Comfort with uncertainty

Jan 16, 2017

* * *

Pre-meds have it easy. Sure, the classes suck, but at least they have the next decade of their life mapped out for them.[1]

College was when I was supposed to explore and discover myself, but I feel like I didn’t get enough time. Senior year, I saw friends going into the “standard” career paths: software engineering, consulting, and finance. The only thing I knew at the time was I didn’t want to do any of those three things. But had I shackled myself to a career in software engineering because of my decisions at Stanford?

Interdisciplinary

One word that always pops up about Stanford is “interdisciplinary.” I kept hearing over and over that the world needed interdisciplinary leaders. But the I-word flowing out of a dean’s mouth seemed to contradict what I saw in the job market and the idea of Doing One Thing Well.[2]

I was always attending events on-campus. I attended panels about Hellboy and fashion. I popped into product design showcases and HCI lunch talks. Once I got to hear Werner Herzog speak about a book, and let me tell you: that was an experience. But why was I wasting my time at a student film screening when that time could have been spent taking courses for that job as a Data Scientist (“experience with TensorFlow and distributed systems a must, publications in major computer vision and machine learning journals a plus”)??

At this point in my job search, I still have a hard time seeing how Being Interdisciplinary would elicit anything besides a “I guess that’s neat.“ If I can code and edit videos, a company is probably only going to hire me for one those things. I’d either be an overpaid video editor or an underpaid programmer. More likely, they would hire someone who dedicated their life entirely on doing one or the other.

It was a musical thing

Alan Watts once compared life to music, and Matt Stone and Trey Parker brought it to life in the following video.

When I first saw the video, I was blindsided by how it perfectly mapped the trajectory of my life and spelled out the potentially disastrous destination I was headed towards. It’s insane how structured and laid out the first two decades of my life were. Adjusting to the ambiguities of life takes some time.

My problem wasn’t that I had a lot interests — my problem was that I was way too worried about getting a job. I was ignoring the present and placed humongous pressure on myself to become Great #1 Success right out of college. I was aiming for the cymbal crash of Alan’s talk.

So maybe I can’t fit into a little job box by Being Interdisciplinary. But I’ll be an interesting person, and that’s going to lead me to interesting places. I’ve noticed that interesting jobs aren’t listed on a website somewhere. Irene Au is such an experienced designer that Khosla Ventures made a position specifically for her. Ash Burch does voice acting and wrote for Adventure Time while her brother Anthony was the lead writer for Borderlands 2. They credit their entire careers to the exposure they got from making a silly webseries.[3]

The takeaway

Looking back, I have a lot of projects that I’m proud of. This entire website is an archive to my uncertainty. It’s fine if I end up hop from one path to another because if I don’t explore now, I’ll end up regretting it.[4]

My path is uncertain. A little twisty. And that’s okay.


  1. Same for PhDs  ↩

  2. I’m a big fan of Cal Newport  ↩

  3. I give these two examples in particular because they both visited Stanford to speak on the same day. I heard the Burch siblings talk over lunch, and then I got to ask Irene questions an hour later. I tell ya, I can’t stop attending events.  ↩

  4. Paul Graham equates this to breadth-first search  ↩


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