Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein, 5/5
On good days, I appreciate the diverse array of skills and experiences that make me who I am. Not yet 40 years old, I can make a credible case for claiming the informal titles of musician, intellectual, artist, athlete, teacher, and photographer. Many days, though, I struggle with feeling like a failure for never having pursued a “proper” career (and the money that comes with one) and so far not finding that one big, important thing I am supposed to be doing with my life.
If I’d read this book earlier, I could have avoided some of those bad days. Epstein blows apart the notion that choosing a career path as early as possible and pursuing it single-mindedly in ever-increasing depth, is the only road to success. Instead, he makes a convincing argument for the value of developing a broad base of interests and experiences, while unashamedly searching for pursuits with high “match quality” to yourself (instead of making a virtue of never quitting). The time this takes need not be wasted, since the most innovative contributions tend to come from people making connections between superficially disparate experiences and ideas, not from those who have specialized the most in any given field.
Life has not been as linear and predictable as I expected; in this book I was comforted to see a reflection of that experience. I learned that, contrary to the claims of pop psychology, personalities and even core values can change over time. That it is ok not to jump on the academic bandwagon of learning more and more about less and less. That continuing to follow my curiosity will provide the best chance of encountering my life’s purpose. And that I shouldn’t undervalue (or under-utilize) the skills and experiences I accumulate along the way just because they weren’t all acquired on a traditional timeline.
Why I read it: I think it was mentioned in Steven Kotler’s The Art of Impossible.
Escape Artist: True Stories of People Who Turned Their Obsessions into Professions by Joshua Piven, 4/5
This refreshing book tells the stories of ten people who rejected the financial security of traditional careers in favour of less-profitable occupations that made them feel happy and fulfilled instead. I enjoyed reading about the chance circumstances, accepted and rejected opportunities, and unpredictable chains of events that ushered these people into occupations they probably couldn’t have planned for and might not even have imagined. I appreciate that Piven doesn’t romanticize these stories, attempt to create some sort of cheesy blueprint for success from them, or devalue the majority of people who are willing to spend half their lives working a normal, 9-5 job.
[Why I read it: I came across it while browsing the library and the topic is relevant to me.]
Finding Your Element
Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life by Ken Robinson, 3/5
If only someone would write a self-help book for people who are too cynical and pessimistic for self-help books. Not that it would help.
Anyway, I skimmed through this but was feeling much too depressed to ponder any of the ponderous questions that lurked at the end of every chapter or to do any of the numerous thought-exercises. I know that makes this review about as legitimate as a review of a diet book that was read while eating Twinkies, but what can I say – when you’re not thinking positively, then “thinking more” (which is, practically speaking, the solution Robinson proposes) does not seem likely to help. Also, the book’s subtitle makes me want to puke. And the cover is too colourful.
[Why I read it: I ordered it from the library after watching an interesting interview with the author. However, it turned out to look a heck of a lot like your ordinary, bullshit self-help book and I was in a bad mood anyway, so I lost interest and only read it very late at night, when my brain was too tired to process the book on theoretical physics that I was also in the middle of.]
The Renaissance Soul
The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, by Margaret Lobenstine, 2/5
Lobenstine’s positive attitude toward people who are unwilling to settle down to one career was refreshing and she told several inspiring success stories. However, the book failed to convince me that success as a multi-talented person relies on anything other than your standard hard work and good opportunities that can’t be planned for. The cynical side of me is quick to point out that any career and life coach who has had over 5,000 clients, as Lobenstine has, is bound to come up with enough success stories for a book. Also, it felt very circular to take career advice from someone whose career is giving out advice.