3-3 Passion and Work Part 2

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That's the pi approach, which is promoted by Patrick Tay, an elected member of Singapore's Parliament. In fact, he brought that artistic passion into his study of medicine which ultimately played an important role in helping Cajal win the Nobel Prize. You may have to spend some parts of your life focusing on one thing in order to get deep skilling in that area, but you don't have to give up on your passion.

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Most people think about their career development as taking the form of a sort of a T. So you have your arms out, and the T going down. In other words, you have one heavy-duty skill, that’s the downward part of the T, and you complement it by taking some superficial knowledge of other things. That’s the initial approach I took to my career. I learned Russian, and also learned a smattering of other skills, like how to type, how to drive a truck. The challenge of course, is that I found myself without too many opportunities. But there’s another way to think about careers. That’s the pi approach, which is promoted by Patrick Tay, an elected member of Singapore’s Parliament. Notice that this career approach has sort of two legs, gives you more balance, right? And you have one main skill, say accounting, but you also want to supplement that with knowledge in another area, say counselling. The second area may be directly related or it may be quite different from the first. If time and money are tight, you should try to build your second skill out of what you’re already familiar with. When I went to look at second skilling myself, I took a clue from what I’d witnessed in the military. Having at least some technical competence in your skills toolkit often means you have more opportunities. So that was a big push for me towards getting a second set of skills in engineering. Even though I didn’t think I had any passion or talent for engineering. To my surprise, when I began getting better at my engineering studies, I began to realize I liked engineering and I found something more. My previous background as a linguist actually enhanced my studies of engineering and my ability as engineer. I’d learned about chunking and interleaving and deliberate practice. In other words, I’d learned how to learn. I thought more creatively about my engineering studies because of my passion for language. There are many examples of people becoming successful at their passion only because they stopped focusing directly and solely on that passion, and instead began incorporating real world considerations. For example, writer Scott Turow initially had trouble making it as an author. So he took a step sideways instead to attend law school. The real world expertise he acquired as a lawyer gave his fiction extraordinary power. His books have since sold more than 30 million copies around the world. As you know, my hero in science is the father of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramon y Cajal. Cajal’s father was a doctor who pushed his son hard towards becoming a doctor, but Cajal himself wanted to be an artist. Here it was, Spain in the 1860s, and the arguments between a parent and child were the same as they are today. Cajal’s father pointed out that it was almost impossible to make a living as an artist but Cajal resisted strongly. Until, that is, Cajal finally realized that the real world is important. In fact, he was going nowhere fast. Finally, he began turning his attention towards working to become a doctor. It was very difficult for him. He flunked some major examinations, but he kept trying. However, he never forgot his passion for art. In fact, he brought that artistic passion into his study of medicine which ultimately played an important role in helping Cajal win the Nobel Prize. So remember, you can bring a second skill into your work because of your passion, or simply because it enhances or complements your first skill. You may have to spend some parts of your life focusing on one thing in order to get deep skilling in that area, but you don’t have to give up on your passion. In fact, your passion can greatly enhance your creative ability in your other skill. In the end, it’s never a good idea to just blindly follow your passion. In fact, look at the real world and work to both follow and broaden your passions. Your life will be greatly enriched.

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