Focus is crucial to success. But not early on.
In sports, early specialization appears to matter. Tiger Woods was less than 2 years old when his father began teaching him to play golf. He was on television by age 3. By the age of 5, he was in Golf Digest. Later, he became the youngest U.S. Junior Amateur champion. The youngest Masters champion. You get the point.
Andre Agassi started playing tennis when he was 4 years old. He went on to win eight Grand Slam titles. Michelle Wie qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championships at age 10.
Since elite performers in any field tend to spend significantly more time on deliberate, focused, consistent practice than non-elite performers, the sooner you start, the better.
Roger Federer grew up playing soccer, handball, badminton, and basketball. Patrick Mahomes played baseball well into college. John Elway was drafted in the second round by the Yankees. Abby Wambach credits her soccer success, at least in part, to her time playing basketball.
In fact, the members of the 2015 U.S. national women's soccer team played at least 14 different sports besides soccer -- and all believed participating in other sports enhanced rather than hindered their soccer careers.
That anecdotal evidence gibes with science. According to David Epstein, the author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World:
Among athletes who go on to become elite, early sampling across sports and delayed specialization is by far the most common path to the top.
According to Epstein, "eventual elites" tend to devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what researchers call a "sampling period." They play a variety of sports, mostly in unstructured -- think backyard pickup games -- or lightly structured environments. They learn. They develop. They gain a range of skills.
In the process, they discover not just what they're really good at ... but also what they really like.
Then they focus. Then they dedicate. Then they pursue excellence.
All of which sounds good. But may be not so relevant, since few kids will grow up to become professional athletes.
Except the same premise holds true for career success.
According to Epstein:
One study showed that early career specializers jumped out to an earnings lead after college, but that later specializers made up for the head start by finding work that better fit their skills and personalities.
That research -- as with most findings you can actually use -- also makes intuitive sense.
Sure: Encourage your kids to focus on one path or pursuit, to the exclusion of nearly all others, and they will develop specific skills. They will gain specific experiences. The result? They likely will burst out of the (college) gate at a higher speed.
But they won't know whether they might have found greater joy, purpose, and fulfillment in another pursuit. They won't bring a broader variety of skills and experiences to their work.
And they won't be what Epstein calls "slow bakers": people who bounce from pursuit to pursuit, from interest to interest, developing a wide range of experiences and a wide range of skills. Succeeding at some things, failing at others, but always learning.
The same premise holds true when someone takes a first job -- or launches a business -- that might not make sense to their parents.
As Epstein writes:
The expression "young and foolish" describes the tendency of young adults to gravitate to risky jobs, but it is not foolish at all. It is ideal.
They have less experience than older workers, and so the first avenues they should [my italics] try are those with high risk and reward, and that have high informational value.
If they aren't (succcessful), they can test something else, and continue to gain information about their options and themselves.
So don't try to force your kids to find their ultimate path.
And don't worry if they haven't found it yet, even as adults.
Aaron Levie may have founded Box when he was 19. Yet despite the hype about youthful entrepreneurs, a study of 2.7 million startups found that the average age of the founder of the most successful tech startups is 45.
And that a 50-year-old startup founder is almost three times as likely to found a successful startup as a 25-year-old founder.
And that a 60-year-old startup founder is at least three times more likely to found a successful startup than a 30-year-old startup founder. And is nearly twice as likely to found a startup that winds up in the top 0.1 percent of all companies.
Because, as Epstein writes, informational value matters: information about work, and life, and people ... and, most important, about yourself.
And because success is, for most, a winding path.
Not a destination.
“Auschwitz was an opportunity,” claims Dr. Edith Eger, a 93-year-old clinician and Holocaust survivor. “I call everything an opportunity.” Eger was just 16 years old when the Nazis invaded Hungary and imprisoned her family at the death camp in Poland. There, as she tells Nora McInerny in Terrible, Thanks for Asking, she was forced to dance before Nazi doctor Josef Mengele not long after he sent her parents to the gas chamber. Found by Allied soldiers beneath a pile of dead bodies, she survived and thrived, eventually moving to America, joining the NAACP, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King and paying the wisdom of her remarkable life forward.
If you missed them the last time around, the sneakers we can’t get enough of are back — and just in time for spring! These all-season low-tops are OZY’s favorite look for dressing up or down. But don’t wait around — these comfy kicks fly off the shelves and won’t be here for long.
Get $15 off your pair of Cariumas quickly, before they sell out again!inspiring stories of hope and mindfulness 1. Setting Habits That Are ‘Too Small to Fail’
Curious about how best to chart a more balanced work-life experience in which you get more sleep, work more productively and thrive? On a recent episode of On Purpose With Jay Shetty, Thrive Global founder Arianna Huffington argues that the coronavirus crisis provides individuals and workforces with an unprecedented opportunity to address mental health and burnout issues if only they take the time — sometimes just 60 seconds is enough — to pay attention. She also has some useful tips for building “micro-habits” that will allow you to address your smartphone addiction and more.2. Making Mindfulness and Meditation More Accessible
Andy Puddicombe grew up in London, but after a horrific car crash involving a drunk driver as a young man, he moved to Asia to become a monk to help cope with the trauma. He’s now the co-founder of Headspace, the mindfulness and meditation app. The former Buddhist monk joined a recent episode of The Carlos Watson Show to talk about how he began his journey and his new television venture with Netflix. Stay tuned for the one-minute meditation session at the end.3. Understanding the Science of Hope
Dr. Jacqueline Mattis, a clinical psychologist from Rutgers University, grew up in a devout Jamaican American household that prized faith and service, and that sparked her interest in the role that religiosity and spirituality play in fostering hope. On a recent episode of Ten Percent Happier With Dan Harris, she explains how to cultivate hope as a skill, and the need to balance an appreciation for the sacred with the ebbs and flows of a terrestrial existence. “Hope is rooted in data,” says Mattis. “It’s not fantasy.”
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Dr. Atul Gawande has worn many hats in his life: He is a medical doctor, a surgeon and a bestselling author, and he has advised presidents, including on the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent episode of When Katty Met Carlos, the BBC’s Katty Kay and OZY’s Carlos Watson discuss a wide range of issues with Dr. Gawande, including how we should face up to death and dying, and how we should speak to our loved ones about it.2. Call It Impulsive, Call It Compulsive, Call It Insane …
“Because I’m lying in bed, just like Brian Wilson did.” Barenaked Ladies co-frontman Steven Page wrote those lyrics after discovering an odd fascination for the troubled Beach Boys singer — years before he himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Eventually, as he explains to John Moe in a frank conversation on The Hilarious World of Depression, the Canadian musician found himself unable to get out of bed, waging a battle against a condition that had plagued him for decades but had gone undiagnosed.3. Want to Delete Depression From Your Brain?
If you’ve ever suffered a broken heart, you know that desperate desire to end the mental anguish, no matter the cost. A broken heart is temporary but suffering a mental illness is often chronic, and the desire to delete that part of the brain can be persistent and overwhelming. It’s not possible yet, but, as some neurotechnology experts reveal in an intriguing episode of The Future of X: Health, one day we could have a neural implant inside our brains that can anticipate, and eliminate, our depression symptoms before they set in.Norman Vincent Peale on the Power of Beethoven’s Positive Thinking
Best known for his book The Power of Positive Thinking (and more recently for his influence on Donald Trump), 1950s self-help guru Norman Vincent Peale actually got his start on the radio. He returned to it periodically, including in this short hope-filled episode of his Live With Confidence radio series, in which he uses the story of composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s battle with deafness and despondency to encourage listeners that they too “can rise above your discouragement."
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The centerpiece of Spotify’s growing expansion from tech into media and podcasts was the multimillion-dollar exclusive deal the company signed with microphone titan Joe Rogan last year. And as Rogan continues to draw heat, including from White House officials, for his recent anti-vaccine comments, Spotify is keeping a safe but supportive distance from its controversial moneymaker. “[F]or the time being,” as Lucas Shaw argues in Bloomberg, “Spotify is very happy with Joe Rogan, whether you like it or not.”2. The Growing Market for Audio Snippets
They’re called “microcasts” — brief, digestible audio shows that a listener can consume on a single topic in a few minutes — and they are taking the audio landscape by micro-storm in much the same way TikTok did for video. Need a short distillation of an already brief explainer? Try brushing your teeth to Vox Quick Hits, a single RSS feed with short bites from Vox podcasts like Today, Explained.3. Demystifying Classical Music Composition
Classical music was a bit late to the podcasting game, says Joshua Barone in the New York Times, but it has been playing some capable catch-up of late. Case in point: Mission: Commission, a new podcast presented by the Miller Theater at Columbia University, allows listeners to follow three different composers over a six-week period as they create short compositions that will premiere later this month.friend of the pod
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President Joe Biden's paid family and medical leave plan would grant workers 12 weeks of paid leave, time that could be used to "bond with a new child," among other needs.
When I heard about the proposal, what immediately came to mind was an old photograph I discovered recently of my mother lovingly holding my newborn self; seeing it had been a revelation—and a confirmation of why I'd always known how much I was loved, despite having a difficult childhood. I'd previously thought the degree of my mother's love helped cushion me from the impact of an absent father, an angry stepfather and an awkward teenage-hood; now it made me wonder about the power of love as protection.
What does science say about the long-term effect of good early parental bonding on an infant—and is it why some are able to navigate life's turbulence relatively unscathed, while others seem to bear more significant bruising?
"Early adversity can absolutely confer a vulnerability for psychiatric disorder onset in adulthood because the neural systems that regulate stress reactivity, motivation and impulse control all develop in the early life period," said Danielle Stolzenberg, an associate professor of psychology at UC Davis who runs a laboratory investigating epigenetics and maternal behavior. "These developing systems are sensitive to input from the environment, and for mammals. The early life environment is dominated by mother-infant interactions."
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The evidence is coming out of a field called epigenetics—the study of how environmental experiences can produce lasting changes in how our genes are expressed. Instead of changing the actual DNA itself, small chemical tags can be added or removed in response to changes in an individual's environment. These tags turn genes on or off, as a way to adapt to situations, but potentially could last long-term.
"Although the relationship between early infant attachment and adult psychological health has long been appreciated in humans, most of what we know about how the early life experiences cause alterations in brain development comes from studies done in rats and mice." Stolzenberg said.
Researchers delving into the effect of mother-infant bonding in rodents found that mom's behavior actually changes how the baby rodents' brains express their DNA. Bonding—in the case of rodents, being groomed a great deal by the mother—can program the expression of genes that regulate stress reactivity for the rest of the baby's life, often making them more resilient and less likely to be anxious in adulthood. Additionally, research reveals that epigenetic changes can be passed down to the next generation: female pups who are mothered attentively, mother their babies well, too. Early experience with mom programs the expression of genes in the developing brain that will ultimately regulate maternal care in adulthood. Essentially, a rat that has been well-mothered has its grandmother to thank.
Stolzenberg, who has spent her entire career studying mothering behavior, said she continues to be fascinated by what good mothers mammals are. According to her, rats and mice, like 95 percent of mammals, are raised exclusively by their mothers. She noted that mother rats are naturally highly motivated to be with their infants at all times—that it appears difficult to turn good mothering off, with the notable exception of when the mother loses access to the resources she needs to care for her young.
In studies where the mother's bedding—needed to make a nest—is removed, mothers subsequently provide inconsistent care and may even neglect or abuse their babies. Once resources are returned, behavior quickly reverts back to attentive. Incredibly, while the mother's abuse depends on the removal of resources, the female pups who experience mistreatment will grow up to mistreat their infants—even if they have full access to resources.
Although evidence for the causal role of programmed gene expression in adult behavior comes from scientific studies done in rats and mice, there is evidence that some of the same epigenetic (DNA methylation) changes that program genes involved in stress reactivity—such as the glucocorticoid receptor gene—are also found in humans. This is compelling evidence that human babies may be similarly affected on a neural level by the quality of their parental bonding experience.
A 2009 study specifically examined brain tissue from adults who experienced early life abuse and then years later completed suicide—and it shared similar methylation changes to those rats who had been deprived of early parental bonding and displayed anxiety-like behavior.
On one hand, this news is a relief: One of the most important things we can give our babies is love—something that should be free. But we know the reality is quite different: time off is expensive, resources are costly and therefore, underserved communities go without more than others.
One estimate reported that a typical working adult loses $9,500 after taking 12 weeks off without pay. What more convincing evidence could there be to justify better social programs to support families, like the one outlined in Biden's plan, than evidence that a good parental bond (or lack thereof) can actually alter the brains of our next generation? And that abuse due to lack of resources can be reversed almost immediately once those resources are restored? How much misery could be avoided? How much could be saved?
As I look at the photo of my mother holding me close so long ago, I am grateful for the love she gave and the resilience it fostered, as well as concerned that receiving good parental bonding remains a privilege for so many. Hopefully, Biden's plan will help finally make that privilege a right.
Geralyn Broder Murray is a writer living in Northern California. She is the author/illustrator of several books for new parents. Her Twitter is @GeralynBMurray.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.
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