Friday, July 29, 2011

The Polymath's Path

Noah Davis interviews Paul Hoffman, who ran Discover when he was 30, and who has had a number of interesting careers since then. His college roommate "had already discovered a sub-atomic particle in high school," which put him off a career as a physicist, and his father was a speed-reading English professor who "read three novels a day" and "had a photographic memory," so fiction was out as well. A fascinating career followed.

What would you tell a 22-year-old kid?

First of all, I would say, don't sweat it. It's really easy to say that in retrospect, but I really do mean that. You can make mistakes. You can take a job and six months later you can decide that it's hell. "It's not for me. I'm not interested in this." That's totally okay. In fact, that's easier now because the paths are not so well defined. People that present their careers as entirely successful from the age of 15 and on, most of it's fiction. Okay, maybe that's true in a couple people, but that's a couple people. There are several billion people on the planet who have managed to make their careers in other ways. You can't be afraid of failure. Even if you look at these incredible successes—people who were multimillionaires by the age of 30—often they did something that wasn't a success at first. Passion is so important. You have plenty of opportunities to bounce back if something doesn't work. If you see something out there that you really want to do, just go for it.

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