When I was 24, I had my first computer, a 486 at 80 Mhz, which later got overclocked as a Pentium II at 120 Mhz.
I was using that computer for a variety of tasks. From playing Civilization for 24 hours in a row, up to making literary analysis of various texts. I was in my last year at the Faculty of Letters, University of Bucharest.
Oh, and one of my first attempts at learning Borland C++ was writing an astrology program. Which never really got published – or been used, for what matters – but which introduced me in the fascinating world of software programming. Of course, I started to use Linux – the hardcore versions, like Slackware, where you had to compile your own kernel – and learn exotic programming languages like tcl/tk.
About the same time, I decided I want to be a journalist and got a job as a radio anchor, where I read news bulletins for more than 5 years. 5-6 news bulletins per day, day in and day out.
15 year later, I immersed myself in FOREX trading and learned candlestick patterns and price action theories. Got out with both my testicles intact (meaning I didn’t lose, but didn’t make money either) and with a huge knowledge bag that is still useful to me today.
20 year later, I started to learn Argentine tango and ended up having a small school (didn’t last long, just a few months, but it was fun).
And 4 years ago, I immersed myself, once again, in a totally new field, cryptocurrencies, and became obsessed with this technology, to the point of supporting various chains and even writing my small dApps (hive.supply).
Why am I telling you all these?
Because, for years, I felt seriously alienated by my “lack of consistency”. All my friends and the vast majority of my acquaintances had a “specialization”. They had a very narrow expertise field in which they were moving comfortably, and, in turn, that gave them some sort of grounding identity. In other words, they had a “career”. They were copywriters working in advertising agencies, salesmen, project managers, doing whatever they committed to do day in and day out, without the slightest interest to steer aside.
And look at me, incessantly curious and never settling for anything really.
For years, I thought I had the “shiny object syndrome”. You know, when you see something shiny and just follow it.
Until I learned about the concept “polymath”. According to Wikipedia:
A polymath (Greek, polymath’s, “having learned much”, Latin: homo universalis, “universal man”) is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.
Well, that sounded close to how I chose to live.
And, somehow, I felt relieved.
I wasn’t “weird”, I was just different.
A polymath will see the world as a kaleidoscope. He will never see only one dimension of things, but at least 3-4, if not more. Every potential will spur 10 more potentials for him because he can apply 10 more “lenses” to every thing, every situation, every activity.
Another joy is that, the more you learn, the easier learning itself becomes. So once you get past the initial effort – because rewiring your brain does require a lot of effort – things get easier and you get more comfortable.
A polymath will never be jobless. He may not have access to top positions – see below, the drawback about “certifications” – but, like a cat, he will always land on his feet. I worked as a radio anchor, Q&A software tester, blogger, coach, tango teacher, MC and a lot of other things, and each of these “jobs” was comfortably fit.
Not being able to settle to anything serious might be one of the drawbacks. Curiosity will always push a polymath forward, no matter how fond he may be of his current setup. There is always something “new” around the corner, ready to be unveiled, to be learned, to be processed, to be experimented. Sometimes, this is tiring.
Another – quite serious – drawback, is the difficulty of “being taken seriously”. I often tell people that I can code in whatever language they want me to, as long as I have about 3 days to learn it. I even tested it once and it worked, I wrote a small Python program on top of Bitcoin-related API, in two days, just for the sake of it. But, more often than not, people are suspicious. If you don’t have an “official” certification, they won’t give you credit. And that’s a shame, because, by his very diverse structure, a polymath will always use a more interesting, effective or creative solution to a problem than a “specialist”.
Social awkwardness is also one of the things I would rather avoid, if possible, as a polymath. When you mix in conversations topics like shamanism, astrology, astronomy, coding, blockchains, 18th century French literature and Argentine tango, people will back away. I know. I’ve been there. If I could have a beer for every uncomfortable silence in my conversations, well, I would have a lot of beers. I think this is how every “minority” feels like, because it’s not about how productive you are, but more like how “accepted” and “acknowledged” you are. And people somehow get scared about the unknown (or what they perceive as being unknown) and their natural reaction is to back away. Sometimes the opposite is experienced, when people will actually put you on a pedestal, but it’s more like they look at a monkey on a pedestal, if you know what I mean.
Polymaths Are Among Us
As AI will take over the “specialized” jobs, those repetitive tasks that can be performed without too much thinking, I think what we now call “being a polymath” will become the norm.
People will have more time and they will naturally learn more things than they do now. Not all of them will have a practical outcome, but that won’t matter anymore.
I’m really looking forward to that.