Child Prodigy, Adult Mediocrity
There is a large group of child prodigies who go on to a life of relative mediocrity.
David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including "The Forgetting," "Data Smog," and "The Immortal Game." He is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS. His new book, "The Genius in All of Us," will be published by Doubleday in March 2010.
There are so many misconceptions about child prodigies. Probably the more important misconception is that the people who are great as adults are also the ones who are the child prodigies.
Obviously there are child prodigies. That exists. There are kids doing amazing things for their age and there is this other group of adults who are doing amazing things just as adults. The intersection between those two groups is not very large.
Mozart is the most famous one who started out very, very young doing amazing things and continued doing amazing things in his adult life as well. But there are just as many if not more of people in both camps who are not in the other camp, that is, child prodigies who at one point in their lives are great at something and then who go on to a life of relative mediocrity.
We can talk about why that is and there is another enormously large camp of adult achievers who are great at what they do at a mature age, but if you look back to their childhood there might be some signs that they were headed in a certain direction, but they didn’t stick out as these enormous achievers as kids.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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