As I sit in front of my laptop, I’m reminded of something one of my favorite authors, Steven Barnes said:
“You cannot run all the way to Disneyland. But you can walk there.”
I have always had a tendency to get interested in something and do it to the exclusion of all else. Sometimes it served me well, sometimes it didn’t. Whenever it happened, my mother would say that I got on a “kick”. I wish I could remember some of them. But anyway, I did the same thing throughout graduate school. My field was theoretical condensed matter physics. Instead of spending all my time learning more condensed matter theory, I spent time diving into some of the “sexier” subfields, like string theory, general relativity, and quantum gravity. It was fun, but it didn’t directly, or even tangentially, relate to my research. It was a diversion of sorts. (At least it was fun!)
As I’ve gotten older this issue has gone away. I still want to learn new and interesting things, but I have responsibilities now, at home and at work. So I mostly pick topics that relate to things that I need to focus on. For example, I develop machine learning software. So when I want to learn something new, I’m likely to pick some algorithm or numerical technique.
Looking back, part of my frenetic desire to learn as much as I can was a desire to squeeze as much as I could out of life. No telling when it might end. Now, for the same reasons, I try to spend my time more wisely. I’m not going to live forever and I can’t do everything. So I pace myself.