The Hourglass Analogy (Skills and Disciplines)

TL:DR | An analogy for going wide THEN deep into your subject of expertise. In order to find what you are good at, then you need to experiment!

2 min read
The Hourglass Analogy (Skills and Disciplines)

Something I've mentioned many times on my show "The Polymath PolyCast" to guests, is what I call the Hourglass analogy.

This comes from the idea that we all start a bit like a jack of all trades. Spread thin, and putting our hands into many different cookie jars. In doing so we experience a lot of things, and in particular a lot of fields.

In that experimentation we find what we like, and then we can go down into that niche/field much more deeper. There is an example in the book RANGE by David Epstein where David talks about Roger Federer. A famous Tennis player, but he actually started out with doing nearly a dozen sports. Experimenting, until he finally settled on Tennis that he found most interesting.

Going Wide OR Deep

This is a famous dichotomy, and in most people's view you can only do one or the other. However the point of this post is that I want to show you that you do BOTH.

In order to successfully go deep into a niche field you need to find something that you can do for a long time. If you have no interest in that field it becomes monumentally times harder to push through the hurdles of learning.

Hence why when children of strict parents who are forced to go into something like Medicine or Engineering, and those who don't care for those fields struggle to get through school. Even if you learn well, if you don't WANT to learn it. Then it will be hard.

When you go wide at first, then you explore your options, and you'll more than likely find the one you prefer most. Then when you pursue that particular field deeper, then you are much more likely to go deep. As you enjoy it.

What's with the Hourglass?

Well this go wide then deep idea isn't a one time thing. Our lives are quite longer than we expect (although shorter too at the same time). However we end up doing multiple careers by the end of our lifespan. This is why I've talked to some people who didn't see themselves as polymaths.

As they saw themselves as a specialist in one thing, then another, then another. However they never put it together to realize that they were a multi-specialist with curiosity in everything in-between. Hence their polymathic life.

When you are finished with a career or a particular niche subject, then you're bound to look for another one to pursue. This will happen more than a few times in your life.

You may not even follow through in specializing in that field, as you eventually may lost interest. That is okay too, but the hourglass cycle is then repeated again.

Specialist or Generalist? Yes.

In the end it doesn't even matter, as you have probably been both by now at that stage of your life.

When you find something of interest, pursue it, and do it deeply. Then gracefully move onto the next!

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