 

Lewis: So not the one who just did the skill for those years that other skills?

David: That’s right. The ones who did dabble in more sports didn’t matter if it was formal or not, more athlete led structured play less organized in practice. They do focus eventually but that’s sort of like it gets less and less over time.

Lewis: So at some point, you have to be in a team and you have to be organized.

David: I mean at some point we all specialize to one degree or another in something.

Lewis: Of course. There’s a movie that came out recently ‘?’.

David: In search of greatness? Yeah, I am one of the talking heads in it.

Lewis: I haven’t seen it but I met with the person who was in charge of like selling out the movie, and she was telling me about it. 

David: And Jerry Rice.

Lewis: We are all unstructured play but we are free to try things. I remember I didn’t play organized football till I was 15. I remember we were playing roller hockey, I was just playing whatever kids were playing. 

David: Yeah.

Lewis: I was playing roller hockey in the parking lot with kids we put on the blue recycle bins. We didn’t have enough money so I was wearing street shoes and everyone else has roller blades. We do that and we played football then go basketball, we were always playing something unorganized just making our own games.

David: I mean some things are changing for the better and some for the worse. What I think we are missing the most is the street soccer culture.

Lewis: That’s it. I think that’s what it needs to be just let people be unstructured and just be an athlete.

David: The problem is it feels like getting behind. If someone sets up a structure like AAU great national basketball championships now. The kids can’t even shoot right like it’s not good for their development. It’s like their customers if you’re not on the 2nd-grade team you’ll be in the 3rd-grade team. So, there’s are these systems that are often working against.

Norway exploded the winter Olympics and they’ve got like [?] kind of the aspects of formal competition before age 12 and sports entirely.

Lewis: Just like go have fun and go jump around.

David: And they’ll still compete like if you put kids in there playing even if it’s unstructured they are gonna compete.

Lewis: Race.

David: They spend less time traveling and doing stuff that isn’t even participating.

Lewis: Interesting. So tell me 

David: Steve Nash he didn’t even pick up a basketball till he was 13. Played a bunch of sports. I like to use him as an example because he is not like you know, he’s like 6’2 and weights like a normal.

Lewis: He’s like a soccer player in a basketball court.

David: So, it’s not like [?], I was talking about this recently and he’s exploring starting like a sports academy that would allow people to do that sort of sampling, which is sort of what Andy and Jamie Murray. Andy has been one of the best players in the world for a long time, their mother Judie Murray started an academy for tennis players where people are willing to give their kids to her because she’s Judie Murray. We know a lot about optimal development for athletes and if Steve Nash’s stamp is on it then people will be okay doing it.

Lewis: So tell me more about the matching process. How do we figure out the matching for ourselves in our careers?

David: That’s really tricky because it is so individual and I think that it sometimes takes a while whether it’s the dark horses or like. So, we should start really feeling not behind especially early on.

Lewis: Everyone else has these careers.

David: But you have to view that time as learning about yourself, you can’t go wrong really. I wanted to be a scientist for the rest of my life but that’s not what I turned out to be a very valuable thing to know. When Mark Zuckerberg said, “Young people are just smarter.” He was 22 like he had an interest in that.

Lewis: Right.

David: But [?] I was in their event recently and based on they put an audience poll, it says ‘guess what the average age of a founder of a blockbuster startup?’ The overwhelming favorite was 25 and it went down from there, the answer is 45 and a half.

Lewis: Really?

David: And just like the Tiger and Mozart we fall prey to the [?]. We know those really dramatic stories so we assumed they like represent the field, when in fact the reason they are such dramatic stories is because they are the opposite. So these entrepreneurs usually have to do a lot of zigzagging to get where they are going. So, I think the approach to take is like the dark horses.

Lewis: What was your 800 time?

David: 1:51. 

Lewis: Nick Simmons we competed in the national championships.

David: See there’s a guy like had he come along too, I’m a huge fan of the 800 meters and he’s like [?].

Lewis: Crushing it and he didn’t have like athletic skills he was just like an amazing guy.

David: I think there’s sort of because I’m a total running geek.

Lewis: Yeah. 42:52

David: People sort of not work hard as the next guy when he got out of college and I think he’s playing was genius which was he’s gonna come along slow and development where a lot of the people who were stars in college who were much higher you know sort of prospects in college than he was. 

For a long span he stayed healthy and got a little better and better. And I wonder if he had been you know a division 1 star, if he wouldn’t have been able to develop at that phase which he did and have this incredible career.

Lewis: And he didn’t have like the prototypical body type or stride he just like willing to work hard and stay consistent.

David: So, I think he had a lot of patience. So, I think the approach to take is, I kept this training you know I sort of transitioned that from my professional life like ‘here’s my goal.’ I actually found out that did not work for me as it did running. 

When I was 16 I was positive going to air force academy, I was going to be a test pilot and then an astronaut. I’ve got like linearly less term goal as I’ve gotten older.

Lewis: And more and more like [?] years up now.

David: All the most important project are nothing like never anything that I predict for, it’s always responding to some opportunity at the moment. 

Lewis: Interesting.

David: I have no idea what next. As soon as I finish the sports gene which is kind of like a surprise best-seller, I left sports illustrated and investigative startup.  So, I go down the hierarchy of even [?] organization but learning about new skills, reporting about the cartel and bad science and all this stuff. Those additional skills allowed me to do this book which is so much broader than my first one.

Lewis: It’s interesting because for so many years in the last 10 years I’ve always had this desire to learn and grow personally. So, when I was recovering from an injury playing football I started [?].

David: It came off and.

Lewis: I started salsa dancing, I live near a salsa club and I would go out every week and sit there in terror. I was terrified of being in a room with these incredible dancers because I couldn’t do that skill, and it was completely foreign to me. They are singing Spanish music I don’t understand it, I’m the only white person there pretty much.

Every week I would go there because I was so fascinated to watch these guys dance with these women, and I started to build a relationship with some of the regulars. Eventually, after a few months, a couple of girls finally dragged me, it was the most embarrassing moment in my life at the time.

I’m doing the basic steps with this girl for a few minutes and then I look up and nobody cares at all, nobody even knows I was there. Over the next 3 and a half to 4 months I went all in, I mean it was my life mission to become a great salsa dancer.

I was a truck driver at the time so I went from Columbus to Cincinnati back every day about 6-hour trip and I would listen to salsa music the whole way and imagine myself dancing. I would come home at night and watch YouTube tutorial and practice in the mirror by myself and then I would go out and practice at the clubs. I did this for a few months until essentially I became fluent at salsa dancing.

That skill has applied in so many other areas of my life. Now, as a public speaker, it’s given me more confidence in stage with a lot of people.

David: Yeah.

Lewis: It allows me to connect with people with different languages all the time because now [?].

I can go anywhere in the world and find a salsa club and meet friends, even if I don’t speak the language I have the skillset and the confidence. So, it’s like I’m always trying to do things new every year that I can take on or just the desire to learn it.

David: Yeah. And you don’t know until you tried it. There’s a couple of profound things one of which you know one of the big five personality traits have open this to experience. And this is a personality trait that predictably declined it’s quite a bit.

Lewis:  Become less open.

David: Right. But it turns out that if you sort of like force people to try new things like one of this study is training older people on the certain types of puzzle that they have never. And even if they didn’t get better at the problem-solving stuff their openness to experience got a little better. So for one, you will help that trend of your own decline experience, but even more profound is what you’re getting at, we tend to settle into this [?] of competence.

Lewis: So you don’t push yourself to learn.

David: Because you have already things that you are competent in presumably.

Lewis: I felt like I was a king in sports.

David: It is so important to do that and when we were younger we were willing to do that. But then we get less willing to do that and I think that really limits.

Lewis: Why?

David: I think it is part of the natural decline of openness to experience unless you proactively battle against it. Once you adapt to that feeling of competence and why force yourself? I think you need to proactively force yourself to be uncomfortable and I think we gravitate towards comfort. There’s a funny analogy that when I was doing my first book that didn’t go into the book but I ended up reading a whole bunch of scientific [?].

Lewis: You did research on it?

David: Yeah and it turns out that we all do get better just by practicing and then 50 to 80 words a minute we plateau and that’s good. You can get much faster and what you have to do is turn it up a little bit and follow that speed no matter how many mistakes you make. I think that’s sort of how we’re wired to get to like really good but then and then like stay.

Lewis: It was challenging to get there and we know that much more challenging to [?].

David: But it’s like you’ll get to that 60 words a minute just by trying to type and then at a certain point the improvement stops from that and you have to do like this more proactive stuff. So one of my favorite writers [?] and decided to move to Italy and start learning Italian and only write in Italian. She said, “I wanted to get away from the feeling of myself as an expert and get back.”

Lewis: The other feeling.

David: Yeah that concept of like beginner’s mind. 52:55

Lewis: Yeah.

David: So, I took an online fiction writing course and suddenly I am a total beginner, like no one cares if I’m a best-selling book before.

Lewis: You suck in this fiction thing.

David: You have to write something today with dialog and tomorrow with no dialog. After I do the no dialog thing I go back to range stripping tons of quotes, realizing that I had unconscious sleep in leaning on quotes to do explanation where I should have been writing. It made me aware that I was doing stuff consciously and I was leaning on stuff out of habit. Getting out of my comfort zone woke me up things that I have been doing unconsciously.

Lewis: Making good money.

David: And you have a lot cachet. Lifting the same things the same number of times might stop you from getting work but you’re not like getting better.

Lewis: Why do we have this obsession at least in America it feels like that we want to the best? Is that a global thing or is it just an American thing?

David: But I do think this is something more culturally [?] in the United States than a lot of places. We have this incredible entrepreneurial culture like I was reading one of these books and he was actually talking about liberal education but in that context he was looking at entrepreneur in different countries. In Japan they have a lot of work train force but they do not have a lot of the things that support entrepreneurship. In the U.S we don’t have this work train force, our students aren’t doing well in the international test, but we have this incredible culture of like try to make a splash. 

If you look at Finland one of the best schools in the country they score really well on an international test, but if you look at the test distribution they bring the low end up really well. They don’t get that many on the upper echelon either and I think it’s because sort of like they focus a lot on not letting kids fall behind but not so much on like the ones who are high flying. 

Lewis: Interesting. What do you think your superpower is?

David: My superpower if my inefficient search mechanism when I am looking for research.

Lewis: Inefficient?

David: Yes.

Lewis: Because you are like why is this taking me so long? 

David: First year on both my books I don’t write [?], but I mean this is where science background helps a lot and I know which sections to start reading first.

Lewis: Yeah.

David: like this is something I am interested in and nobody else. Now, I sort of realized that it is doing that sort of inefficient search that is a little bit of kin of like what inventors do. I’ve gotten myself in a workplace where skill is much because of luck that I get supported to do that, to take that time and have that expansive search.

Lewis: You don’t have quick deadlines for yourself.

David: I had this publisher with my book who [?]. It was sort of like ‘take your time.’

Lewis: We don’t need this in 6 months take your time.

David: Yeah and what better gift you can have than someone who’s like ‘take your time.’

Lewis: But also isn’t there something having a deadline?

David: For me, I’ll have that pressure on myself, so that’s not like I don’t want the project to drag on forever.

Lewis: Right.

David: I would still get a deadline from the publisher and like I’m gonna turn in that day. 

Lewis: What’s your mission moving forward?

David: I notice all my most important projects came out of things where I was like reading and talking to people with no impairment purpose. I’m not crazy and so that’s the phase I am gonna go into.

Lewis: Take space and time and explore whatever you want to explore.

David: These things are too much work for me what I don’t also want to know the answers. So, I need to find something I want to spend a lot of time with because I am also personally curious about it.

Lewis: Right.

David: It needs to be like ‘I want the answers that I am hoping the readers also want.’

Lewis: How do we know when we found fulfillment in the path that we’re taking?

David: For me I think this is always going to be a work in progress. So, I don’t think there’s ever a point where I am gonna get to ‘I arrived now I am just gonna chill.’ I have felt that over time you know I take a turn to a work that doesn’t fit me as well, but that over time I keep moving in a direction where I am feeling more and more fulfilled.

Lewis: Right. What is your biggest insecurity?

David: I constantly have impostor syndrome. But you know also very specifically I get super nervous before I speak too.

Lewis: Really?

David: Like I love doing it because it makes me feel the way I do before [?], but I also get super nervous.

Lewis: Yeah.

David: Also coming from science I realized that, he and I we realized we’re basically writing about the same thing from different approaches. He runs this business called [?] and he’s doing a project called ‘the great mental models.’ So, it sort of diversifies the way you think about things and one of the sections in one of the books is called ‘the map is not the territory.’ What that means is a map isn’t useful if it is so detailed. So, how do you make this like useful approximations and summaries? 

Lewis: Right.

David: You cannot share the same work in the same way that a scientist would share with their peers. So the question is ‘how can you boil it down so that it is useful?’ The difficulty of doing that is to make sure I never come off a project being like ‘I nailed it.’

Lewis: Is there ever too much of a range?

David: Yeah.

Lewis: Is there so many things we can do at one time or actually maximizing it?

David: I think there’s a difference between being a generalist and a [?]. A lot of the generalist I read are people who will dive into something with a lot of curiosity and will get out.

Lewis: Go all in on something.

David: Some of the research here about inventors, for example, they actually quantified generalist and [?] by the U.S trademark.

Lewis: Yeah.

David: The specialist and the generalist both make contributions separately, the [?] don’t do that much. So, I think it’s good to keep an eye to where you are sort of anchor yourself and have like competence. What they find is these network of enterprise people have things going on. 

Lewis: Interesting. This is so funny because my COO who you will meet, he called me Picasso.

David: And by the way Michelangelo. So, there’s this painting that didn’t like painting, probably his rivals to keep him out of sculpting.

Lewis: Wow.

David: Gave up art for a little while to write about poems. There’s this idea that he would see a figure inside a block of marble and just draw it out like taking a figure out of bathtub water, turns out not to be true. Michelangelo left about 2/3rd he ever touches undone, because he would start with a block of marble and decide to do something else and ran out of stone and discard and go to something else.

Lewis: Wow. 

David: I mentioned this in the end of the book a metaphor of how we should think about ourselves, because of that sort of part of this mythology of like.

Lewis: Wasn’t supposed to be there.

David: So where’s the reality? Most of everything he ever touch he didn’t finish.

Lewis: Spend 6 months on something and start over.

David: Do something different.

Lewis: What is that awe in your mind from that research?

David: I mean I think they have to have some tolerance for failure, but I think in practice like [?]. So, one of the places that I write about in range is ‘3m.’ It is a company about, it’s always listed on the world’s most innovative companies. And their inventions are great from posted notes to like high-tech aeronautical engineering stuff. That was a place when I was talking to some other scientist they were like ‘if they decided the project you are taking on is a worthwhile one and it fails, you can still get promoted off of that.’

Lewis: Even if you don’t figure out the solution?

David: That’s right and maybe there isn’t really one, maybe you bump up and some like theoretical limit, but one of the women who was one of the corporate scientists. Corporate scientist means that you’re one of the top 20 inventors out of there or whatever. She said that she had been promoted before off of failures because this was such an important question that you sort of realized it exists. So, I think they sort of institutionalize some of that tolerant.

Lewis: You can’t lose a billion dollars on a project.

David: But if you look at these inventors to create these supernova successes, they actually have to create a ton of crap.

Lewis: For years.

David: So, I think if you’re gonna perform at a really high level you have to stretch yourself and that means sometimes it doesn’t work and you have to able to bounce back from that.

Lewis: What else should people know about this? Being a generalist.

David: When people have certain habits in mind they have actually worst judgment in predicting business and political and economic trends in the world. If they have this certain habits of mind where they tend to see the world in a mental model and that’s often these are people who have had a very narrow specialty for their career, sometimes people who have invested to get like one specific thing for their whole career.

Lewis: Right.

David: They will get worse judgment about the world as they keep getting more and more credentials, they can fit like any story to this one model of the world that they’ve developed, whereas the people who developed better judgment are sort of self-conscious about not having an area where they are expert. They go like hunting for different people’s perspective from different domains in a project and then this sort of integrate it. So they are sort of the definition of generalist and have such good judgment that this researcher basically [?].

Lewis: Generalist.

David: The intelligence community wants to work with them.

Lewis: It’s like knowing a lot about everything right?

David: Yeah. So, that chapter is about the good development of the good chapter of the world and some research.

Lewis: This is a question I asked towards the end called the 3 truths. Imagine since you plan out 6 to 12 months ahead now in your life. Imagine it’s the last day for you 100 or 200 hundred years from now, and imagine you’ve created everything you wanted to create in your life. You’ve got a range of expertise now and you got the family of your dreams and everything has happened.

David: I kind of got that right now.

Lewis: Imagine you have to take all the work with you when you passed, but you get to leave behind 3 things you know to be true about your experiences in your life. What would you say are yours?

David: So my sort of like advice?

Lewis: Yeah 3 wisdom of knowledge.

David: First of all I think people just spend more time outside like with nature. I think just as much as we put emphasis on delivering practice, we need to put some emphasis on deliberate not practicing and the kinds of recuperation and rejuvenation you need and like getting outside.

Lewis: Chilling.

David: I think that’s a really important thing.

Secondly, we should don’t feel behind on what you’re doing. I think that’s just, if you’re more oriented toward finding things that work for you then feeling behind and that’s already enough to propel you and feeling behind doesn’t really help.

Lewis: Yeah.

David: So don’t worry about that behind stuff.

Thirdly, I think when I was reporting on sports and sometimes on doping and I was wondering ‘why am I doing this?’ and I started to ask myself ‘what is it that we want from sports?’ There had been this challenge in philosophy where philosophers said there is no single thing that unites, like no conception thing that unites sports and game, and Bernard [?] wrote this book called ‘the grasshopper’ where it’s like a parable and he said it is wrong, the uniting factor is the voluntarily [?] obstacles. All of these things they all evolved into voluntarily unnecessary obstacles, and to me that’s sort of like ‘take life and add meaning.’ And that to me is voluntarily acceptance unnecessary obstacles. So, I would keep that frame in mind and try to find what you know voluntarily unnecessary obstacles that are meaningful to your growth.

Lewis: That’s interesting because life is like a game.

David: People view it differently but for me it takes the game and adds meaning. 

Lewis: Exactly. I want to acknowledge you for a moment David because I think it’s really cool that you can be the example of taking a life path and thinking one thing but then zigzagging constantly in creating works of art to really serve people at a higher level who are overcoming or really facing challenges in their life by giving them the tools with the science and the data to back it up to help them improve their lives. So, I really acknowledge you for your gift, your talent, your consistency on zigging and zagging.

David: My consistent inconsistency.

Lewis: Exactly. I acknowledge you for everything man. You got a great heart but very wise obviously as well. Where can I connect with you online?

David: Davidepstein.com @davidepstein on twitter.

Lewis: This is the final question. What’s your definition of greatness?

David: I should have this on hand having been in search of greatness movie and [?]. I think there are 2 things, 1 you’ve been a track and field athlete and I’ve been a track and field athlete. We know full well that there are people who are running in the same pack 1 of whom is lazy at the front of the pack and 1 of whom is being an absolute hero at the back of the pack, because those people are like very different natural gift.

So, what I would only say to that leader being lazy is great. So, to me I think it’s a lot more about making the most like optimizing your abilities and when I think of greatness I usually think of something a little bit different too.

Lewis: Yeah.

David: So to me it’s about continuous improvement and making the best of what you got.

Lewis: Thank you man.

David: My pleasure.

Lewis: I hope you enjoyed this special episode so powerful. 

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George Elliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

No matter what part of the world you’re in, what you’re struggling with, the resources you have or don’t have; you have a potential and a gift that is burning inside your heart and inside your soul. You are a one of a kind human being that will never be replicated my friend. You are on a journey to discover more of what you are capable of and you are capable of so much. You are so inspiring and loving and giving. 

This is a moment you can start taking action on your fears and start doing something you are scared of, because when you step into the thing you are afraid that’s when you become more of what you are capable of.

I love you so very much. You are born for incredible things and you know what time it is, it’s time to go out there and do something great.

 

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