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1. Try on an Identity
Often when we want to change, we focus on the individual behavior and then work up the nerve or willpower to do it. As you’ve probably learned, this rarely goes well.
Part of the reason it goes poorly is that by “forcing” yourself to do X, you are simply reinforcing to yourself that you are the type of person who doesn’t do X.
Simple example: For years and years, I struggled to not drink at parties. I could abstain if I really put my mind to it, but it was always in the form of the thought, “Man, I love drinking at parties, it’s going to suck to not have a drink, but I’ll do it anyway.”
This was setting myself up for failure. I’m already deciding that it’s going to suck before I’ve even done it.
A way to make this much easier is to think of change on an identity level. For example, “What if I was the type of person who hates drinking at parties? What would that feel like?”
When you frame it to yourself in this way, the assumption of resisting a temptation isn’t even present. You’ve simply decided you are someone else for the night and you’re seeing how well it “fits”—the same way you see how a new pair of jeans fits. Maybe it’s a bit uncomfortable at first, but pretty soon you find that your new “drinking at parties sucks” identity fits better than you thought it would. You “break it in,” so to speak. And soon, you forget what it felt like to be any other way.
2. Expertise or Jack of All Trades?
Last week, one of my YouTube channel subscribers asked me what advice I would give to a younger person: go all-in on one skill or become a jack of all trades?
My answer, of course, is the infuriating combination of, “Well, both… kind of,” and “It depends.” Let me explain.
The information economy disproportionately rewards expertise more than ever before. In previous generations, being 10% better than most in your field meant you were rewarded roughly slightly more. Today, you are probably rewarded 100% or 200% more. For a nice treatment of why this happens, check out the book Average Is Over by Tyler Cowen.
So, that would suggest you should go all-in on one skill, one profession, one field of knowledge.
But there’s a caveat here. A lot of new research is showing that people who are the best in their fields or at their professions actually have a number of other related interests/hobbies where they are also highly competent. Basically, we’re discovering that you can’t just lock yourself in a room and do that One Thing for twenty years straight—you have to interact with the world, try out different disciplines, see how things interrelate, understand and empathize with the struggles other people go through. For an overview of this research, I recommend David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.
So, my advice: become an expert in one thing, but do it by remaining grounded and well-versed in a number of topics in the real world. Basically: be a well-rounded human being… who is insanely good at one thing.
3. What I’ve Been Reading
Speaking of book recommendations, I haven’t given any in a while. Here are some books I’ve enjoyed a lot this year.
In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park – A harrowing memoir of a young woman who escaped from North Korea and survived sex trafficking to eventually find her way to freedom. One of those “reality check” books. Incredibly powerful and inspiring. My favorite book that I’ve read this year.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson – A historical account of Churchill and his family during the bombings of London during World War II. Churchill continues to be at the top of my “If you could have dinner with any person from history, who would it be?” list.
At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell – An excellent, narrative-driven introduction to existentialist philosophy. Far more enjoyable than slogging through a thousand pages of Sartre or Heidegger. Also documents the friendships and interactions of the 20th century philosophers.
Ageless by Andrew Steele – You know you’re getting old when you’re suddenly interested in books about longevity and the science of aging. This has been a great primer.
Finally, I announced last week that my book with Will Smith is officially available for pre-order. Will approached me in 2018 to help him write a book that would find the best lessons from his life. That’s exactly what we did. Pre-order it here.
Until next week,