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I seem to be somewhat blessed (or cursed) with the fact that there are multiple things that I can do reasonably well.

Because there are so many subjects I am interested in I am actually not really good in any of them. If I write down what I would like to be in the coming 25 years it at least involves that I would like to be really good at something. Here I define really good as a subject where I am the most productive in (and which I like, but that will likely coincide).

How do I determine which direction to go in my studies?

I know that this question is quite subjective but I have tried to make it as non-localized as possible.

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

Well, the way I do it is I accept the fact that I could be roughly equally productive in a huge number of fields, and that any of those fields would give me pleasure, feelings of reward, keep me interested, etc... so here's what else I consider to rule out some subjects:

  • Will you able to make money with it and how much, or would it just be a hobby for you? If money is a big issue, that obviously rules out a lot of subjects. The same is true for fame, admiration, status, and so on. How important this is depends on what you want from life.

  • How much does the subject contribute to the progress of humanity at large? E.g. medicine contributes a great deal, while ornithology probably contributes somewhat less. Personally, I wouldn't like spending my life doing something that is only marginally relevant to our civilization, no matter how interesting or enjoyable it is.

  • Is the knowledge you acquire "safe", meaning likely to be (and stay) useful and relevant for a long time? Hard sciences are "safer" than soft sciences, since the subject matter is empirically confirmed, by rigorous scientific standards. E.g. the theory of relativity is something that's definitely worth studying, while matters like Freud's psychoanalysis are much more questionable. By sticking to "safe" knowledge, you protect yourself from studying useless stuff. A psychologist might become relatively useless if at some point we gain specific knowledge of how the brain actually works, but what a physicist knows will never become completely useless.

  • Finally, will you be able to be successful in the field? Obviously there's no point studying rocket science if you've failed your math classes in high school. Personally, I wouldn't get into any field where I stand absolutely zero chance of rising to the top 10% in terms of skill, knowledge, and so on. It's better to be great at something of average difficulty, than to be average at something of great difficulty.

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I wish I can vote up this answer four times, one for each point. A subject that passes the four tests worth devoting my life to. – Ali Habbak Dec 18 '11 at 23:02

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