When I was a child, I was terrified of the idea of deciding what I wanted to be. There was a world of possibilities! I didn’t want to limit myself to being defined by the one profession I chose to pursue. It was my belief then, as it is now, that you can be an expert in as many things in life as you want.
This leads me back to the question of what I want to do when I grow up. Well, frankly, the question, itself, is flawed…I don’t want to grow up. Growing up signifies that you are no longer growing – no longer learning or challenging what you know or who you can be. It implies being stuck…
Enter the story of a fellow I met named Jim (not his real name). I had occasion to chat with Jim at three separate parties over the course of seven years. He was nearly 33, and I was 19, when we first met.
Our first meeting, he shared his excitement for the new apprenticeship he was about to begin. It was under a master craftsman of the Stradivarius tradition of violin making. Regrettably, this new opportunity meant that he had to leave his position as Brewmaster at what was one of the first famous micro-breweries (I guarantee you have heard of this famous Californian brewery that ships its beer the world round).
He had worked for 12 years at the brewery, first as an apprentice, then as an assistant. Finally he worked his way up to Brewmaster at the unheard-of age of 30. When asked why he left this prestigious position, he replied simply that he had satisfied his curiosity for making beer. For the last few years he had just been going through the motions.
When I met him at a party 2 years later, his passion for making violins was white hot. He was set to graduate from his apprenticeship in less than a year (which was about 7 years ahead of the norm). He told of his trips to Italy to learn from the old masters, collecting rare pieces of maple wood by hand from the forests of Croatia and spending endless hours perfecting his craft.
The last time I met Jim was 4 years later. He was just as enthusiastic as before, only this time, he was eager to share his excitement about his new career as a sound editor for Indy filmmakers. You see, shortly after achieving a level of mastery in violin making that allowed him to sell his own instruments, the orders started coming in. His passion for the work began to wane when it became work.
He was the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ in training!
I had another friend, whom I met later in life, with a similar penchant for moving on to new things just as he reached a level of mastery: My buddy Terry (not his real name either) earned a PhD in Astrophysics at Cal Poly (that part is real).
When I met him, he was an ambulance driver. Not a paramedic or EMT…just an ambulance driver. He told me he enjoyed driving really fast with the lights and sirens under dangerous conditions in order to help people. He would’ve been a firefighter, but they were not hiring.
Before becoming an ambulance driver, he left his six-figure income at a lab to pursue a career that paid $14.36 per hour as a sky-diving instructor in Hawaii. He told me that his decision was simple: “I can spend my time looking for the origins of life, or I can spend my time actually living one.” He ditched his gig jumping out of airplanes in paradise after only a few years because it was no longer a challenge.
What I admire most about Jim and Terry is their insistence on pushing the boundaries of what they know, even if it means sacrificing the comfort and certainty that accompany a generous salary and tenure.
Jim once explained his tendency to move from one field to another as being based on the theory of Exponentiality: the amount of work required to go from 90% to 100% mastery demands the same amount of work it took to go from 0% to 90%. Once he had achieved 90% mastery in a field, his curiosity was satisfied and it was time to incorporate what he had learned into his next endeavor. Tim Ferris talks a lot about this as part of his 80/20 rule.
This notion of being a Renaissance Man, or polymath (a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas), is appealing as it opens the entire entire world up as your classroom. As the name suggests, Renaissance is a rebirth or revival, a renewal of who you are…to be born again anew of the same.
This idea came back into mind recently when I was discussing the idea of pansexuality with Big Li’l (Birdy’s daughter). Until just a few weeks ago, I had never even heard the term. I had to google it:
Pansexuality, or omnisexuality:
Noun- sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people of any sex or gender identity.
What I can appreciate about this idea of pansexuality is that you are not limiting yourself to whom you may choose to love. I personally choose a heterosexual life for myself, but I have no need to limit anyone else’s choices. It reminds me of something my sister Julie told me some years ago; I asked her what is the best kind of music in her opinion…she said, “The best music is the music you like. If you like it, it’s good, no matter what anyone else thinks about it”.