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The Art of Liberal Arts: Being a Multi-specialist Pt 2

In most job interviews, we would likely come across the question"what is your background?" You would probably answer your major/degree, but I find this question to be very difficult to answer. If I answer the title of my degree “Technology, Liberal Arts and Sciences” usually one would follow up with “Ah so you're an art major?". I mean no, but can be I guess, and then I confuse people even more as I elaborate.

Fabian here, from the think-team! Last week I briefly explained what I do in Now, I want to talk a bit more about what I did. At the same time, this will be part two of my series Being a Multi-specialist. I want to answer two questions in this blog - what is the right background to join and what in the world is a Liberal Arts major. I'll start with the latter.

I hold a bachelor's of Science (not art!) from the University of Twente, Netherlands. Among my peers, we often joke about how this study is like a D.I.Y. project, which isn't wrong. Miku, a fellow giftmaker and Liberal arts student also covered it in her blog. Historically, in Latin, Liberalis (free) Ars (the art of principled practice), put focus on skills than the specific study itself. Prior to the Latin origins, the Ancient Greek methods defined it as a "desire for a universal understanding". Now, Liberal Arts has been adapted to many educational practices, as a medium to cross-cut disciplines and develop soft skills among strengthening knowledge.

In my case, I got to design my own major. I sort of had an access card to join any course from any program that is available from the University. I selected various courses that eventually help me define my desired academic profile. Mind you, we had to select courses consciously with justification. Our semesters begin with a Personal Development Plan where we write our personal goals out of the semester. We then end with a Self Evaluation Report, where we analyze whether our goals were achieved and which direction we would like to go next. Anyway, if you look at my transcript, it would probably be confusing to guess my major.

So why did I choose this major? Simply, I could not choose.

I thought, why choose one when there are so many things to offer. I could not commit to a purely social science or natural science major. I just could not see myself spending so many years just on one thing. I was curious about a lot of things and I needed a major that could fulfill my unnecessary thirst for 'random' knowledge. Let me study Philosophy, Electronics, and Sociology in one semester. I told myself that I want to be able to think like an engineer, a social scientist, a computer scientist, etc. So I took these courses to get the essence and slowly integrate the mindset so that I am able to approach any problem.

Cool right? But of course, there is a trade-off to everything. Throughout my university career, I learned that this was not something people look up to. It was unconventional and to some people, pointless. One person told me that essentially, I am an expert in nothing. A kilometer wide and a millimeter deep. That really hit me. In a world that demands experts, why be a master of none?

So, obviously when I graduated, I had the impostor syndrome. I did not know who I was or what I was good at. I did not know what expertise I could claim. It's sort of everything and nothing at the same time. But I tried not to overthink it and simply move forward like impressionists do. Unconsciously, my mind was pretty nomadic. I know what I want to explore and I keep on hopping new trains to different destinations. The same way I chose my courses in University, I just choose any place where I resonate. And so I applied to, claim that I have some expertise in Sustainability-related stuff and crossed my fingers. I knew I was in for a ride, and I was right.

Within my first month, I was spending time studying Agroforestry practices and scrolling through Governmental documents on environment-related policies (I've explained here). I told myself, wow I have come prepared. My uni life was all about scrolling through information and pretending like I know what I am doing. And Tak would tell me "you can be an expert in anything in 3 hours". Which to me means, if you're smart enough, you know what to look up for, which is something I've been doing.

There is more to my bachelor's degree that I could not share in one or ten blogs. But one big thing I learned is to not fear entering a new field. I’ve gotten so used to exploring many fields that now I feel comfortable to research about anything. As opposed to, "oh I don’t know what to search for because I am no expert" or, "I can't do that because I majored in this" orrrrr "I am just a [major], not a [other field]". Now I enjoy confusing people with the title of my diploma. People are forced to understand me versus putting me in a box. I scraped off the impostor syndrome (sometimes), because I learned that I can belong anywhere.

So to those wondering how to enter, I would argue your skills are almost more important than your background. Because if your background puts you in a box, your background is your weakness. At the same time, I am not saying everyone should take a Liberal Arts degree. I am here to share what I got from it and how you may apply that to your life. I think reducing the fear of something new may make life a bit more adventurous. Anyway the world is constantly evolving, so why be stuck in one thing?

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

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I am interested in behavioural change! Please consider it as your next blog? ;)

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