(1) Alex Tabarrok writes:
All personality differences increase in developed economies. If Chris Rock were a Bangladeshi rice farmer he might still be funny but he'd also have to be a hard-working, diligent rice farmer and that would push his personality closer to the mean of all rice farmers. The division of labor both opens up the possibility of becoming who you truly are and it magnifies and extends who you can be.
Aside: can anyone clarify exactly what is meant by such talk of "who you truly are"? What does the authenticity of a life, or being "true to yourself", consist in? It's intuitively very important, but seems difficult to pin down. Perhaps the idea is that we have certain deep-rooted characteristics that will influence what sorts of situations we best flourish in. Being "true to yourself" is then a matter of recognizing these unalterable facts, rather than forcing yourself to live as a round peg in a square hole, or however the saying goes. Is that it? (Or is inauthentic flourishing possible? Perhaps the thought is that we ought to nourish our individual differences and eccentricities whenever possible, so that someone who failed to do so - and lived a happily normal life in consequence - thereby failed to fully develop their individuality, the quirky unique version of them hidden within? That seems much more controversial.)
(2) Ben Casnocha discusses Marcus Buckingham, "someone who believes that cultivating your strengths is a better approach than trying to fix your weaknesses." I take it this depends upon being able to find the right niche, i.e. where your particular strengths are very important, and your particular weaknesses are not. Easier to change your environment than yourself, and all that.
(3) For a contrasting view, Steve Gimbel proposes that human excellence is a sign of mental illness:
To be more than good, but truly great requires sacrifice that would make most normal (and I would argue, rational) people say, "No, thank you." I posit that "love of the game," whether the game is football, academic scholarship, attaining political power, seeking social change, or whatever else one might engage in, will only get you to really good. To become great requires more and that more requires the willingness to step away from that which would make your life, writ large, well lived.
I've always been more sympathetic to the 'perfectionist' claim that excellence has increasing marginal value. It's nice to go from mediocre to good, but a descriptively "equal" improvement (however one measures these things) from great to outstanding is of greater value. What matters most is the peak of attainment. So it can be worth 'specializing' as a person, sacrificing some areas of our lives in order to truly excel in others. We all recognize the remarkable value of the lives of Beethoven, Gandhi, etc., despite their manifest flaws. A world without such greatness, but a much higher average happiness, would be the poorer for it.
Is that such a crazy view?