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My brother told me that there are two paths to climb the corporate ladder:

  1. Be a manager
  2. Be a specialist

I’m neither of them. I’m an introvert and a polymath. I can lead and manage people, but I have no interest in doing so. I can master a skill too, but I have no interest in doing that either.

Guess I’m not meant to climb the corporate ladder.

Definition of a Polymath

According to Google, a polymath is a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning. Wikipedia describes polymath as a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.

If you love to do and learn a lot of things in many different areas. Then, you are like me. You are a polymath. You might also be known as a:

And of course, they are not so favorable terms to describe us such as:

  • generalist
  • dabbler
  • scanner, or
  • jack of all trades, master of none

Being a polymath isn’t easy, especially in a corporate world. But I love being a polymath because that’s who I am. In today’s post, I’ll discuss the challenges and joy of being a polymath.

Here’s what it is like being a polymath.

Challenge #1: Employers Think We Are Not Committed

One big problem with being a polymath is perception. Some employers see us as job-hoppers or non-committal people.

Previously, I was in several different jobs – auditor, accountant, animator and project lead. At a glance, employers who look at my resume would think that I’m a person that gives up easily or gets bored easily. The truth is I am as committed, if not more committed than others to my jobs.

For my accountant job, everyone knew I would be leaving since day one. Because during my interview, I had communicated to my managers that I would be pursuing something creative someday. They wanted me to stay for at least 3 years. I agreed and I did.

Unlike what most people think, I don’t enjoy changing jobs.

Changing jobs is a hassle. I don’t change for the sake of changing. However, when you started working and you realized that your job didn’t align with your long-term goals, you had to change. That’s what happened to my animation job.

I was genuine about contributing to the animation industry, but I realized it’s just so far off from my vision that I had to let it go. If you know that something isn’t right for you, would you still continue?

Joy #1: We Are Able to See Possibilities

Most people know the first half of this famous couplet, but not everyone knows that it’s taken out of context. The full couplet should be:

“Jack of all trades, master of none,

though oft times better than master of one.”

Being a jack of all trades is advantageous when it comes to problem-solving and creativity. The more exposure we have to different industries and work, the easier for us to connect the dots. Polymath loves to challenge the status quo because we can see better options and possibilities beyond the current situation.

On the contrary, it’s much harder for a specialist to think outside of the box. They know too much! They know what works and what doesn’t. They are less likely to try something unconventional that is against the predefined norms in their specialization.

Able to see possibilities make polymaths very nimble and that’s why we can navigate through different jobs easily.

Challenge #2: People Don’t Understand What We Do

Sometimes, when you do so many different things, it’s difficult to tell others what you do. I used to be very bad at introducing myself. I would be like: “I used to be an accountant, but now I’m pursuing a career in animation. Oh, by the way, I wrote a book and I used to write songs too…”

People were not just confused by me. They felt lost. They didn’t know how to communicate with me and where to start.

Just pick an identity for yourself.

These days, I just tell everyone that I’m a writer and author of Fearless Passion. Short and sweet. And depending on the context, I might throw something else into the mix. For example, if I’m in a music event, I would tell others I used to write songs too. People don’t have to know all the stuff I do.

Joy #2: We Can Complete Projects on Our Own

One good thing about being a polymath is we are resourceful and self-reliant. If I don’t know how to do something, I am able to find ways and learn enough from books and research to execute what I want.

There is a lot of freedom in doing stuff on your own. Not only does it build your confidence, it gives you a lot of creative control. For my book Fearless Passionnot only did I write the book, I designed the book cover too. Then, I did the website. And lately, I shot the book teaser. In the video below, I’m the scriptwriter, actor, director, storyboard artist, voiceover, editor and the cameraman!

Would it be better if I hire an expert to do it?

Definitely!

But when you have a tight budget, it’s good to know that as a polymath, you are able to complete projects by yourself without any restrictions.

Challenge #3: We Want to Learn and Do Everything

“Life isn’t about possibility – anything is possible.

Life is about making a decision – deciding to do something that moves you.”

Marc Chernoff

Have you read this short story about life by Marc Chernoff? There’s this little girl in his story who was an artist. She thought that it was a waste to paint every day because she had the ability to do anything in the world. So she started thinking about what else she could do. 25 years later, the girl began to cry because she realized she hadn’t done anything meaningful at all.

Being able to see possibilities is a gift for polymaths, but it also easy for us to be enchanted by all the bright shiny objects we see. If we don’t make a decision and pick something to focus on, this gift would soon become a curse.

And that’s why I chose to be an author above everything that I do. I need to do something that moves me. And writing moves me.

Joy #3: We Want to Learn and Do Everything!

Although it’s humanly impossible to learn and do everything, it’s still a wonderful quality that polymaths possess. I believe in lifelong learning. Learning makes us grow.

It’s so beautiful to see ourselves grow over the years. 

Whenever I looked back and reflected on how much I had grown (especially in my self-esteem) over the last 5 or 10 years, I’ll be so thankful and proud of myself. All these time and effort I had invested in learning about myself and personal growth, is truly worthwhile.

So what are you learning today?


Featured Photo Credit: Girl Standing In Field Of Flowers At Sunset / Ed Gregory

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