Preprofessional Legacy

Day 098 Week 15 Q2 Sunday, April 7, 2024

jAll creative outliers have come from their own unique, special legacy. We are shaped by the individuals we have spent time with in the past. Some of them have been mentors, and some of them have been influences. And some of them have been examples of how to behave and how to treat other people. But each of us has a special, unique legacy.

Fortunately, I have had the good fortune of spending time with some truly exceptional life-shaping influencers. I guess it always begins with your parents, and in my case, my parents did a really good job; they were not too crazy about how good a job their parents did, so they decided to do better, and they did. They fed my curiosity with an infinite number of books and trips to see things. I was an extremely culturally exposed little kid. The size of my world was enormous. Growing up in New York City, with all of its libraries, museums, bookstores, and live music, exposure opportunities were pretty unbelievable, and my parents partook overall and always brought me with them. And when my sister came along seven years later, she was always with us as well.

I spent more time in junior high school and high school on extracurricular activities than homework, and no one gave me a hard time about this. Being on four varsity teams, being the photography editor of the school newspaper, and dabbling with being on the math team and debating team did not leave very much time for doing homework.  I never quite got around to doing homework until I was 19 and changed my major in college to physics. I found out that One could not really get a physics degree without doing some homework.

Even then, I was extremely fortunate that the professors allowed me to take whatever I wanted, and many of my classes consisted of just myself and the teacher. It took me five years to graduate college because I changed my major seven times, and in my senior year, I had to take 10 physics courses; yes, that’s right, five courses each semester in physics. I think for more than half of these courses, no one else had the prerequisites, or they were special projects, so I got a lot of one-on-one mentoring, and I was also left alone to explore and grow whatever they wanted to, which was pretty fantastic at the City University of New York. Somewhere along the line, I became the president of the physics society for the University, which enabled me to recruit wonderful speakers to our events, like Carl Sagan, who had not yet become famous.

By the time I got to graduate school to study electrical engineering, most of the world had given up telling me what to do, and they allowed me to explore whatever I wanted. This resulted in me becoming a professor when I was still an undergraduate, even before getting a master’s degree.

All of this intellectual freedom, but not necessarily support, set the stage for an interesting professional life. I did not realize at the time how unusual it was to be permitted to explore whatever you wanted, and so I took it for granted and carried it forth into my professional life.