You Don’t Need To Be A Master At Everything You Love
Who’s better than someone who can write insightful essays, craft compelling stories about the human condition, compose music, write a song album that puts today’s artists to shame, create purposeful yet artistic digital designs, market like a forward-thinking and authentic entrepreneur, see right through political biases, have an intuitive understanding of philosophical and spiritual thought, be immersed in the natural world, crunch numbers like nobody’s business, code an entire website from scratch, and effectively apply the intersection of the arts, the sciences, and the understanding of human behavior to solve a variety of complex problems head-on?
Someone who actually gets their shit done! But not only that, in the quickest and most efficient way possible. With sheer brilliance and that mystical, individualistic signature touch that’s impossible for anyone else to imitate.
I know what you’re thinking — come on, nobody is actually that great. However, due to the rise of self-help productivity hacks and the glamorization of multi-talented geniuses who seem to be masters at everything under the sun (polymaths), this idea of the “ideal” person takes an already unhealthy standard of perfection to the next level.
These type of people don’t exist (or maybe they do, but I’ve never heard of them). There are only so many hours in a day to accomplish their grand and ambitious goals, and because of how tumultuous and unpredictable the times are right now, it’s not viable for most people to secure the time, money, energy, and patience to pursue all of their interests and actually finish building their own empires from the ground up and be brilliant and driven enough to “do it all” incredibly well. Most young polymaths have a lot of potential to do great things, yes, but nobody can be that great or legendary and to think otherwise is dangerous and damaging to those who believe that productivity, innate superhuman levels of talent, and being at the top 0.5% are indicative of one’s self-worth and significance.
Like Nine People In One?
Polymaths, in their most ambitious state of being, (in theory) are capable of doing the work of nine people — the writer, the marketer, the mathematician, the musician, the artist, the postmodern philosopher, the mystic, the naturalist, and the innovator.
Being a polymath can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have way too many interests and to your disadvantage, the world financially rewards those who are specialists in just one field and the truth is, nobody gives a damn if you have so much passion for so many things. On the other hand, you have a holistic approach to solving problems and completing projects, along with an eclectic skill set, and this is incredibly useful for you, not only for standing out and having a competitive edge over other people but for helping out when you’re working on a team. This is especially true if you work in a small digital agency.
I’m Just A Kid With Too Many Interests: My Struggles With Self-Doubt And Imposter Syndrome
Growing up, I’ve always had too many interests. I was that kid who could write creative stories and get over 100 on a math test. I was that kid who could draw something that made anyone who wasn’t artistically inclined jealous, and I was also that kid who could execute a scientific experiment correctly on my first try. I picked up on foreign languages pretty quickly (verb conjugations, gender agreements, and a lot of grammatical structures were easy for me). At a young age, I expressed an interest in philosophy (mainly pragmatic philosophy, mind you) and spirituality and sought to apply what I learned to make myself a better human.
Over the course of the last five years, I sought out to do many things, but this only resulted in a huge creative block (which resulted in me crying every other week and generally feeling envious of those who did everything well). I had such high expectations for myself, but I still had a lot of emotional issues I honestly didn’t cope with effectively (many times, I was in “freeze” mode, which caused me to be too paralyzed to start anything because I pushed myself to reach instantaneous levels of competence in an unrealistic timeframe). Even so, I thought I could do it all. But over the years, I’ve been doing some serious self-reflection and faced the truth — I could not do it all, I could not do everything well, and I didn’t even want to because my self-worth did not come from being an impossibly perfect creative powerhouse with Silicon Valley work habits and I naturally gravitate towards certain things more than others (I prefer writing articles over conducting scientific experiments, I prefer writing indie-pop music over working on mathematical proofs, and I prefer living a slow minimalist lifestyle over hustling for 80 hours a week). Also, with my undergraduate experience, I’ve witnessed first-hand that I definitely do not have what it takes to become a serious graduate-level scientist or engineer. I’m just an artist who happens to have stronger mathematical abilities than arts-only people.
So I gave up and stopped trying to pretend to like everything equally. I think society shames anyone for giving up, but it is necessary when you are overly anxious, foggy-headed, and full of self-loathing if trying to do everything at once, even when it kills you. Because ultimately, your wellbeing comes first. Your pride, dead last.
Is It Worth It To Do It All?
So as you can tell, I have a lot of self-imposed expectations that are downright impossible to meet. I cannot 20x my productivity level overnight. I cannot become EVERYTHING I’ve ever wanted to be: a self-help guru, tech startup founder, music producer, digital marketer, self-help writer, novelist, short fiction writer, poet, essayist, brand strategist, web developer, and web designer. I have to choose the ones that mean the most to me and let the rest go.
And honestly, the root of having sky-high expectations came from immense shame and crippling insecurity as a result of feeling inferior to other people, especially those who seem to be prodigies at not just one thing, but everything.
I suffer from self-doubt and crippling performance anxiety because I really don’t know if I’m qualified enough to attempt any of the things I want to do (I always think I’m not good enough to start and this has sabotaged my plans for so long). I waver between extreme exhaustion and extreme restlessness. I also have difficulty coping with imposter syndrome because right now, I haven’t quite reached the level of a specialist in anything, but I know it’s impossible to have an extensive level of knowledge and expertise in 20 different things, especially when I want everything to result in a finished product in less than two years. I’d really like to be a master of all trades, but I’m only human and I can do maybe two things at an 85% mastery level and three other things only at a 60% mastery level, while the rest might just be average or below average.
I’m not going to be the best at everything no matter how hard I try and I’ve slowly come to accept that. I also wear out too easily for my liking. If you’re a young polymath, I know how incredibly tempting it is to try to amass the knowledge and skills of a 50-year-old before you reach 25, but you absolutely don’t need to. I’ve given up on trying that and I’ve never felt better.
Here Are Some Questions That Can Help You Prioritize When You Have Too Many Interests And So Little Time:
- What are the top three projects you’re dying to complete before the end of this year?
- What are your top five skills?
- What value will other people gain from your completed projects?
- Identify interests that could be merged into one project (science + creative writing + philosophy, music + math + poetry, etc.).
- Make a list of all the things you need to learn and practice before being considered above average (if you can, you should find mentors who can give honest feedback).
- Cut back on things you cannot do within a year (this doesn’t mean you aren’t productive, it just means that you acknowledge how you’re human and smart enough not to work yourself to death for the sake of proving yourself to others — you must do what’s best for you, regardless of how others might have thought you would amount to nothing). Let go of everything that doesn’t fit your lifestyle or isn’t feasible from a pragmatic standpoint.
- Come up with a schedule and deadlines for each step in each process (this is entirely up to you — take into account your obligations, energy levels at various points of the day, personal habits).
- No matter where you are, START the damn projects already! Don’t overthink it. You only lose time (and you’ll keep losing years) if you are intimidated by how great of a feat you have to attempt.
Final Words Of Encouragement
Regardless of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you came from, remember to do what comes most naturally to you and pursue your interests in a smart, balanced way. You don’t need to prove that you can start a billion-dollar creative tech start-up or become Leonardo DaVinci of the 21st century and honestly, why kill yourself trying to build a legacy to overcompensate for a wounded ego? Focus on what you can do, and good work will follow.