Most people seem to think that the goal of education should be becoming a well-rounded individual. But I disagree. I would argue that mastery is actually a way better goal. Let me explain.

What most people mean by being well-rounded is having an extremely diverse set of skills and knowledge. Basically, you know a little bit of everything. There is not a topic in existence that you know nothing about.

I believe the idea that this should be the goal largely stems from the school system. The school system wants to prepare its students for their future, but it doesn't know what that future will look like, so it has come up with a brilliant solution: it will just introduce you to an incredibly diverse list of things, really, really briefly.

Aside from the fact that preparation is entirely overrated, this approach has a huge opportunity cost. Because, as the saying goes, the jack of all trades is a master of none.

The train that is the school curriculum drags students from subject to subject, only stopping very briefly each time. There is no time to master anything, because it's on to the next subject. You'd be crazy to spend any more time on subject X, because you have a test on subject Y and Z coming up.

“By the time a student gets to college, he's spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse resume to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may: he's ready – for nothing in particular.”
Peter Thiel (Zero to One)

So you never develop mastery at anything in school. And this is a bad idea, for several reasons.

First of all, being a master of nothing is entirely unsatisfying for you personally. It's like you don't have a real identity anymore. After all, by nature, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. We all have some things that we really like and we're naturally good at; and also some areas where we're just mediocre at best. And that's okay.

But if you spend all your time sanding down your weaknesses, and almost none developing your strengths, you'll end up doing nothing uniquely well. And that will ultimately make you feel like yet another brick in the wall; the same shape and size as everyone else. Nothing left that makes you unique.

Second of all, being well-rounded doesn't actually send a great signal in the job market. This may seem counterintuitive at first. Aren't employers looking for people who can do anything?

Actually no.

As Ben Horowitz argues in the hard thing about hard things, it's a rookie mistake to hire somebody for lack of weaknesses, rather than for their strengths.

Because if you want to build a top team, you need people who are really world class at that thing you hired them for; and not just pretty okay at all kinds of different things.

It's easier to work around somebody's weaknesses than to try to get them to be exceptional when they're just not.

Mastery even sends a better signal when that mastery is entirely unrelated to what you're hiring for. This is because mastery at anything is a proof of character. Everybody intuitively understands that true mastery requires dedication, depth, perseverance and long-term commitment.

And this is exactly why it's a good idea to mention that you got to the finals of that national violin championship, even when you're applying for a marketing position.

Your mastery in that unrelated field is proof of a winner mentality. And an employer understands that this momentum you bring to the table is part of your character, and it will serve as a great predictor of success for anything else you attempt.


In short: stop being afraid of committing to that thing that excites you, out of fear of 'pigeonholing' yourself. You will not limit yourself by developing mastery. Quite the opposite. You will teach yourself how to be successful, which will be more fulfilling for you personally and also send a better signal to employers.

So, go ahead, dive in.

Dive in deep!