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3 Siblings: An Astrophysicist, an Artist, and a corporate director

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Photo Credit: Amazon

"So it wasn’t just: 'You want to grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, Indian chief.' No, it was, 'What else do full-grown humans do in this world?' That exposure was significant. I thought it was just they’re just trying to get us out of the house. But there was a master plan in place, a master objective, which was to expose the three of us to as much as they possibly could. So that when we decided what we wanted to be when we grew up, it would have a certain authenticity of origin."
 

Have you ever found it hard to decide what is it that you really wanted to do with life? Stanford found out that 8 in 10 people didn't know what they really wanted to pursue in life. It is a very difficult and personal question, but  perhaps parents can play a more facilitative role 

 

You might be familiar with Neil Degrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist, author, and director of the Hayden Planetarium. Tyson rose to prominence with his appearances on television, where not only is he able to communicate complex astrophysics concepts succinctly to the common viewer, his infectious passion and enthusiasm for science made him highly popular. He seems like someone who was born loving science.

But there are a few interesting caveats behind this impression:

  • First, his parents were social scientists - involved with sociology and gerontology(the study of the social effects of ageing) i.e. about actual people and relationships; in contrast, astrophysics is highly numerical and deeply theoretical - there is an intimidating amount of higher maths required, and given the nature of space(just how large is space? find out more),  there are a lot of things which you just can't simply test.  So his interest in space was not directly influenced by his parents

  • Second, Tyson has 2 other siblings  - a brother Stephen and a sister Lynn. Stephen is an accomplished artist, with works showcased at major exhibitions. Lynn is the director of investor relations at Ford Motors. In other words, all 3 siblings are pursuing (and doing very well in) careers in 3 drastically different fields. 

This did not happen by accident. When the Tyson kids were still young, their parents took it upon themselves to expose their children to all sorts of different experiences.

The parents decided to make New York City, where they lived, a learning laboratory.

 

Tyson explains on the Tim Ferriss show: 
 

"But my parents would take my sister, my brother, and me to each weekend. It felt like each weekend, but it was probably maybe one or two weekends a month. But on family trips to various cultural institutional offerings in the city and in the region. So it didn’t matter. We’d go to the aquarium, we’d go to the zoo, we’d go to the art museum, we’d go to an opera, we’d go to a play, we’d go to a Yankee game, a Giants game, a college football game. It would just be something where we would observe adults doing with expertise. 

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Remember what was mentioned at the start? That Neil Degrasse Tyson is now the director of the Hayden Planetarium?

At age 9, his parents brought him to the Hayden Planetarium for the first time. At the Planetarium, he was able to see learn more about stars, and how many there actually are - this is in contrast to the few tiny specks we see in our night sky. Tyson was hooked, and from there on, developed and cultivated his love for astrophysics. 

It's really worthwhile to reiterate again that his parents never forced upon him something they wanted. They gave their kids:

1) the exposure to as wide a variety of topics and experiences as they could, as much as possible in the most adult setting (as compared to just watching a show or reading a book)

2) the support and space for their kids to then pursue what they were interested in.

Related links:

I got mediocre grades, but I was not a mediocre student

How to design my life and find what I want to pursue?

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