Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 2

This afternoon, the thirty-some interns here had an opportunity to meet with Ambassador Hong-choo Hyun. What a story: after graduating from Seoul National University and Columbia Law School, Mr. Hyun served as deputy director of Korea's National Intelligence Service. In 1985, he was elected to the National Assembly, Korea's legislature. Afterward, Mr. Hyun served as Korea's ambassador to the UN from 1990-91 and ambassador to the United States from 1991-93. He then came to Kim & Chang, where he currently works as a senior partner.

Among the numerous interesting points Ambassador Hyun made during the conversation, there was one that resonated particularly strongly with me: in response to a fellow intern's question, he admitted that, despite his appreciation for the variety of experiences he's been able to enjoy, he sometimes regrets that he is not a "true expert" in any single field. In his own words, Ambassador Hyun is "only a jack-of-all-trades" (although I'm sure many would argue that he is more like an expert-of-all-trades).

While I don't mean to imply that my life resembles, at all, Ambassador Hyun's either in scope or in impressiveness, I often experience a similar sentiment: regarding both my academic interests and extracurricular hobbies, I sometimes worry that I'm not passionate nor expert enough enough in any one particular area. "'Enough' for what?" some might ask. Well, I'm not sure, to be honest. But it is a source of some anxiety nonetheless, at least during moments of insecurity...

Which isn't to say that I don't have passions: violin-playing, my sixth* love, comes to mind first. But though daily practice routines and weekly lessons and youth orchestra rehearsals and accompanist sessions and recitals and competitions were an enormous part of my childhood, they have since mostly faded into nightmares of my metronome's merciless tick-tock and sweet memories of the spotlight. I still enjoy playing, and it's not that I've forgotten how to do some fiddlin', but I no longer compete on a national level and consider a career in music. I don't regret the decisions that have led to this change, but that's not to say that I don't occasionally feel a pang of what-if when I hear about the accomplishments of former stand partners and rivals and quartet members at music schools and conservatories across the country. (And, in a parallel universe in which I have real feelings, I might be unable to listen to a certain violin concerto because of emotional associations.)

A more recent interest, and one that continues to grow, is my major: cognitive science. Studying how the human mind works fascinates me. Whether it's a lecture on the psychology of law, a newly published study about memory failure or a discussion about consumer behavior, I truly love learning about how people think. But even here, I wonder if this is merely another manifestation of my inability to remain focused on a single field: cognitive science, by definition, is interdisciplinary—my course plan, under the title "Reasoning and Decision-Making", includes courses from the departments of psychology, philosophy, economics and neuroscience, and the School of Management. Perhaps I'm so fascinated by this one major precisely because it is so broad and multifaceted.

And neither cognitive science nor anything any passion keeps me up late at night (well, unless I'm studying for a psychology exam). A newly published copy of Nature might be enough reason to enjoy a slice of pecan pie extra slowly, but it won't make me late for a lunch appointment, even if it's just a scheduled picnic with Niki. I'm not sure if this is the result of a healthy "C'est la vie" attitude or an excessive dose of apathy, but in either case, it's true.

Well, maybe it's not that I'm unable to delve deeply into a single area but rather that I'm unwilling to surrender the array of interests that make my life worth living; somewhere between tennis lessons and Señor Mozo's grammar notes, between Fleisch scales and Frisch plays, between Professor Scholl's lectures and barbecue sessions, I've come to realize that I not only am able to reap but also crave enjoyment and fulfillment from a variety of sources.

It seems to have worked tremendously well for Ambassador Hyun, at least.

And according to a study Professor Ahn described during class, 10,000 hours of hard work in a single field are what is required for true expertise. (About two hours a day for the rest of my life allows me four areas of expertise.) So maybe I'll be okay, after all.

*After my parents, brother, grandmother, and a delightful girl in my first grade class who shared her cookies with me during break time.