Can You Connect the Dots?

What do you do to stay on the cutting-edge or to generate new ideas or personal growth? Do you read from a wide variety of sources? Do you seek out new people from different backgrounds? Do you find yourself drawn to new subjects? Do you then explore them, or do you say you wish you had time to explore them? Do you have a mentor either for your personal or professional life? Do you volunteer?

A few years ago, Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, gave an inspiring commencement speech at Stanford University, during which he expressed the need to expand your horizons and follow your heart. He explained how he dropped out of college (mostly due to financial strain on his parents) and then started “dropping in” on classes of interest. A chance decision to take a calligraphy class taught him about great typography and became very useful in creating Apple computers, eventually shaping the way we use fonts in every desktop computer today. At the time, taking a calligraphy class seemed like a useless activity, but he found it fascinating. Clearly, this knowledge became invaluable in his work and well worth the time. “You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking back,” he says. See the speech at or Google Steve Jobs commencement speech.

I think this kind of exploration comes naturally to children. My son is 7 years old and is regularly fascinated by something new—music, the planets, chess, and this week, the periodic table of elements.  Instead of sleeping, we’ll find he sneaks books or other materials into his bunk bed. A few days ago we found note cards in his bed related to Moh’s scale, which measures the hardness of minerals from talc to diamonds. I asked him where he learned about it, and he said, in a book he picked up. I have no idea how or if these interests will shape him; I just feel it’s my job to encourage exploration.

I think trying to continually learn new things makes us more interesting to others, including our spouses. Learning something new together can even bring you closer. Learning about each other is also a great idea. By learning and changing together, you can prevent becoming one of the couples who conclude, “We just grew apart.”

Each person has his or her own path in life, and meandering off the well-worn path is what makes you unique. You may find that following your interests will contribute meaningfully in your life. As Steve Jobs said, you will only be able to connect the dots looking back. What do you hope to see when you look back? What unusual decisions are you glad you made? How did they contribute to your life or relationships?

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