Follow your dream, they always say. But what if you do not know which dream to pursue?
Almost all of us, in particular the millennial generation, have faced the conundrum of too many choices in terms of life goals. A lot of people are told they have potential for many things in life, but to turn that potential into a fruitful contribution to society they must choose a single path.
That cannot be farther from the truth, actually. In fact, in the current global scenario having many interests is perhaps better than the pursuit of a single course throughout your life.
The curse of ‘too many interests’
Choosing a career or skill to pursue is one of the hardest decisions we make in life, and perhaps the most important. That is why this choice is the subject of so much judgment and moral implication. And unless you are a visible genius or some kind of prodigy, people generally consider multiple interests as a sign of indecisiveness, superficiality, and lack of expertise.
‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is typically a disparaging remark, assigned to people who dabble with multiple career choices in life and never seem to go steadfast in pursuit of a single course. Because of this focus on a single choice, many people get discouraged and stick to a ‘safe’ job, thereby wasting all of their potential.
The case of the polymath
Remember Leonardo Da Vinci? The legendary Renaissance painter is widely known as the creator of the Mona Lisa, but his range of interest was far greater, encompassing architecture, mathematics, science, engineering, anatomy, astronomy, botany, history, even literature and music.
More recently, we have the likes of Umberto Eco, Carl Sagan, Stephen Fry, Steve Jobs, and even Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) as examples of people who successfully embody multiple skills and interests.
These people are called polymaths; i.e. people who excel at multiple things simultaneously. In this day and age, they are considered geniuses, but history will tell us that just a few hundred years back this was actually a pretty common thing. Specialization of knowledge is a relatively new idea that was driven by the industrial revolution. Before that, knowledge pursuers would have no qualms about straddling fields as different as astronomy and anatomy.
Some defining traits of a polymath personality would be:
- Holistic attitude
- Ability to perceive things from multiple perspectives
- Relentless pursuit of excellence
As you can see, all of these traits can be put to wonderful use in today’s technology-driven world. Almost all the progress in our civilization has been driven by combining separate knowledge traditions, so someone who can holistically tackle multiple areas is an invaluable asset.
How to have a polymath mindset
Now, just having potential in multiple things doesn’t make you a polymath. You have to be able to provide fruitful results combining those skills and interests. Here are some ways you can channel your multiple potentialities into a polymath mindset.
Decide on a combination
You like writing. You have a web development background. You have a passion for cooking. There’s a potential food criticism business just waiting for you to build it. Take stock of your skills and interests in a planned manner and you will see many of them actually work well together. Innovation is a key element of success in the modern world and a combination of skills is more likely to drive innovation than a single course of expertise.
Once you have decided on the combination, focus on improving the components. Focusing on training one field at a time is always better, and for your efforts to bear fruit you need deep knowledge in your fields. So never compromise on getting the necessary training and education. Formal education is not crucial; exploit the wealth of online resources and courses available nowadays.
Learn in respect of your combination-skills
When pursuing education, keep your purpose in mind. If you are training your writing skills, choose a form of writing most suited to the other skills and interests of your chosen combination.
Having too many interests is not a curse, it is rather an opportunity. The future is looking for people who can think holistically and creatively, and adapt quickly to changes. With the right mindset and plan, you can be one of them.