General Sherman is the world’s largest tree by volume, a 84 meter sequoia towering over the Sierra Nevada range within a grove of giants. It has been alive for anywhere between 1600 and 2000 years today, and is now a national monument. When admiring it, one can’t help but wonder- what are your secrets? What wisdom do you hold? And perhaps more selfishly, how have you lived to become so great?
I believe that there is a key lesson to be learned from General Sherman, the tree not the person: branch out. In order to succeed, one must diversify and grow in all directions.
Recently, my friend Daniel Kao published an excellent article on how humans should aim to be a “jack of all trades” . He discusses how the old beliefs of being specialists are no longer valid, because the world does not need people who can only do one thing well. It is easy to learn, and so, people need to aim towards being generalists, to understand everything with competence. Spot on. I would not dare say that there is no room for people with a single major in mind, but I do propose that the most interesting breakthroughs in today’s world comes from interdisciplinary studies. The golden location where ideas from different fields mix is the same where the best ideas are coming from. And if that is true, wouldn’t people who could cross bridges be the most valuable?
Learning multiple topics is certainly not easy. Each different discipline needs a different way of thinking, some of which may run counterintuitive to each other. For instance, one of our guest lecturers at SSP approximated every single constant in a tsunami wave equation to be one – and got the right answer still! Show a mathematician that and they might just faint. But, SSP has taught me that with the right amount of passion and determination, these impossible tasks can be done quite easily. Determining the orbit of an asteroid and writing a research paper on it is not a simple task, requiring needle-sharp precision in order to complete. If you set your mind to a single task and put your entire heart and soul into working, suddenly it doesn’t feel so hard anymore. Mastering multiple areas of knowledge is not impossible after all.
But an addendum to all of this: SSP has also taught me that surrounding yourself with the right kind of people is just as important. My friends at SSP are diverse in every way, and their different perspectives allowed for the OD to come together. Collaboration with a wide range of people is just as important as knowing it yourself.
So stay fascinated with the world, and never stop learning. There’s just so much to do and so much to explore!