You tell me you want to be an athlete.

I say, “Awesome! What sport?”

You tell me you don’t know yet.

I say, “That’s cool. I get it. A lot of athletes play multiple sports, experiment, switch sports, and settle where the returns to their skill are highest. College football stars have ended up playing pro baseball. Basketball stars have made great football players. No need to choose your sport until you’re ready! So what sports do you play now?”

You tell me you don’t play any sports at all. You never have. You’re afraid to get pigeonholed, so instead of picking up a bat, ball, club, or racket, you’re going to study sports for several years until you’re ready to pick and play.

Now I’m worried.

I’m willing to bet ten times out of ten that someone who’s played basketball for a few years will be a better football player than someone who played nothing but studied football. The same goes for any sport.

Learning happens in specific contexts.

You can’t learn the kinds of skills you need in a totally abstracted environment. Skills are specific. Success is specific.

Abstraction and theory are useful when applied to real experience. Get some reps under your belt, then you can reflect, abstract, strategize, study film, think about the bigger picture, and adjust your game. I call this the practice-practice-theory model.

It’s not just for sports.

It’s the same for your career.

Doing one job is a better way to transfer to a different job than studying no jobs in particular.

“I don’t know yet what I want to do” is not a reason to do nothing. It’s a reason to do something, then step back and survey what you’re doing, how it’s working, and where else the skills might be applied.

A great salesperson is more likely to succeed at project management than someone who studied project management work but never did any. A Chick-fil-A team member has more transferrable skills to a job at a startup than someone who’s only read books about startups.

Don’t worry about getting pigeonholed. Get good at something. What you learn is how to get good. That’s transferable to everything else.