Nowadays every body will tell you that it is a great gift to be a polymath and the companies and the future needs them, they are the ones who will find jobs easily and will thrive blah, blah.. The reality is not quite like this. You will probably experience a career crisis at some point and you will need strategies to deal with this.
People we know who are polymaths, who are masters of many trades, such as Leonardo DaVinci, Sultan Mehmed II The Conqueror, Leibnitz and Elon Musk are successful, genius people because they tried new things and succeded eventually. However, Da Vinci who is famous as a painter only painted 26 paintings. He actually aspired to be an architect. Sultan Mehmed II, another Renaissance man, successful commander and leader, also wrote fantastic poetry under the nickname of Avni, spoke at least six languages and was known to be highly intellectual and open minded, even commissioning a painting of Madonna and the Child Christ.
These high-achever, successful examples are put in front us and polymathism is presented as something to be strived for. But if you are an ordinary polymath, the picture is quite different. You will have obstacles to overcome. We lack Renaissance conditions and the job market is still not flexible enough to support and allow the flourishing of such talent. You will be evaluated and worth according to the level of your specialization and the consistency in your CV.
As a polymath, when you were a child, probably you did not have a firm answer to the question of “What are you gonna become when grown-up?”. You chose and studied a joker major, a wild card, something which will be base to anything. Later you entered the business life and become expert in something, but with time you get bored and felt it is going nowhere.
When the body remains still and the mind is forced to do something repetitive, the human inside us rebels. The average job now is done by someone who is stationary in front of some kind of screen. Someone who has just one overriding interest is tunnel-visioned, a bore, but also a specialist, an expert.
For instance you then tried to switch careers inside your company, from tech to business but decision makers told you are techie and can not switch to a bussines role. You were not left with choise, therefore you quit and tried and experimented doing different things. But then in your career interviews people asked you suspiciously about why did you switched careers and did so many different things and told you that they do not understand your CV. Even told you that you lack consistency and focus and that you are not successfull at anything.
As a polymath, sometimes you hate the simple question of “What do you do?” when asked at a party or by an İstanbul taxi driver. Because the answer is “I do so many different things”. And if you try to explain, they will not understand. You will have your identity crisis. You will experience career difficulties at some stage in your life (it was in the beginning of my 30’s when I left IT because I was bored and burned out), will be devalued by the market when trying to start in another field, and become jobless if you do not craft your career strategy carefully. I will tell you how I dealt with this later.
According to the article the Curse of Being a Monopath by Robert Trigger, being a polymath is actually the natural state of humans. You cannot survive with one skill in life. You have to master many.
I also believe that a person can become anything he wants and do anything as a career if they are ready to put the effort and learn new staff.
As the 15th-century polymath Leon Battista Alberti — an architect, painter, horseman, archer and inventor — wrote: ‘a man can do all things if he will’.
Of course people have some natural strengths and will do things more effortlessly if they play to their strengths. It is very important to know them (If you do not, try the app or the book of Strengths Finder of Gallup.) And if you are a polymath it is quite probable to have Learner as one of your top 5 skills. But you can develop any skill if you put the effort to learn it. The time required to become an expert t something is overrated by specilista. Look at Tim Ferris’s article about being a master of anything.
But the problem still is the system we are living in, will usually do not give you the chance to try and even punish you for doing this. Therefore you will have to be smart and creative to deal with all of these obstacles which I will explain in my following post…