Being too complex to categorize
“So what do you wanna be when you grow up?”
I’m 31, but often still think about that question. We humans really, really like to categorize things, put stuff and people in boxes and to do stuff that is well-defined. It makes a lot of sense, because it’s easier. When we do stuff that is categorized (“I’m a doctor”) and well-defined (as a doctor, the education and career way is defined and you more or less just follow it).
That means you don’t have to worry about who you are, there is no identity crisis. That means that is easier to work hard and achieve something big, because you have a framework of some sorts in your head.
It’s a pretty great concept, but it has one big flaw. We often tend just to do the things that supports the identity that we have so well-defined in our heads. And the problem with that is that it’s fucking boring and that we’re suddenly missing out on a lot of other interesting things and topics out there. We seriously limit ourselves.
Really interesting things happen when you take two things you know and combine it into a new third solution not seen before. Innovation elementary course level beginner.
Generalist vs specialists
Becoming a specialists is probably one of the fastest or at least most secure way to earn a good income. I sometimes have nightmares where I’m a marketing specialist and I would always choose to be a generalist vs a specialist.
The problem with specialists is that they spend the majority of their life to get as close to perfect as possible. A good generalist learns based on the 80/20 principle and is better than most people out there in several fields.
The last 3 months I have especially read a lot about urban planning and education, because I find it interesting. Just by reading a bit online, I know more than 99% of people out there about those subjects. That’s great. I don’t wanna waste my life being better than the last 1% and making one of those fields my whole life.
There is nothing wrong with being a specialist, but they will most likely be hired by a generalist.
Truly interesting people are polymaths
I know quite a few succesful entrepreneurs. A lot of them are pretty boring. The reason is that they only know stuff about business. They only spend time in the same community of other entrepreneurs.
I’ve found that the most inspiring people I’ve stumbled upon in my life have been from way different fields and backgrounds than my own. What they have in common, is that they are interested in a wide area of topics and they know each topic in-depth (without being an expert, 80/20). That means they see connections between things and are simply just more interesting. I love to talk about entrepreneurship, but I don’t wanna do it all the time. Same goes with everything else.
It’s not about slacking or not being good or not achieving something, it’s about building a mindset where it’s possible to be good at, and achieve something in, multiple topics and combine stuff. Polymaths are people whos expertise spands multiple subjects.
If it was good enough for Leonardo da Vinci to be a polymath, I guess it’s good enough for me :-)
The problem with being a polymath
The problem with being a polymath is that it can fuck a bit with your identity. It’s more difficult to answer the “who am I” question, because it’s not limited to just one defintion.
For me personally, I have stopped looking after the ONE thing I want to do in life or be good at and started to endorse my natural interest for multiple fields and trying to get the most out of it. I see it as one of my absolute biggest forces that I’m not limited to one field or just being part of one community of people.
I really hope that someday they will teach kids in school that being a polymath is awesome!
As Tim Ferris once wrote “Be too complex to categorize. Look far and wide. There are worlds to conquer.”
Originally published at Nikolaj Astrup.