Ep. 4 – There’s always a cost

To reach the top, choose your lane and have one clear focus.

There is a cost to being the jack of all trades. As I learn about experts in their respective fields, I continue to see how, and the intention of learning or becoming an expert in multiple things is not feasible. The time that I might spend becoming an expert in one field necessarily takes away from my time becoming an expert in the other.

You might think — well can’t I be an expert in two things? Can’t I spend my 10,000 hours in these two fields of study and become an expert in both? Because you don’t actually become an expert. You don’t actually become excellent. You don’t actually become the top in your field, the best of the best, when you split up your intentions in this way. You can’t serve two masters. To give an example, I was recently listening to a discussion from a gentleman who is an expert in Papyri. And he’s describing the nuances in a few characters, in a fragment of a text from the first century, of the second century, and explaining the significance of that subtle difference, explaining what that means by way of translation, and then explaining the consequences of that translation.

Listening to him describe his area of study I came to realize how faulty this idea that I’m going to be able to become an expert in classical studies while with it not being my vocation. I thought my profession can be one thing — I can continue on in software engineering, I can transition into quantitative finance, data science or something of the like, something of the sort. And then additionally, I can spend the rest of my time becoming this expert in classical languages or a classical language, such as Greek, Latin or Sanskrit.

So on one hand I am listening to this person give this talk, give this lecture on his recent study, and then at my office I’m studying Javascript frameworks, taking the study of this programming language and going a little bit more in-depth. I’ve had an interest in functional programming partly because of how it relates to the field of data science, and I started to look into how Javascript can be used functionally — how you can apply principles of functional programming to Javascript. And I found that there are some frameworks that make it easy to implement that kind of programming methodology, and I’m looking into these frameworks and reading forums about people talking about these frameworks and the nuances to them, and going more and more in-depth into this language. And then I realized — I can’t be an expert, or I won’t be the expert in my field, the top of my field.

Let’s say I’m a programmer. And then I plan to stay a programmer. I won’t be at the top of my field if I’m not spending the time that I would otherwise be spending learning a classical language if I’m not dedicating that time to learning more about programming. There is so much depth that the more I look into these things. When I was in college, even after college, the more learning about different programming languages, it seemed to me that there were categories -different categories — of languages such as Python C, C++, C-Sharp, Objective-C, Java, Javascript, F-sharp. Different programming languages. And I thought — well I can learn a little bit, get the gist of it, and then if I learn general principles about programming I’ll be able to do well and I will be able to, just by virtue of having a job and putting these skills into practice each day I will be able to become extremely proficient at this. I’ll potentially be an expert.

And as I learn more, I’m seeing that that is far from the truth. It’s not the case that I can coast by and become this expert in programming. It needs to be what I eat, sleep and breathe in order for me to become that expert, for me to be able to learn the nuances, learn the depths of these frameworks and the underlying technologies that go into these languages. It takes a whole other level than what I’m currently doing.

And so when I think about this person giving the lecture on Papyri, and when I look into these programming frameworks, functional programming frameworks or Javascript I realize that I have to choose a lane. You will not be a master of anything if you are a jack of all trades. Not because you can’t work hard enough to become the master. No — it’s because you cannot dedicate time to becoming the top of your field in one area and also to another, because by virtue of being the top in your field, by virtue of being excellent, being the best, you necessarily have to choose a lane.

So that’s what I thought about today — choosing that lane. Not getting distracted by the various things that tugged at my interests. I’m getting you to see more and more of the value of something that I believe Warren Buffett said.

He suggested to somebody to take their top 20 to 25 things that they wanted to accomplish in life, and said OK — write them down, 20 or 25. And after he made that list the person was told — now narrow it down to five. Now once you have that list narrowed down to five, focus on the top two. And the other three avoid at any cost because they will necessarily prevent you from achieving the first.

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