Focus on specifics

Status: Done
Confidence: Likely

When I was a teenager, I tried to occupy myself with grand, general questions and fundamental principles. Years of experience beat that out of me, but I still look back with some chagrin. The time spent on specific, concrete things that I could fully handle or trying to piece specific bits into my worldview was where I really grew.

I think this is a common mistake. The young see their elders working on things that seem general and grand and abstract and imitate them.

The problem is that their elders are also focused on specific, concrete things.1 A mind with ten additional years of training and ten additional years of experience can make much broader statements while remaining, in its own conception, precise, technical, and on firm ground. Ten years, twenty years, thirty years, and at some point the generalizations start to seem like magic to those starting out. They are perceived as generalizations, though they are precise statements. And the people making them look back at their grand generalizations of their youth with chagrin.

So my advice to the young: present hard, technical material that you understand intimately. My advice to the old is the same.

  1. Or they have become snake oil salesmen.↩︎