A lot of people ask me “what are you studying,” and my answer always seems convoluted and long, and a rather logical question tends to follow: “Why?” Why would you pursue 4 majors? With the conventional wisdom to know that all a university degree really does these days is to provide you with a ticket to a job interview, why would you pursue four of them?
I found this compelling, audacious comic online, that I think sums up how some people feel about college.
This explains, in part, the attitude of many of my friends in college, whose objective it is to “do their time,” keep their heads down, get their degree, and get out of college. I, however, am taking a different approach to my education.
Let me start by stating the obvious: I’m an ambitious person. Aside from being ambitious, there are several reasons why I chose to pursue 4 majors.
Why do any of us get a degree? The reason that we get a degree is to offer to employers some form of proof that we are capable of the hard work and skill level that is required to earn our chosen degree. So, in my opinion, it would stand to reason that someone with multiple degrees may also possess a myriad of skills as reflected by the various forms of study required by each degree.
Diversity of Thought:
Suppose again that someone who chooses to pursue an education also learns how to evaluate situations based on the persuasions to which they have become accustomed based on their course of study. For example, someone who studies math, given a problem, might evaluate a solution based on numbers, while a philosophy major might look at the problem from the perspective of a subscriber to Kantian ethics.
However, someone who has been educated in both of these fields might not only be able to evaluate the problem from both angles (pun intended), they would also be able to choose the best course of action between the two and/ or base their solution within a combination of both of these fields.
The ability to see things from different perspectives is not only useful in decision-making, it also, in my opinion, results in a higher degree of likability. Thinking differently results in open-mindedness and empathy. Studies show that both of these characteristics result in more people liking you*. If you can think differently, you’ll be able to understand the perspectives of others more often. This will result in people seeing you as more empathetic, because you’re able to understand their perspective- even in the unavoidable event that you may disagree with them. And, because you’re open-minded, disagreement does not end communication. Rather it is the beginning, since an open-minded person engages with those who disagree with them in an attempt to fully understand their positions and achieve points of agreement.
Following the advice of Adam Smith:
I am human. I am not immune to the influences of those outside my inner circle, outside my country, or in the case of Adam Smith, outside my plane of existence. Adam Smith lived 67 years and wrote his most famous books in the mid-1700s. His “Wealth of Nations” is still in print, and I have personally enjoyed it.
It is in this book, that he says: “In the progress of the division of labor, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labor, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations; frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention, in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life.”
TL;DR: Adam Smith suggests here that performing only a few simple tasks during the course of one’s work day robs them of the opportunity to think critically and eventually of the ability to do so at all.
There are two parts of this quote I’d like to address. Adam Smith here, takes a relatively negative tone, but I plan to speak in positive terms as I am an optimistic person. So, I will state the opposite and say, when you perform more than one or two tasks in your work, when you are challenged, when you have a chance to think critically, something interesting happens: you grow. That’s something I’ve always been intrinsically motivated to do. So, one of the reasons I chose to complete four majors is to fulfill my desire for personal growth.
The second part of this quote I’d like to address relates to one’s ability to appreciate “rational conversation,” and to contribute to that conversation. Again, I’ll use a more positive tone, and express that given the different strategies to evaluate problems that I’ve learned, I am capable of “rational conversation.” In addition, all the different perspectives I’ve encountered makes me capable of arguing both sides of many contentious issues.
Following the Advice of Tim Ferriss
I also follow the advice of a personal hero of mine, Tim Ferriss. In the linked post, he talks about being a “Jack of all trades,” or what he dubs “a generalist.” I greatly admire this Princeton graduate who wrote his first book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” before the age of 30. In the linked article, Ferriss refers to generalists as leaders and asks readers if Steve Jobs was better at programming than top programmers at Apple. The obvious answer is “no,” but he did understand enough about everything to see the connections and lead his team to produce great things. Ferriss goes on to say, “There is a reason military “generals” are called such.”
Finally, it’s fun. It’s fun to explore different avenues of thought. It’s fun to learn new things and it’s fun to make great strides. It’s fun to get awards in one field, while achieving recognition in another. Having recently won an “Outstanding Student” award in one of my majors, and being recognized as a “High-achieving” student in another, I appreciate what it means to excel and expand at the same time. I truly enjoy all of my majors and experience great personal satisfaction in pursuing all of them.
Any questions? Tell me about them below!
*This study links likeability and open-mindedness as positive traits, as well as agreeability, kindness and fairness. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but does demonstrate open mindedness as a positive trait correlated with likeability. This study states that “the correlation between likeability and empathy was .60.” I obtained access through my institution, so that’s why the full text is not there, but you may also have access through your institution, if you’re curious as to the other results of this study.