If you have many deep, expressive interests that you tend to incorporate into life on an ongoing basis, perhaps you’re a natural polymath! What?
The term “polymath” is usually reserved for those whose actionable ideas are in the top one percent of skill sets because they have integrated at least three very diverse domains into one. Think Galileo, Darwin, Jobs, Gates, or Buffett. Let’s not forget women, including Maria Montessori, Tarquinia Molza, and Anna Maria van Schurman.
Johann Von Wower defined “polymathy” in 1603 as knowledge of various matters, drawn from all kinds of studies […] ranging freely through all the fields of the disciplines, as far as the human mind, with unwearied industry, is able to pursue them.
Recently, I was struck by how identifying our world’s true polymaths throughout history resonated with my Career Management and Transition students at New York University. Several felt relieved to learn that having many interests, including career interests, is not necessarily an undesirable thing. They identified with what some call the natural polymath. It was striking how some of my students felt a new freedom to learn that’s okay to have many interests in a world where specialization is the norm. They discovered how to make many interests more manageable than overwhelming.
There’s a strong CASE for expressing yourself through the third quarter of life (age 50 to 75) and beyond:
People as old as 90 who actively acquire new interests that involve learning retain their ability to learn. But if we stop taxing the nucleus basalis, it begins to dry up. In some older people it has been shown to contain no acetylcholine — they have been ‘switched off’ for so long the organ no longer functions. —Steven Masey
Here’s my suggestion. Ask yourself:
- What are my current interests and when in my life did they first begin?
- Do I see a pattern or do they seem random?
- How do they express who I am? My personality?