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  • Writer's pictureMike Morrison

Let Your Kid Quit (Really)!

A Small Voice Says Insight

Here is some good news for parents who are totally stressed out about how soon they should encourage their kids to specialize in a sport, instrument or activity.

In his book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, author David Epstein challenges the notion that we should encourage a single-minded pursuit at an early age to ensure the highest levels of achievement (and an ivy-league scholarship!). In fact, Epstein has mounted a great case for exploring and gaining broad experience before focusing in on a single sport or any other area of specialty. He holds up Roger Federer, one of the best tennis players of all time, as a key example. Roger experimented with a range of sports before settling in on tennis.

The advantages of cultivating diverse interests has shown up in other fields as well. Epstein shares a study that revealed how scientists who have won the Nobel Prize are 22 times as likely as their peers to have artistic hobbies. In fact, Vincent van Gogh was a pastor, bookseller and a teacher before discovering his passion for paining.

In another compelling example, Epstein shares how Scottish college grads are more likely to sustain a career in their chosen major than their counterparts in England. The reason? In Scotland, university students are encouraged to sample interdisciplinary courses for two years – whereas in England, college students choose academic paths before applying. In another study, young musicians who became standouts began their intense musical practice only after choosing the instrument they wanted to play. So, why would we encourage narrow specialization at a young age – especially at a time when our kids would prefer to explore?

The answer often lies in the parents anxiety that their kid will not be able to compete in an increasingly competitive world. However, the world is not only competitive – it is also complex – favoring the generalists who can more easily navigate with the broader range of capabilities.

It is also not an either – or decision. The key is to be able to move between the two – by exploring broadly before deciding where to specialize. For example, some day you may watch your young adult become broadly interested in cooking – but specialize in a specific area (food for diabetics) to start a business.

We can also see why a world needs us to be generalists at times. We have become a society that’s data rich and meaning poor. In other words, the data isn’t meaningful without generalists whose breadth of knowledge can help us to shape all of this information into purposeful solutions. You get the idea.

So, it starts early. It starts with the small voice.

It also might mean letting your kid quit. Importance of perseverance or grit.

Get their small voice involved


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