Resets in careers do not naturally feel like positive experiences. However, it is possible to take that temporary disruption and create a net gain from the situation. And Carnegie Mellon mathematics professor Po-Shen Loh has found that a diverse portfolio is his secret weapon for making the most of the situation when projects don’t go according to plan. His endeavors range from being a professor to creating the NOVID app, public speaking, coaching the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team, and making educational videos. Over time, he has found that when a reset occurs in one quadrant of his life, he is ready to leverage his diverse knowledge and skillsets to seek solutions.
Diverse portfolios mandate lifelong learning
While I lean into resources like LinkedIn Learning, Masterclass, and podcasts, Po, in a recent Career: Reset interview, noted that he has a different lifelong learning path. His pursuits become self-guided courses fueled by an innate desire to understand the “why” behind the solutions. His philosophy is that if you just keep learning, then you can learn a lot. An obvious statement, but he went on to say that if you can earn a doctorate after five years, then by continuing to learn, you can become an expert in a new field every five years. This type of investment sets you up to make discoveries and impact the world in exciting ways. Po said, “If one can have the luxury to be picking up different kinds of skills continually, then maybe you can combine them in a strange way someday.” His life demonstrates how diverse knowledge feeds into itself, opening new doors and creating new opportunities.
Diverse portfolios increase what you have to offer
Po went on to say that while his endeavors are diverse, they are still interconnected and readily flow into each other. When he spoke about coaching the Mathematical Olympiad team, he said that because the students are so smart, he doesn’t feel like he has much that he can teach them (hello, humble leadership!). But he did acknowledge that one of his primary contributions is his life experience — he can share his work as a social entrepreneur, his most recent project being NOVID, the only COVID app to provide a “pandemic radar” that anonymously alerts you to danger approaching in your interaction network. He hopes that by planting these seeds, his students will someday apply their mathematical knowledge towards goals that will make the world a better place. This guidance and shaping of skills may not be what we typically think of for a mathematics coach. In the end, it is a seamless pivot towards an even greater goal: teaching a long-term application of skills for the benefit of our world at large.
Diverse portfolios negate a binary mindset
Finally, in our last article, we discussed the benefit of having a balanced headspace during a reset. Po was able to flesh this concept out further by noting that, with each endeavor offering its own set of wins and losses, triumphs and struggles, life cannot become binary with everything riding on one activity’s success or failure. When a person actively plugs into a variety of activities, there are constant fluctuations. The victories in another sector can counterweight struggles in other areas. And even those failures can be turned into net gains when the lessons learned can be used as fodder for additional endeavors. His life is undoubtedly an example of this, as his different pursuits seem like a physical manifestation of the internet of things. As we said above, these enterprises overlap and feed into each other in unlikely ways offering unique solutions and possibilities. With this interconnected lifestyle, a binary mindset isn’t sustainable, and the result is a healthier outlook on life.
While resets are far from pleasant, it is still within our power to strive for a net gain. By maintaining a balanced perspective, learning and engaging, and then applying those lessons for maximum benefit, we can finish ahead of the curve. And now that Po has filled us in on his secret, a diverse portfolio is something that each of us can add to our arsenal.
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.