As a senior, I am getting increasingly bombarded by (well-meaning) parents, friends, and college applications about what I want to major in. I always marvel at how casually this question is asked; like to me it just sounds like, “Hey, I know you’re only sixteen/seventeen years old, but what do you plan to do for the next five decades of your life?” I usually just reply with the truth; I tell them that I am undecided at the moment but I plan to pursue something related to technology that will also let me write, explore, and work with people. To that, I usually receive a couple “you-really-have-no-idea-what-you’re-doing” faces and some people will only latch onto one of the things I say and reply: “Yes, technology is a great field to go into” or “A job in civil services lets you travel a ton!”
In other words, the world we live in is extremely specificity-oriented. You are either this or that. There’s a lot of pressure on kids in high school and college to know exactly what they’re doing with their lives. It starts with choosing and getting into a university. Then it becomes choosing a career and landing that first job. Then it becomes having a clear path to climb up that career ladder, getting as close to the top as possible. Then it’s getting married and having kids. If at any point you don’t know what you’re doing or you get distracted or fail a few times, you’re made to feel as if you’re screwing up your entire life and that you’re destined for a life of holding up signs at street corners and drinking vodka on park benches at 8AM.
Recently I’ve been reading a book, How to Fail at Almost everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, that has changed my perspective.
Adams’s main job is a cartoonist for the comic Dilbert; from that, most people would assume that he is an artist, someone who is right-brain creative. No one would assume that he had actually worked sixteen years in the corporate business world, graduated with an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and is a professional public speaker. He goes on to say that he “poor art skills, mediocre business skills, good but no great writing talent, good but not great sense of humor, and early knowledge of the internet.” In other words, though he may not be an expert in anything per se, his less-than-top-notch skills combined made him the only person who could’ve created Dilbert, a comic about office life that was the first of its kind to run for free on the internet, and consequently take off in viewership.
In other words, there is nothing bad about having wide focuses. In fact, it is your specific combination of diversified skills that will make you indispensable. My biology teacher used to film Discovery-channel type movies about wildlife. He told me once that he had actually been an artist earlier in his life, dabbling in photography, and music. He later majored in Biology in college but also minored in Video Production. This, he told me, gave him a huge amount of opportunities in the world of wildlife- and environment-themed movies.
But I do understand why some people think specificity is the way to go. After all, different jobs require different ways of thinking. Are you left-brained or right-brained? (Take the test here to find out). Are you blue (people-oriented), brown (task-oriented), green (logical), or red (creative)? Isn’t asking an artist to code basically asking him or her to think oppositely from the way they normally think?
But unless you are a genius at something (in which very few of us are), one must tap into both hemispheres of the brain and think both analytically and intuitively to survive.
And what better way to do that than pursue your passions, try things that may not have appealed to you at first sight, and develop a totally unique skill set?