Biographies can produce sharp turns in the way we see ourselves and the agency that we have in the world. Reading about a great life lived, we often walk away saying “How could one person have done all that?”
Two biographies stand out for having produced such moments for me: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. The first captured an historic life that merged a passion for the humanities, adventure, and leadership. The latter is the story of a lifetime spent in spiritual preparation for a season of courage.
When we read about others we discover that their lives were far from linear. In fact, their paths through life could be better describes as intersections. The lives of Theodore Roosevelt and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are extraordinary because their career paths were intersected by diverse interests and the spirit of their times. Roosevelt was a naturalist who became Police Commissioner of New York City and then President. Bonhoeffer was the Lutheran priest who became an influential agent against the rise of Nazism in Europe.
In Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, the subject of the biography derives his genius from working at the intersection of the liberal arts and technology. His core belief was that Apple was making more than devices that worked, they were making products that had a “current of humanity.” He took all that he knew about art, design, language, and music and put them at the forefront of company culture. As Isaacson states, “He made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors.”
“I like that intersection. There’s something magical about that place. There are a lot of people innovating, and that’s not the main distinction of my career. The reason Apple resonates with people is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our innovation.”STEVE JOBS on the intersection of the humanities and science
For many years I was almost apologetic when noting that I worked in finance but had a liberal arts degree. Were those four years of college spent in history, literature, philosophy, and theology lost when I could have been studying finance exclusively? With the perspective of the Jobs biography, I appreciate that a degree in the humanities set me on a path of lifetime learning, in search of the right intersection. Now, when I help frame financial decisions in the context of human experience, I know I am working at my own magical intersection.