Years ago a friend of mine, a physician, was struggling with a cocktail of emotional and mental issues. He confided in me and asked for my help. During our conversation, I asked him if he had any hobbies; he didn’t. I asked him what he did on his day off; he didn’t take a day off. He didn’t have any intellectual pursuits (other than his profession) or intimate friends. His entire life centered around one thing: his practice. He lived a unidimensional life and it was beginning to take its toll.
Biologist Thomas Huxley offered good advice when he said, “Try to learn everything about something and something about everything.”
Try to learn everything about something.
Become an expert in one area of life. Drill deep and be thorough in your knowledge and understanding. This is usually our profession. While we’ll never know everything about a particular subject, we can become extremely proficient.
Try to learn something about everything.
Here’s why a multidimensional life should be pursued:
- You’ll enjoy the wonderful diversity of life and our world. There are so many interesting things in life to explore. Don’t get pigeon-holed into just one area.
- You’ll be a more interesting person. It’s often tedious being around one-dimensional people. Their conversation is limited and their perspective is narrow.
- You won’t be flummoxed if your one area of expertise vanishes. Many current jobs will not exist several years from now; AI will make them obsolete.
- You won’t be bored when you retire. Some of my friends go bat-crazy about six months after they retire because their self-identity, self-worth, and life-focus have been solely defined by their profession. Other friends, upon retirement, sense a new lease on life because they now have more time to pursue their “everythings.”
My daughter and son-in-law are quintessential examples of what I’m advocating. Jonathan has gone deep into his profession: if you ever need an emergency-room physician, hope it’s Jonathan. But he’s also an instrument-rated pilot, an expert sailor, volunteers for the F.B.I., is finishing his MBA, built a lake house…he knows something about many things. My daughter, Lauren, has a degree in violin performance, a master’s degree from Columbia in strategic planning, graduated from culinary school, is a master gardener, and started a business in environmental sustainability.
Way to go, kids.
Be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of one. It’s a good recipe for a well-balanced and engaging life.