iMahal Interview Series:
David Gimbel
July 22, 2001

iMahal:  We are certainly familiar with the challenges of launching a company. We have seen your Archaeos website and know that it is quite an achievement. The goal of educating so many people about archeology is commendable. What advice would you give to a young aspiring archeologist?
Gimbel:  I'd give several pieces of advice. First of all, it's good to define the path you think you want to take. You should have a series of short term goals to take you to where you want to go. But you also need to envision a longer-term goal: where you want to be in 10 years. The short-term goals are immediate enabling mechanisms; they're steps that get you to where you want to go, and there's a certain satisfaction when you reach each step. It will help propel you towards your final goal. The reason it's important to have a final destination is that you need the structure to take you there, and you also need to have something you're striving for. So that would be my number one piece of advice.

My second piece of advice is to recognize that it's actually important to have obstacles. A lot of people run into obstacles and are overwhelmed by them. They feel defeated by them, and rather than retrace their steps, try to go around them or try to find a way to effectively surmount them, they simply change careers; they go and do something else.
..obstacles themselves are important because they fortify you..
They say, "Okay, this is not something I can do." Like everybody else, I've had disappointments and failures, and it's only the fact that I have a long-term goal, something that I feel passionate about doing, that gets me over those obstacles and hurdles. But the obstacles themselves are important because they fortify you, they give you the belief that you can get over some of these things that stand in your path. Nobody has anything handed to them. You have to keep pushing at it; you have to keep chipping away.

The third piece of advice that I would give to any student has to do with what you search for. There is a mistaken premise that a lot of people fall into when they go to a university, and I think it's one that I fell into early in my academic career. I think it's much more important to find people who you think are dynamic and interesting and intelligent and who really want to interact with you than it is to study any particular discipline.

When I look back at my life I think I could have been happy in medieval studies, or linguistics, or any number of things. The fact is, I just happened to find a bunch of people who were really interesting, who were doing what I was doing. And if they hadn't been interesting, I wouldn't have been able to keep moving forward, because I would have gotten discouraged. I would have become bored. You have to keep yourself intellectually alive.

So, don't worry about what the course is about, worry about the teacher. Go around and ask, "Who is a really great teacher? Who's course did you just love taking?" And then focus on that person, what they can bring you, and just leave your mind open to what you're going to learn. You might very well find something that you absolutely love and you also might discover an interesting set of colleagues who you want to work with. Most of the profound changes in my life, the really important moments, have been afforded to me by other people. I look at my life as being propelled by contact with people I view as very intelligent and who have also been tremendously generous with me.
iMahal:  So you would also advise young people that their path, despite having goals, does not have to be deterministic. Your path was discovered: collaboration with mentors helped you to discover yourself and what you wanted to do.
Gimbel:  Absolutely. You said it better than I could have. In fact, I would take that one step further. As you move through life, remember to have that same mentoring relationship with other people as well. I think it's extremely important to be as generous with other people as they were with you. I've seen the opposite a lot in scholarship.
..I think it's extremely important to be as generous with other people as they were with you..
Many scholars believe that when they have a unique idea, they need to guard it with a fervor, because they're afraid that somebody is going to steal it. But the fact is if you're an intelligent person, you're going to continue to have a lot of good ideas. So, be generous with them. If somebody steals it, if they participate in unethical behavior, fine, let it go. Move on to the next concept, because by putting the ideas out there, by being generous with your time and your thoughts, you're going to build a much more profound connection with the world and you're going to build one that is going to lead you to all sorts of interesting discoveries. It's going to lead you to directions you never imagined. I never imagined in a million years that I would end up at Oxford. I never imagined I would end up at Vijayanagara, in India.
iMahal:  It's good to keep an open mind and accept input from multiple sources. Many successful people started out doing something else; it's where they ended up that made them famous.
Gimbel:  Yes. And I think if you look at successful people, their lives are marked by creativity. I have a couple of friends whose paths in life have been unbelievably successful. Some of them never graduated from college, but they have been tremendously successful. One marker for all of them is that they are highly social animals. They love meeting people, and they love being with people. And, I've always thought this was very interesting, they will always make time for you. For example, it's much harder to talk to middle-management than it is to talk to the guy on top. If you call the guy who runs a museum or a corporation, unless the guy is a complete jerk, despite the fact that he has the busiest life of anybody on the planet, he will say, "Well, I've got an opening Wednesday at 12 o'clock. I would love to see you." If you call the guy in middle management, he usually says, "Well, I'm busy; I don't have time for this."

All photographs copyright and courtesy of David Gimbel or Archaeos



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