It’s taken for granted that life, and therefore jobs, and therefore education, are a meandering path with twists and turns:
· “I changed my major like 3 times”
· “honestly, I’m in a totally different field than I studied”
· “I didn’t even get into it until I was 30!”
I don’t think this has to be the case—I believe a small amount of planning and targeted, intentional exploration when you’re young can give you exponentially greater rewards later in life.
In other words, that ‘twisting and turning’ are lost, and typically wasted, time.
Two counter-arguments spring to mind:
i. the exploration is important: how else can you discover what you like, or what you’re good at?
ii. having cross-domain knowledge can be very helpful in developing and executing creative ideas
I believe arguments like these mostly come from an emotional defense mechanism, either from people who, as I say, wasted a good part of their lives (that’s most of us) or who found themselves in a disappointing life situation and think more meandering would have left them in a better place.
The process of discovery and gaining cross-domain knowledge will happen naturally, without devoting enormous resources towards useless skills. Consider the thousands of hours wasted by billions of students on,
· 10 years of music lessons, only to almost never play again
· 10 years of math classes, only to become a musician
· Pursuing a PhD in math—you’ve always been the best—when your real passion has always been fixing cars
Why does it matter if we waste our time?
Because you only have one life, and because your life has the potential to do extreme good in the world.
Put another way: 20 years lost in the dark is 20 years that could have been devoted to mastering a field and making big contributions to it.
And what if you don’t want to do the most good for the world?
Do you have something better to do? In truth—we don’t all share the same values. If you value happiness, or time, or money, then you should also have a game plan to best pursue these values.
In addition, as people age and mature they often change their values to something like ‘doing the most good for the world’—so it’s best to prepare now for that value change later. And it may surprise you that one of the best ways to do extreme good for the world is by making a bunch of money and giving a bunch away. You’ll do more good for the world making $500k and giving away $100k then by working for an animal rescue, making $50k and cursing your soft heart.
So, what’s the game plan? How do you, from middle school or high school or college, resolve to not waste your time and sketch out a plan for your life and education—a plan that’s flexible enough to both encompass your various goals and to change if you, or the world, or your interest change?
It’s a very important question, and one I don’t have a solid answer to.
But I here’s a sketch—call it the first draft.
i. Evaluate where you are—your personality, your skills, your weaknesses
ii. Evaluate where you want to be along two axes:
a. Qualities: e.g., happier, richer, healthier, etc.
b. Profession: for most people, what concrete problem do you want to devote your life to solving? Given your skills and weaknesses and values, what’s the best way to contribute to tackling that problem?
iii. Sketch out a plan to get there. That involves:
a. Habits—how to spend your time each day
b. Learning—what specific skills do you need to learn to start making those contributions?
iv. As much as you can, devote yourself to your plan.
As much as you can, ignore the rest.
I believe this approach isn’t offered to students, or even considered by most parents and educators. Brief personality surveys don’t cut it. Our education system certainly doesn’t embrace the early specialization that I’m recommending. But for those students who want to, that should change, and change soon.
I’m open to critiques and comments and ideas, especially from students and parents and educators.
Thanks for reading. Be well.