We all know that person who excels at multiple things, such as your best friend at school who was a chess champion, a fantastic singer, a top swimmer, and the head of the debating team.
If you can’t think of anyone in your personal circle, a historical figure such as Michelangelo, who was a gifted sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer, is a great example of a person with a wide range of skills. Such people are referred to as polymaths.
Although it’s great to have so many diverse skills, one can’t help but wonder if in today’s world, in which specialization is touted as the path to success, there is a place for polymaths? I, and many others, argue that there definitely is. Read on to find out how to become a polymath, and why you would want to do so.
Why Should You Become a Polymath?
In today’s world where you can only hope to succeed if you specialize in a specific field, it may seem utterly redundant to wonder about how to become a polymath.
Many may argue that learning multiple skills across diverse fields means that you’re a jack of all trades and master of none. This is, however, not true. There is no reason why you can only become a specialist in one field, or why you can’t be a specialist who has a passion for many other subjects.
Yes, honing skills in multiple areas takes work and dedication. In short, you will have less time to lie in front of the TV. However, polymaths have a general curiosity and a passion for learning, which means that, for them, spending time acquiring new skills comes naturally.
If you can see yourself foregoing those extra hours of sleep or time in front of your gaming console for more constructive activities, you’re good to go.
There are multiple reasons why you should consider becoming a polymath:
- Problem-solving: Since polymaths have skills and knowledge across diverse disciplines, they’re better able to connect the dots and see the bigger picture. This ability makes them adept at problem-solving.
- Creative thinking: Because of their ability to see the bigger picture, polymaths are generally also innovators who can better imagine new ways of doing things.
- Transferable skills: It goes without saying that the more you know about diverse subjects and fields, the more transferable skills you have. Although we’re taught to specialize from a young age, automation and technology are continuously changing the job market. This means that the more flexible you are, the better your chances of securing a new job.
- Brainpower: Learning new skills is a great way of keeping your brain active and healthy. Like the muscles in your body, your brain needs to be exercised to keep it functioning well. By learning new skills, you don’t only get to widen your knowledge, but you also improve your memory, executive functions, and processing speeds.
How To Become a Polymath
Although the famous polymaths of history, such as Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci, were without a doubt all-around geniuses, you don’t need to fly at such great heights to be a polymath.
Being a polymath simply means that you’re constantly widening your skillset, while also improving your expertise. This means that although you don’t have to become a specialist in each field you tackle, polymaths have more than a superficial knowledge of their subjects, and are constantly working at improving.
Here are four steps you can take if you want to know how to become a polymath:
1. Keep Learning
This is perhaps an obvious point, but being a polymath equates spending a fair amount of time honing new skills and learning new things.
Fortunately, learning doesn’t always have to mean sitting at your desk huddled over a pile of books. It could mean practicing new guitar songs in the park or attending a web seminar on climate change.
Since polymaths typically strive to be “well-rounded” people, you may also want to add a new sport or physical activity to your list. Sitting in front of your laptop for hours on end is good for nobody, polymaths included!
As mentioned before, being a polymath is about more than just having a fleeting interest in a subject. You also want to develop a fair level of expertise in the subjects or activities that you tackle. For this reason, it makes sense to learn about subjects or fields that you find compelling.
If you’re interested and curious, it will be much easier to spend your time learning about a subject, and to do so on a regular and continual basis.
Remember, learning a new skill doesn’t mean that you have to go for something completely outlandish or outside of your frame of reference.
Although it may be fascinating to learn to speak Pawnee, you can also opt for a subject that’s a bit more related to the knowledge you already have. For instance, if you’re a metalworker, you can pursue sculpting as a hobby and perhaps attend a course or two in this field.
However, if your goal is to learn something completely different, go for it!
2. Don’t Agonize Over the Details
If you’re a perfectionist like me, becoming a polymath can be challenging. For years I wanted to write but didn’t even pick up my pen or open a Word document. The problem was that I thought that if I wanted to write, I had to become the next Shakespeare or James Joyce.
This type of thinking is counterproductive. I should much rather have remembered the saying, “If you want to write, write,” or “How silent the forest would be if only the nightingale sang.”
The point is that if you’re striving to become a polymath, worrying about perfection or being the best at everything you tackle will hamper your efforts at best, or you won’t even bother about finding out how to become a polymath at worst.
Although you want to reach a certain level of expertise in your subjects and fields, you don’t need to set world records or win the Nobel Prize. Not everyone is a Leonardo Da Vinci. Anyone who applies themselves, however, can be a polymath.
Instead of focusing on perfection, rather focus on enjoying the journey of learning and improving yourself. Mostly, polymaths pursue learning for the sake of learning. Not because they want a promotion or have a wish to go down in the history books.
3. Be Disciplined
It doesn’t matter which way you look at it. Becoming a polymath takes hard work and dedication. If you’re a normal person with a full-time job and a family, finding the energy and time to learn new skills can be daunting.
This is why it’s so important to choose subjects and activities that appeal to you. You don’t want to have to use your precious two hours of spare time on a Saturday learning how to play the violin if you have no interest in music.
Since polymaths reach a respectable level of expertise in their fields, you’ll need to practice your new skills regularly and over a long period of time. This takes discipline and perseverance. The best way to go about it is to set yourself attainable short- and long-term goals, and to also decide on timelines.
If you’re just going to say, “I’d like to learn Mandarin,” and you learn two words every other weekend, your interest and momentum will quickly wither away.
Your best bet is to create a daily and weekly schedule in which you list the necessary tasks. If you really want to up your level of productivity, take some time at the end of your day to reflect on what you were able to achieve. Doing so will allow you to see what works and what doesn’t.
4. Remain Positive and Inspired
The grind of life and everyday job and family responsibilities can wear one down. When you’re running low on energy and inspiration, it can be challenging to spend your free time acquiring new skills.
If you want to maintain your productivity over a long period of time, it’s important that you live a balanced life and stay inspired. With a balanced life, I mean that you should aim to get enough sleep, eat healthily, and get some exercise.
It’s also important to socialize with friends and play with your pets. In this way, you’ll keep your mind and body strong and healthy.
As far as inspiration goes, it’s wise to find yourself a mentor who you can chat with for advice and support. These days, social media provide useful platforms if you’re looking to hook up with like-minded people who share your passions and interests. Don’t be shy about reaching out to a successful or famous person.
You’ll be surprised how many of them are willing to provide a helping hand to those who want to better themselves. Check in with your mentor on a regular basis, even if it’s just for a chat about nothing specific. Doing so will help you stay focused and inspired.
Also, be patient and kind to yourself. Being a polymath is often a life-long journey of development and improvement. Take the time every now and then to reflect on your journey so far and congratulate yourself on your achievements.
Even if you’ve just learned a little, you know more than you did before. What’s more, by just embarking on the journey of self-improvement, you’ve already done more than many others have.