The Sense of Frustration

by Dave Schuler on March 22, 2014

Based on some things said in comments, I think it’s time for a little more autobiography. I’m one of those rare, fortunate or unfortunate depending on how you look at it few who are good at both humanities and science/mathematics. In high school and college I straddled the line, taking more language, literature, and history courses than just about anybody who was oriented towards science and math while taking more science and math courses than anybody who was oriented towards the humanities.

I’ve written about music here and here and my martial arts experience here.

In the SATs I scored in the 99+ percentile on both the verbal and the math sides (like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer). I was a member of the high school drama club and participated in a summer repertory theater during the summers but my home hobbies were chemistry and electronics.

In grad school I turned to the tech side but I continued with theater well into my 20s, with music into my 40s, and with martial arts into my 50s.

It might sound empowering to be good at so many things but it’s not. It’s frustrating. I’ve never been able to find my niche in life and at my advanced age it’s unlikely that I ever will. Nothing really satisfies me.

I don’t feel sorry for myself. Appreciating everything and learning about everything gives one a richer, fuller life. But the idea of a job that I just love is completely foreign to me.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Cstanley March 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

Well it certain makes you an interesting blog host.

I had similar academic abilities but I had a strong drive (from age 8 onward) to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. So, academically my focus was applied science, but I’ve pursued other interests in leisure activities like painting. Shyness bordering on social anxiety held me back from other pursuits.

Life throws curve balls though, and although I fulfilled my basic career aspiration it took a backseat to parenting because of two kids with special needs. In response to that situation, I’ve become a bit of a lay expert in psychology and psychiatry.

I think the vast majority of people don’t have jobs they love, but it’s more important to create a life that you love.

TastyBits March 22, 2014 at 11:36 am

I am a math and science person. I hated liberal arts all through school, but I think this mostly has to do with the way it is taught. I decided to give myself a liberal arts education, but the problem is you need a foundation to understand anything. Everything leads back to ancient times. Mostly, I just started there and worked forward.

I have always found tests to be a joke. I usually have to figure out the answer that is expected. In math and science, it is usually less ambiguous, but there are always unidentified assumptions.

I get bored easily, and except for learning, finding a niche is probably impossibly.

Dave Schuler March 22, 2014 at 11:56 am

Everything leads back to ancient times.

You should be cautious. We know next to nothing about antiquity. What we do know about history is mostly medieval or from the modern age.

TastyBits March 22, 2014 at 1:16 pm

I disagree, but you could further extend your argument that much of what has come down from antiquity was second hand. Many of the original works were lost, and we have descriptions or fragments of them. The fire in the Library of Alexandria wiped out innumerable works.

Archeology is confirming, refuting, and enhancing what we think we know. In addition, other disciplines are being included to build a better picture – diseases, trade, laws, engineering, fabrication processes, etc.

Even translations of modern works need to be carefully considered. For certain philosophers, I would only use a certain translator. You probably see this all the time with Russian translations. One or two words can alter the meaning.

jan March 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm

“I think the vast majority of people don’t have jobs they love, but it’s more important to create a life that you love.

That’s a thought-provoking comment. For people who invest long, rigid hours at a job, I would think how rewarding or unrewarding that job was would have a lot to do in assessing whether or not they have a life they love. For those who have flexible, fluid and self imposed work schedules, it alternatively would seem easier to create a satisfying life around one’s job obligations, kind of blending the two and achieving a complementary balance.

It was interesting, though, reading Dave’s description of how his intelligence and excellence, in so many varied areas of life, seems to have created an absence of achieving some long-lasting, captivating niche in life for him. We are all such unique individuals, and what is often considered a gift can also be a challenge to understand or fully integrate into the span of a lifetime. My son, for instance, also has many diverse interests/skills, accompanied by brief but intense times of focusing on one particular area of interest, exhausting it, before he moves on to something else. He humorously says his intellect and expanded knowledge over such a broad field of topics, is well suited for a game show contender and not much of anything else.

TastyBits March 22, 2014 at 2:36 pm

A liberal arts education is important, but what is taught in the liberal arts departments is mostly garbage. In addition, the disciplines do not exist in a vacuum. Literature requires an understanding of history. The arts require philosophy and history. History requires political philosophy.

There are also certain authors who are able to capture the zeitgeist of their time, and any study of that period should include that author. Mark Twain, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Henry Miller are three examples.

“Huckleberry Finn” has been labeled as racist and banned from classrooms. This work is an accurate depiction of life at that time, and it captures it better than any history text could. The liberal arts departments should be demanding it be included in every history course, but instead, they want it banned.

Most engineers could benefit from a few courses in logic and history. I have heard the wildest theories from engineers. They know how to reason, but they often lack the historical perspective that is need to determine probability. A lot of times shit just happens.

I think that architecture courses would attract more STEM folks if they emphasized the engineering aspects. The physics behind flying buttresses is fascinating, and it could be brought into a physics class. Once you begin to understand the physics, you begin to understand that these were not simple people wearing funny clothes.

The philosophy at the time had a similar problem.

... March 22, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Cleaerly, Schuler, you are best suited for the life of gentleman adventurer. Unfortunately, you were born a bit too late for that.

Dave Schuler March 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm

It’s funny you should mention that, Ellipsis. One of the historical figures whom I admire most is Sir Richard Francis Burton.

steve March 22, 2014 at 3:51 pm

What percent of people who score in the 99th percentile in one test also score in the 99th on the other?

Steve

michael reynolds March 22, 2014 at 4:38 pm

I have a job I mostly love and a life I love quite a bit. I stumbled into both. I had no interest in writing for kids, that’s what I do, kinda love it. I had no interest in a long-term relationship, promptly found one, and it’s great. Had no interest in having kids, have two, and I can tolerate them on good days. I would certainly not qualify as a gentleman adventurer, though I’m also a fan of Richard Burton and related literary creations like G.M. Fraser’s Flashman, more of a white trash stumbler.

I’m really glad I never had a plan. Making shit up as I stumble along (also my approach to writing, not coincidentally) has worked out pretty well. I have great respect for random chance and opportunism. Chance and grabbing same has worked for me.

... March 22, 2014 at 9:03 pm

That’s precisely the type I had in mind.

Jimbino March 23, 2014 at 10:37 am

The great thing about mastery of foreign languages is that it allows you to move to live and work in foreign places, where all those boring things you have to do in Amerika become strange and interesting again, and all those boring people are engaging, owing to the fact that you have to pay attention to them, as you used to do as a child in the boring old USSA.

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