Leonardo de Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Jose Rizal, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, Oprah Winfrey…do any of these names sound familiar? Of course they do. But they’re not only world-renowned for their incredible accomplishments throughout their lifetimes, they are considered “polymaths” or “Renaissance Men or Women”.
Many self-help experts would advise you to “focus” or concentrate on one area of expertise. But, most natural polymaths can’t help themselves. The world is too big and wonderful to only know and do one thing.
I have personally struggled with focusing on one thing my entire life. In 2003, I wrote this poem:
What is it they say about a jack of all trades?
They’re always busy busy busy with their beds not made
“What’s so wrong with that?” you inquire
Well, tasks are unfinished as the body eventually tires
I am not a Jack but you can call me Jacqueline
For I have many uses sort of like Vaseline
I am a singer, dancer, actress, songwriter, choreographer
While I draw, go to Business School, and dabbled in Architecture
As if twenty-four hours were enough for all that I aspire
I’m still trying to play the keyboard and the guitar!
I should be very versatile and successful someday
But that could be when I’m old, more bitter, and gray!
I am a girl with too many trinkets in her purse
Now do you see what I mean by ‘the Curse’?
Thus, not one competition have I ever won
For my talents are many, but I am a master of none.”
It’s been a lot of fun exploring different hobbies and careers, but I’ve definitely held myself back from a lack of focus, as well. Here are more pros and cons about being a polymath.
- As mentioned earlier, it’s always fun and inspiring to try new things
- You stimulate different parts of your brain and body; studies have shown that the more you learn, the easier it is to learn other topics through your brain recognizing patterns and retaining new knowledge quicker
- You meet different types of people in the various circles you become a part of
- Success might come later compared to others who only took one direction in life
- You get good at a lot of things, but usually never become great at any thing
- There’s not enough time to cultivate all of your interests and still have a healthy and happy personal life
But don’t worry, dear polymath. I’m not telling you to change. In fact, in the time since I wrote the poem above, I have accomplished many things such as winning awards for being a recording artist, finishing First Class Honours (equivalent to Summa Cum Laude) in business school, being a part of a world-champion dance group, writing my first novels, and having a successful global e-commerce business. I’m also happily married with a beautiful daughter.
Plus, I found the answer to all of your polymath problems:
Succeed at One Thing First!
Succeeding at one thing first is the ultimate key to being a renaissance person. After I did well at school, I used my business knowledge and contacts to help all my other endeavors.
Life is not that short. You can be many different things in all the years you’re alive. But to live well, you can’t just skip from one job or path on a whim. You need to be able to support yourself and most likely, your loved ones. And, being the best or at the top of one field can, for the most part, guarantee that security.
Another advantage of being at the top of one thing is that it allows you to leverage it for all the other things you want to do in life. Let’s say you become an A-List actor with an idea for a great business but you need millions to make it happen. Well, having a name in showbiz would probably open some doors for you with big investors.
You can be the Jack or Jacqueline of All Trades, but you also HAVE to be a Master of One.
It doesn’t matter which one. Just choose your current favorite out of your interests and go full force on it. This is the sacrifice it will take for you to win at being so versatile. Don’t worry, it’s only temporary. Once you become the king or queen of your field, the sky is the limit for all of your other interests.
Now, I will add to my poem:
“However, this curse has given my life color and variety
And ultimately the most interesting me that I can be
Thus it’s not a curse after all, but the biggest blessing
I’m a Renaissance Woman: many talents in many settings.