The breakthroughs in new fields tend to come from young people. In established fields, there is normally a vast sea of knowledge to conquer before you get to the edge. If you want to contribute by pushing the boundary further, you have to specialise. You have to focus. The contributions tend to come from people who dedicate their lives to something very particular. Their circle of competence shrinks as they go deeper and deeper. They reach the frontiers later in life. The question is then whether they are able to send the message back in a way that lay people will understand. In a way that makes their adventure, our adventure.
It doesn't matter how smart you are, you have a human brain with human constraints and 24 hours in the day. We all let go of things in order to specialise. We make choices. We can't do everything. My concern with this is that we aren't very good at keeping in mind all the things that are important to us. We aren't very good at prioritising, and being pulled back to the things that matter. In a world that requires specialism and a shrinking circle in order to contribute, my worry is that we let go of basic competence at life.
In order to specialise, we need to delegate tasks. We need to be selectively ignorant. Okay with not knowing how to do certain things, because other people can do them better. We get better and better at the things we are good at, and that is seductive. Being a beginner is confusing. There is anxiety involved. There are lots of people who can judge you. The better you get, the fewer people there are who know more. It can feel safe to be in a spot where no one can give you rubbish. Where you are the rubbish giver. You can walk confidently.
But there are lots of areas of basic life you can't delegate. Relationships. Physical Health. Mental Health. There are lots of things where it isn't about being the best. It is simply about being competent. Being able to do simple household chores. Being able to make a meal. The nuts and bolts of life. Without which nothing else matters.
I have just returned from two weeks in Marrakech. It was my first decent stay in a Muslim Country for any significant period. Five times a day the call to prayer would sound. Sunrise, Mid-day, Mid-Afternoon, Sunset and in the Evening. For many their day would continue. But as the sound spread over the city, it was a moment to recall the things that are important. I find that idea powerful. If 5 times a day, we stopped whatever we were doing for just a minute. Closed our eyes and remembered what mattered.
I grew up a religious little guy. One of the things we were encouraged to do was 'Quiet Time'. To wake up a little earlier. Find a quiet place to sit or walk to, read a little bit of the Bible, and then spend some time in prayer. Yogis talk of the quiet period just before sunrise (4-5 am) as an especially good time to sit in silence. Stripping away religious additions, I think carving out time, even moments, in the day for stillness is a useful habit to form.
When I do that, the things that matter most aren't complicated. They aren't near the edge. They are close and they are shared.