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Can you have too many interests?

  1. Sep 26, 2010 #1
    I am constantly curious. Probably something most people in the Sciences have in common, but I feel it presents certain logistical difficulties. My curiosity has led to me developing a wide variety of skills, and I am always interested in learning more. These kind of 'diversions' clash with, well, living a more steady life, however.

    To get on the easiest, its best to pick one thing and just do that forever. Having hobbies is fine, but they are more about relieving tedium. But I've never been satisfied with doing things at a hobbyist level. I read a few physics books, and get past an amateur understanding, and then I want to go on to more advanced physics problems. I learn the basics of a programming language and then I want to make games, or work on advanced AI systems. When I was younger I was more into art. More recently I'm developing an interest in electronics.

    I don't really want to limit myself to one thing, but I feel that life necessitates that. I'm just curious if anyone has had a similar problem and how you deal with it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2010 #2
    Different subjects/interests will tie into each other over the long term. Its only a bad thing to have many interests if you never focus on one or a few and develop some sort of mastery.
  4. Sep 26, 2010 #3
    Well, I guess I'm afraid that will become my problem. For years I thought if there was anything I would always want to do, it would be designing video games. While it is still an interest of mine, lately I've found myself more interested in the technical aspects; the programming and math. And Physics has been something I haven't been able to stop thinking about for the past five years, even while working on other things.

    So now I don't know. The only thing I have always loved doing is learning. Unfortunately, that isn't really a job.
  5. Sep 26, 2010 #4
    I guess that you don't have to be afraid that maths, electronics and programming wouldn't go together... I actually have a similar problem, but I still have two more years till I go to university, so I think that as long as I know the basics they teach us at school, all those things I know bits about will come in handy one day. I think that even if you end up as a superstring theorist, time spent on building a robot won't be a waste of time. HOWEVER, I'm 17 and have no experience so please don't really believe me, it's just my opinion, which isn't based on too many things. Thanks
  6. Sep 26, 2010 #5
    Yes, you can (at least practically speaking).

    It's completely natural to be interested in almost everything; this just means you are intellectually curious.

    I am a mathematics major, but my interests lie also in philosophy, Russian history, economics, political theory, psychology, artificial intelligence, physics, biology, music, programming, and probably more than are coming to mind at the moment.

    How did I decide to become a mathematics major? Here's was my rationale:
    * I'd always done well in mathematics classes in high school.
    * I realized there were a lot of beautiful things in mathematics I would never see unless I really devoted myself to it.
    * I didn't want to be around all the types of people who study economics or psychology.
    * Other fields are more accessible if I ever want to start studying them in the future.
    * The system for grading in mathematics is a whole lot less arbitrary than for other majors.

    If you think about it, these are incredibly silly reasons. But in the end, it's about being practical. I am having a second major in philosophy for various reasons, but if it at all interferes with my education in math, I'm dropping it. Once you choose something to be your primary interest and start investing a lot of time into it, you start having less time to spend thinking about other things, and the issue will really resolve itself.

    I still feel a bit sad that I won't ever have a good understanding of biology or chemistry, and I was toying with the idea of sitting in on a few classes this semester, but at the last minute I realized how absurd that idea was. If you are going to do something, you should either do it well, or else it is just a hobby.

    I hope this answers your question.
  7. Sep 27, 2010 #6
    It does in a way, and its kind of what I already expected. I just need to find the topic that I want to be most involved with, and then go for broke.

    That last point you have there is something I've realized to be very important. The:

    "The system for grading in mathematics is a whole lot less arbitrary than for other majors."

    But not just for grades. Evaluation in general for some topics is incredibly arbitrary and it can make job finding frustrating before you have the experience to show your trial-by-fire.
  8. Sep 28, 2010 #7


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    I have the same problem as yourself. I think that for people in this situation the thing that may determine what your "success" will be is down to one thing: discipline.

    Its easy for most people to be drawn to a lot of things and to constantly discover things, but unfortunately most of the easier results in science or any other form of discovery have been for the most part already discovered. I'm not saying that simple solutions to problems don't exist but I am pushing an argument that most of the simple problems in my view have been solved already where the problems are 1) widely known and 2) reached a certain level of maturity (ie how long they have been around).

    If you have the ability to exercise discipline and the ability to focus, I think you will do more than the vast majority of human beings do. To be honest its extremely hard to do this. For one with most problems in science or other fields, you will probably run into at least one brick wall and without the focus or tenacity or discipline to go forward, you will most likely switch to something different and possibly repeat the cycle again.

    All things said however don't be hard on yourself or feel bad that if what you're doing isn't really in you, that ending up changing direction is necessarily a bad thing. We all have to go through life not knowing what the future holds and what all the right answers are.

    I think the best thing we can all do is be honest with ourselves and self-examine in a way where we don't over-emphasize or under-emphasize ourselves either internally or externally to ourselves or other people. When people do that, you know that there is usually some sort of problem with that person. I think we all have done that at some point in time but sometimes it takes something very hard to see ourselves in a neutral manner.

    Good luck with your future and what it may bring you
  9. Sep 28, 2010 #8
    Yeah. Discipline is something I do find myself lacking sometimes. Its not when something is difficult though, its when the interesting or complicated part is done, and all that is left is the most time consuming, yet bland aspect. Thats when I tend to just switch off. I understand that forging ahead through that aspect of work is important, but its very difficult for me. I need to work harder on my self-motivation.
  10. Sep 28, 2010 #9
    For me, even though I liked physics I also liked a lot of other things as well (and my list is actually pretty similar to yours!) then as I went deeper into physics (was forced into it by having to focus to complete my undergrad coursework) I was fine with focusing on physics. So, by my 3rd year I was totally focused in physics and happy with it. It is strange that I decided I did not like programming as much as I thought despite almost becoming a computer science major two years prior.

    I still spend some time on other random things that interest me.

    As for being bland, once you get in deep enough it actually becomes more rich than you could imagine, not bland! If your field does not become rich then you must be missing something, or you don't really like that field as much as you thought.
  11. Sep 28, 2010 #10
    The thing that I've found useful is to take a few things that seem completely unrelated and then mix them into something useful and unique. You can take two or three topics like international shipping law and chemistry and develop a moderate amount of expertise in both, and then because the world's leading expert in how to transport dangerous chemicals.
  12. Sep 28, 2010 #11
    One reason I like business more than academia is that in business "success" is defined in ways that are more amiable to people with wide interests than academia. If you are a physics professor, then developing in interest in say Chinese constitutional law is considered a hobby, but it's not terribly hard in business to figure out a way of making money if you know something about something.

    Simple things aren't simple when you first come across them. One thing that I like doing is to read old journal articles to look at all of the false starts and red herrings that people had to go through to come up with what is today "common knowledge."

    Also, some types of discovery are fun. For example, figuring out where to get good pizza in a new city. That's discovery, and if you stare hard enough at a slice of pizza, there are all sorts of interesting mysteries and discoveries that are waiting if you think about them.

    You are likely to run into a dozen brick walls. Also sometimes getting something done means going backwards or sideways. One thing about science is that sometimes, your bright idea just will not work, and pretty much everyone in science has come across a situation in which what they want to do just can't be done. So you step back and figure out what can be done.
  13. Sep 28, 2010 #12
    Curiously enough, I sort of enjoy that part of the game. Sometimes I get too excited, and what calms me down is to do something dead boring. I have 1000 lines of code, and I need to fix everything so that all of the long's are declared as int's so that it works in 64-bit. It's boring mindless work, but I find it relaxing.

    Yes the world may be falling apart. Yes I could lose my job tomorrow. Now, why is the compiler still giving me an error.
  14. Sep 28, 2010 #13


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    I don't know if it's a "problem" or not. When I was in HS, the principal's assistant took me aside one day and said "You're going to get the Silver V award at graduation." That was an award given to the person in the graduating class that had participated in the most sports, extracurricular activities, student government, honor societies, etc. I had no idea. I kept myself busy, but didn't realize that I had assumed an extracurricular load that much higher than any of my classmates.

    In college, I made money playing guitar and performing in bands, and branched out into buying, refurbishing, and re-selling guitars and amps. Eventually, I accumulated a large stock of schematic books, capacitors, resistors, diodes, etc, and did amp repairs for pay. As an adult, I started prospecting for tourmaline around old mine-sites in western Maine on weekends. Pretty soon, I realized that I had quite a stock of gem-quality rough, but that it would cost me a lot to get it faceted into finished stones. I bought a nice faceting machine, and some faceting-pattern books and taught myself how to facet and polish gemstones. I took the finished stones to a high-end jeweler in the state capitol, and essentially, he wanted exclusive access to all my Maine gems, though when I traded for rough from other areas, he would often buy those finished stones, too.

    Before I had accumulated enough years at Scott Paper/SD Warren to be fully vested in the retirement plan, I bought an IBM PS2 Model 50 and taught myself how to program, writing custom code that was executable in dBase. When my 10 years was up, I quit and went out on my own, writing custom applications for manufacturers, insurance companies, law practices, etc. I hopped around from job to job as better opportunities or more interesting positions popped up. I started working for a large multi-site ophthalmic practice as their network administrator, though my interests in optics found me helping out in the optical lab in my free time, and in less than 5 months, I sat for the ABO exam and became a board-certified optician.

    Not to bore you to tears (I hope), but I have always been curious, keenly aware of opportunities, and willing to take calculated risks. I'm glad I have a wife who was always confident of my abilities, so she wouldn't feel that my frequent job-changes and sidelines might be detrimental to our financial situation (they weren't, BTW - just the opposite was true). As long as you don't feel locked-in or subject to some "duty" to pursue your interests, you should be fine.
  15. Sep 28, 2010 #14
    Thats a far from boring story. It sounds like you've led an incredibly diverse life. I hope my own ends up as interesting.
  16. Sep 28, 2010 #15


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    I have too many interests. I start one thing and then something else distr
  17. Sep 28, 2010 #16
    Don't be silly, Candlejack won't kidnap me, ri-
  18. Sep 28, 2010 #17
    The internet is starting to seep in! Abandon ship!
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