7 May 2019
When I was eighteen, I thought I had plenty of time to figure out my career. Some of my peers already had a plan: “white hat” computer hacker, heart surgeon, aerospace engineer, librarian or massage therapist.
Others had no clue. Over time, the clueless (myself included) started panicking. Time was running out. We had to decide what to do for the rest of our lives — now.
I am now at a point where some of my peers have graduated. Many more have stayed in or gone back to school to study something entirely different. Others have dropped out and found meaningful work.
All that panic was useless.
No matter how confident anyone was in their plan, life has messed with us all.
The would-be heart surgeon is now an aspiring guitarist, free from her parents’ control. The massage therapist is studying marketing. The aerospace engineer is trucking along, though he expected to earn his degree two years ago. I transferred colleges three times.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” was invited by Oprah Winfrey to give a speech. It was titled “Flight of the Hummingbird.”
Gilbert claimed that some people are jackhammers: focused, driven, unrelenting. Classic Type A. However, many are hummingbirds. They do
not have a singular passion, but instead follow their curiosity from one “flower” — project, class, job or industry — to another, which leads to much- needed cross-pollination in the world and to customized satisfaction for the individual.
It is okay to be a jackhammer, determined and passionate.
It is okay to be a hummingbird, curious and flexible (and yes, maybe a little clueless).
It is okay to be both at once.
The world needs passion and curiosity: people who charge ahead and people who wander.
I know several jackhammers. My father was an electrical engineer and loved every minute of it. He perfectly fits Gilbert’s description of driven single-mindedness.
But over the course of his career, he eventually became his company’s general manager. Now that he has retired, he is pursuing a doctorate in business management. His interests shifted.
Even jackhammers do not follow a linear path. Everyone’s life changes in unexpected ways. Opportunities arise, or fall through. The trick is to take opportunities when they happen. The truth is we are all hummingbirds, whether we want to be or not.
Many of my professors took unexpected paths. Of these, my favorite is the theater major.
As a senior, he finally bit the bullet and took that pesky required math course so he could graduate. He loved it so much he switched majors from theater to mathematics, spent another three years in college, and became a math professor instead of an actor. He has never regretted it.
So to all you liberal arts students convinced
math is the bane of your existence: maybe it is not. To all you STEM majors:
give liberal arts courses a shot. To everyone: dabble in other colleges, or at
least non- required courses.
In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: “You do not like them. So you say. Try them, try them, and you may! Try them and you may, I say.” You might even switch majors.
Scientists have studied the phenomenon of luck and determined that it comes down to one thing: being open to new opportunities. Richard Wiseman wrote a book called “The Luck Factor,” which explains that if you want to be lucky you have to shake up your routine.
Take a different route to class. Take a class because it looks interesting, not because you were told to.
Smile at a stranger. Go to that campus event you are secretly fascinated by. Sign up for that open mic night, or that intramural sport or both.
Be open to new experiences and good things will happen: you will make new connections, or forge relationships or get a job offer. You will change your own life.