What is a Polymath?
A polymath is a person who excels across a diverse range of areas.
It isn’t enough to merely have broad interests or superficial knowledge of several topics. Polymaths are more than proficient across multiple fields, possessing expertise at a level that enables them to draw upon advanced knowledge as innovators and problem solvers.
Characteristics of a Polymath
A few more...
Discipline • Focus • Self-Motivation
Polymath is not about math
And it’s a good thing too since the only math I like involves managing money, calculating event, travel and other business financials, writing spreadsheet formulas, and figuring out sales prices with percentage discounts.
My aim was to create multiple income streams or build solutions where I saw a need. I also wanted a life I didn't need a vacation from.
I did not fully recognize the rarity nor the value of being a polymath until COVID-19 after witnessing all of the “specialists” or one-track career professionals who were frozen helplessly with their livelihoods on pause, futures uncertain, and unable to pivot easily and maximize another skill to keep their incomes flowing.
For most of my adult life, it was always a dilemma for me to quickly convey to someone what I do because of that “look” I’d get when I’d mention multiple things—as if I couldn’t possibly be good at all of them. In some ways I understood as my skills certainly weren’t related—web programming, web applications design, search engine optimization, technical writing, creative writing, editing, conference planning, yoga, business start-ups, legal how-to’s—so I began to pick whichever one I was doing most recently, or that they might find most interesting, or the first to pop into my head when asked. I sometimes wished that I had had the ability to choose one hat—okay, maybe two—upon which to focus on specializing, marketing, or branding, and being or becoming “best at.” But I truly enjoyed all the things I did at the time I was doing them.
Society has made being a polymath appear to be a negative, as if becoming a specialist is the only way to succeed, when in fact it’s simply not true.
What good is being a polymath hobbyist?
Throughout grade school, we’re told to find one career to pursue. The rationalization behind this is that specializing makes it easier to find a stable job. But this is a myth. Having only one specialization or potential income stream throughout one’s life is rarely wise. This has proven to be a handicap for far too many people, particularly at the time of this writing as one consequence of the pandemic, rather than the opposite.
Yet, unless you’re independently wealthy, it’s not enough to be great at many things if you’re unable to monetize them. How does it benefit you if your only career ends unexpectedly and all you have are a half dozen hobbies that don’t meet the criteria for business ventures nor solve any of your problems.
For example, my web design expertise saved me thousands of dollars and hours directing someone on how to create my myriad websites to my satisfaction. Knowing how and where to register my own domains, find and set up cost-effective hosting, manage mail servers and nameservers, modify MX and DNS records, edit MySQL from within PHPMyAdmin, and restore backups myself has come in far more handy than I’d have ever expected.
My writing and editing skill allowed me to develop my content myself as I created pages. I didn’t have to hire anyone to write or search engine optimize it, write it all out in advance, or figure out what to put in somebody else’s template (since I custom-designed my sites too).
While each is an area of specialization on its own, the unique combination enables me to connect the dots and address needs that I couldn’t if I’d specialized in strictly one area.
Be strategic with your path to polymathy. Pursue the hobbies, of course, even if only for the sheer enjoyment, but master the money-makers too.
"But how and when did you have time to learn and DO all that?"
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that…
Simple. I don’t routinely waste a lot of time. I don’t spend hours upon hours on social networks or watching TV. I rarely procrastinate. Even before the pandemic, I went through phases where I didn’t hang out socially for months because I was too busy learning or creating something and being productive while being a single mom to my now-grown boys. When I had downtime at the day job—which was often since I was so fast they could never keep me busy—I would be multitasking and utilizing that time to the fullest.
At the root of everything I know was curiosity. Before the internet, I essentially lived in libraries and bookstores. Let your curiosity truly drive you, and you might find you don’t have idle time to waste either.
A word of caution...
Some of us tend to take on too much at once. Don’t make it harder for yourself than it has to be. The trick is to focus on mastering one before you take on the next. That Gladwell myth about needing 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field is just that: a myth. You don’t need 10,000 hours, but you do need to focus and not allow yourself to get distracted by the next thing that piques your interest. If a polymath is what you’re destined to be, be sure to avoid overwhelming yourself with trying to learn too many of the things you want to learn at the same time. Strive for proficiency in each before you tackle another.