How to Be a Polymath (The Ultimate Guide + Image Quotes)

You may have met people in the past who exhibited polymath tendencies, giving new meaning to the term “well-rounded.” This could be the class valedictorian, who, in addition to having excellent grades, is a talented violinist, a competitive swimmer, and helps run experiments at a nearby university. It could be the girl you met while volunteering at the hospital who has won several national math competitions, speaks multiple languages, and has her own small business.

A polymath is someone who excels in a variety of fields. The term was also used to refer to the numerous great thinkers who lived during that time period and boasted achievements in intellectual, social, artistic, and physical pursuits. Throughout history, notable examples include Benjamin Franklin (writer, politician, inventor, and scientist), Imhotep (chancellor, architect, and physician), and Leonardo da Vinci (scientist, artist, philosopher, writer, inventor).

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After university, it is difficult to find polymaths in the wild. We are constantly told to specialize as we progress through school. We eventually reach the point where we are regarded as “experts” in our field. Indeed, it is a running joke that a PhD thesis will only be read by you, your advisor, and the examining committee – because no one else will understand it! Nowadays, a lot of career advice focuses on specialization and finding your niche. Being a jack-of-all-trades, as well as those who can't seem to focus on one thing, is frowned upon. So, how do we reintroduce that person who wishes to spread their efforts and accomplishments across multiple fields?

1. Be Inquisitive and Open to Learning

Polymaths aren't driven by fame or the desire to impress others. They simply want to learn about everything that piques their interest. This has a positive effect on our brains as well – in fact, many have compared the brain to a muscle in that we must either “use it or lose it.” Increasing mental stimulation (i.e., continuing to form new connections through active learning) helps with memory retention and lowers the risks of cognitive decline, according to multiple studies.

It is never too late to learn a new skill or pursue a new career. According to all accounts, Leonardo da Vinci began his artistic training under the tutelage of Andrea del Verrocchio, where he learned a variety of artistic (painting, sculpting, drawing) and technical (carpentry, mechanics, drafting, metalwork) skills that would serve as the foundation for his later engineering innovations and contributions to the fields of anatomy and biomechanics.

2. Develop a variety of interests and passions

Unlike specialists, who will happily live and breathe their field for years on end, polymaths will be interested in a wide range of topics. Consider your childhood. Did you like drawing? Building? What were your interests back in middle school? Young children are fascinated by the world around them and have a strong desire to explore and try new things. Much of our natural curiosity is suppressed as we progress through the structured educational systems in place.

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To reclaim it, you must venture outside of your usual haunts. All growth and learning take place outside of your comfort zone. There could even be a common thread connecting your interests. Many polymaths, such as Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes, have made significant contributions to mathematics and physics. Many of them, however, were philosophers who wrote extensively about their efforts to make sense of the world around them.

3. Don't be concerned about being perfect

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule, but do you want to know a secret? To be a polymath, you don't have to be the best in your field. All you have to do is be better than average. That is all there is to it. Do you think it matters if you're ranked 45th or 128th in the world if tennis is one of your hobbies? The fact that you're ranked indicates that you're already head and shoulders above the competition. While it is important to strive for excellence in all areas, it is also critical to remember that we only have a limited amount of time and energy.

It's also worth noting that you don't have to know everything about your field to be considered an expert. A person who can recognize the 1000 most common Chinese characters, for example, already has a 90% understanding of the Chinese language. When this number is increased to 2000 characters, their understanding of Chinese improves to 97 percent. Consider this: learning an extra 1000 characters for a mere 7% increase in knowledge! It applies to all fields, not just languages.

4. Oppose Gatekeepers

Regardless of the aspiring polymath's eagerness to learn, they may face a slew of roadblocks in their quest for knowledge. These can range from admissions committees to workplace managers to literary agents to subject prerequisites. When Benjamin Franklin's brother refused to publish his work, he created a pen name, Mrs Silence Dogood, and submitted his work under that name instead. Because of their popularity, those letters quickly became the talk of the town.

Is there something you've been putting off because you didn't think you were qualified for? With the rise of the internet, it is now easier than ever to learn a skill and learn from experienced teachers. Thousands of educational and DIY video tutorials can be found on YouTube alone. University courses that were previously only available to those with a working internet connection are now available to anyone with a working internet connection via platforms such as Coursera and edX.

Gottfried Liebniz's success can be attributed in part to the vast library he inherited from his university professor father when he was six years old, after the latter died. It gave him access to a number of advanced texts that he would not have had until he started college. Because of the large number of Latin texts he read, he was fluent in Latin by the age of 12.

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5. Set attainable goals and stick to them

Every polymath in history had one thing in common: they were all extremely hardworking and produced extraordinary results. Benjamin Franklin's daily schedule reveals how he was able to achieve so much during his lifetime. Every day, he sets aside specific blocks of time for deep work as well as time to unwind and reflect. In addition, at the start of each day, he would ask himself what his goal for the day was, and then evaluate it before going to bed.

Remember that the term “polymath” has never been synonymous with “overnight success.” Indeed, history demonstrates that the success of every polymath was the result of years of dedication to their craft and studies. This is why their names are still remembered today. What is one small step you could take today to get closer to your goal?

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