I don’t have specific advice or ideas about being a well-rounded human being, since I’m still relatively young (right?) and have gone deep on few topics rather than broad on many, but I did just have an idea thinking about the question of being “well-rounded.” It’s a notion that is used in the CrossFit exercise program, which is the idea of “the hopper.”
Think of a big rotating basket full of ping-pong balls like they use in bingo, but on each ball is a list of physical activities instead of a number. You spin the basket, pick out a ball, and do whatever is on that ball. It might mean running for kilometers; it might mean lifting heavy weights overhead; it might be body weight exercises; likely, it’s some combination of them all. An expert in some activity — a marathon runner, an olympic lifter, etc. — would do well on some particular activity, but if the wrong one came out they may not do very well at all. If you start doing what comes out of the hopper each time, you’ll become better at any random exercise that eventually emerges.
This works rather well for building athletes who are reasonably good at many, varied things.
I wonder if this idea could apply to other pursuits, in terms of improving one’s abilities and broadness of experience. This could just mean a simple way of producing challenges when one is pursuing something very new to them — if when learning to play music, if each day or week you got a random song you had to learn, or a random instrument you had to play, or both, would this help in the pursuit? This may not turn you into a virtuoso, but would it help you in becoming musical?
This could apply to a number of activities, I would reckon, though I do still admit being way too ignorant about way to many subjects to know for sure. But it might also help in choosing what to pursue — what if you had a hopper that produced a broad activity (learn an instrument, learn a language, learn electronics, learn woodworking) that you got to do each month or so. I don’t know if the time domain makes sense, especially since lots of things must require some significant instruction and practice. Taking your own decisions about what to do out of the picture tends to help sometimes.
Out of coincidence, I read this quote by Robert Heinlein today, and it did make me sit up and take notice:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
So pick something, anything. You’ll (a) be surprised at how good you can do it, or (b) be surprised at how hard it is, and will definitely (c) think differently at the end.
This is getting long, and I’m probably getting more joy out of writing it then engaging in any dialogue on the subject, but there you are.
I can give some answer on what I’ve done personally with my life so far, though I think it’s boring: I’ve been into computers and programming them since I ditched my ideas of becoming an artist Freshman year of college. I used to be very into astronomy and broad, popular science, and read a lot of science news. I tried to build a telescope but failed. I read many classic American and Russian novels. I’ve watched and been critical about many classic movies. As of late, though, I have only been programming computers for work (real-time control code for complex robotic bits, some network service work) and for fun (some open source stuff a while back, now I’m writing an iPhone app to try and get rich (not really)). I’ve been keeping up a CrossFit workout regimen. I studied Aikido for a few months before that. I have traveled few places, notably Europe and most memorably Scotland. I have had crushes on women, but have never been in love with one.
I don’t know what qualifies as a complete human life, but that doesn’t quite feel like it.