Becoming A Polymath – My Personal Challenge

Recently, I came across this article about becoming a polymath. The concept fascinated me, because it gave me a term for a goal I already had. A goal of Learning.

It’s been almost a decade since I left full-time education, but I can honestly say that I’ve never stopped learning. Education has always been extremely important to me, and while I enjoyed Educational Institutions, self-education is so much more powerful.

It is an essential element if you want to reach your potential. To continue to grow as a person, you need to continuously and consciously increase your skills and abilities, which is something I aspire to help people with through Kaizen Journaling Academy. You also need to keep practising and polishing the knowledge you already possess, lest you lose it.

My problem has always been that I want to learn too many things, and I’ve never been able to decide if I want to be a specialist or a generalist. I’ve said for years that if the profession of a scholar still existed, like in the ancient days, that is what I would’ve chosen. But the fact that no one has stepped up to pay me for learning, hasn’t stopped me from my devoting my life to learning.

Over the last decade, my journey of self-education has been full of detours. I’ve tried to make lists, and eve syllabi for myself to decide what I would like to focus on, but usually a new interest or a new book got in the way, and I never quite managed to pin down what I wanted to learn.

But lately, things have changed. I still haven’t managed to pin down a specific syllabus, but I have realised that I don’t need to. Having spent the last decade on self-awareness and self-discovery, I have a very clear idea of what I want to learn, what values are important to me, and what subjects fascinate me.

By focusing on those broad categories, I would be “specialising” within my areas of interest, but they are wide enough and big enough that I could be a generalist as well. They are also deep enough that my plan of learning has the room to constantly evolve, as I discover new material, and even as my knowledge grows.

Before I read this post, I already had a plan in my bucket list called, “Become a Renaissance Woman.” But I like the term “Polymath” better. I also looked up Project Polymath – a university for would-be Polymaths. Their philosophy is to focus on projects, rather than exams. By doing projects, you apply the skills you learn, and you also broaden them. Anyone who’s ever delivered a project would know that there is a lot more to it than simply your specialised subject.

To me, that seems a better test of one’s skill than simply taking exams. So I decided to make that a part of my Becoming A Polymath plan.

So what is my Polymath challenge? What do I want to master before I die?

Becoming A Polymath – My Personal Challenge

  1. Become a Hyperpolyglot (defined by linguist, Richard Hundson, as a person who can speak 6 or more languages fluently)
    • English (Fluent)
    • Gujarati (Fluent)
    • Hindi (Fluent)
    • Spanish (Beginner)
    • Latin
    • Italian
    • Japanese
  2. Writing (Fiction)
    Initially, I had “Writing” as one category, but I know from personal experience that writing Fiction and Non-Fiction are two very different things. So I’ve decided to keep them separate, as their projects would be different too.

  3. Writing (Non-Fiction)
    This would mostly be journaling related projects – courses, books, articles. But there may be things on few other topics too.

  4. Journaling
    Of all the 7 things, this is the one I would score the highest based on where I am right now. But like almost everything, there is always more to learn and try.

  5. One form of Physical Activity
    Current choices are Yoga, a form of Martial Arts, or Running. Healthy body is very important, and also necessary if I’m to achieve all my other mental goals, so this needs to become a priority.

  6. Human Behaviour / Body Language / How the Mind Works
    I don’t expect to master this. I am not sure if anyone can entirely master how humans work, but I’ve always had an interest in it. This is also a pretty important element in becoming a better fiction writer.

  7. Learn to write my right hand, as well as I do with my left hand       
    This is what my right handed hand-writing looks like at the moment:

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments below.

 

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:

Define your Personal Polymath challenge, even if it is just one thing you want to master.

 

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33 Responses to “Becoming A Polymath – My Personal Challenge”

  1. Jules October 16, 2012 at 20:14 # Reply

    Ah I can really resonate with this – I’ve always joked that I’m a jack of all trades – web & graphic designer, herbalist, former DJ, soon to be life coach, writing a non-fiction book next year – and I’m wanting to study shamanism, learn Italian & Spanish, study Astrology…

    I’m an ever evolving work-in-progress. I think that if you stop challenging yourself to learn and grow, you stop living. Learning is living is learning…

    Great post – thank you!

    • Dolly Garland October 16, 2012 at 22:10 # Reply

      Jules,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I think we are not the only ones. Anyone who has an interest in learning, usually is too curious to settle with one subject. It’s probably a more common dilemma. :-)

      It’s good to be ever evolving work-in-progress, because then at least we are evolving!

  2. Adam October 17, 2012 at 00:09 # Reply

    You, madam, are nuts. I like that in a person. Good luck!

    Adam

    • Dolly Garland October 17, 2012 at 00:10 # Reply

      Adam,

      You pay such lovely compliments :-))

      Thank you. I’m sure you will hear more about this insanity!

  3. Lori Lynn Smith October 17, 2012 at 03:52 # Reply

    Love love love it! totally agree with the decision to do it all! why not, might as well use your time on earth for fun!

    I first read about this on the blog Puttylike, Emilie has interesting articles on being a “Multipotentialite”

    Just a few of the things on my list are:

    Horseback riding
    Float plane
    Motorcycle License
    Hunters License
    Archery
    Kite surfing
    Paddle boarding

    it will be fun!

    • Dolly Garland October 17, 2012 at 22:17 # Reply

      Lori,

      Wow what a goal list you have :-)) Completely different from mine. I think the only one of those I would like to try is Archery!

  4. Doug October 17, 2012 at 14:04 # Reply

    I struggle with this on a regular basis. My biggest problem being that in order to pick something new up, I have to put something old down — spend less time on it, stop doing new projects in that area, or whatever — and I’ve always found the latter difficult. Even when I’ve mentally “moved on” from an area, I’ll often keep the “stuff” associated with an old hobby around, and feel vaguely guilty about it.

    • Dolly Garland October 17, 2012 at 22:18 # Reply

      Doug,

      I sympathise. That has been a problem for me as well, but that’s why I feel that an organised and focused approach delivers the best results. It requires discipline, but once you are able to do it, it frees up more time than you realise.

  5. Chris Edgar October 17, 2012 at 20:51 # Reply

    Hi Dolly, this is definitely along the lines of what I’ve been exploring recently — I have been working a lot on learning how to play piano, which I am going to use to further my budding career in songwriting. My main career (or at least the job that pays me the most) is working as an attorney, but I definitely want a lot of variety in the projects I work on.

    • Dolly Garland October 17, 2012 at 22:19 # Reply

      Chris,

      I agree. It is a shame that main career (bill paying one) often takes up so much time from the careers we really want to explore. But oh well….for those who persevere, success is all the more sweeter!

  6. Jan October 17, 2012 at 21:24 # Reply

    I agree with you completely on the right hand left hand situation!! I really would love to be able to write nicely with both of my hands! On your languages list, I have already mastered three of those(English, Hindi, and Gujarati) and my others would be Spanish, Latin, French, and Chinese. Overall, I love how you keep all of your goals organized1

    • Dolly Garland October 17, 2012 at 22:22 # Reply

      Jan,

      Thanks. I must admit, as I practice writing with my right hand, it’s much easier than I thought. At least easier in terms of being legible. If I do stick to continuous practice, I don’t see this taking more than a few months to get to decent level.

      Same here with the languages :-) English, Hindi and Gujarati are sorted. I’m now learning Spanish.

  7. Teresa Richardson October 18, 2012 at 06:36 # Reply

    I want to learn more about art journaling, expand my journaling, learn Hebrew and Spanish, learn more crochet patterns, learn to draw faces, write fiction and non-fiction

    • Dolly Garland October 18, 2012 at 07:36 # Reply

      Teresa,

      What wonderful goals! I would love to be able to draw people, but I fear I don’t have the patience to keep at it. As for learning more about journaling….well, you’ve come to the right place :-D

  8. Zina October 18, 2012 at 09:18 # Reply

    Hi Dolly,

    Great post, resonates with me enormously on so many levels, although if truth be told, I had never heard of the term ‘Polypath” so that’s another learning for me today :)

    I am a south paw too and currently can’t write with my right hand to save my life so may consider of stealing this as one – I am always up for a challenge and this would be no mean feat for me.

    Now let me think of other personal life changing “projects” I can sink my teeth into and I will definitely be back :)

    • Dolly Garland October 20, 2012 at 08:00 # Reply

      Zina,

      Looking forward to learning about your projects :-)

  9. Sarah | Holistic Hot Sauce October 18, 2012 at 19:52 # Reply

    So interesting Dolly! I’d always thought the term “polymath” referred to being mathematical. I love learning new things too, and I definitely consider myself a Renaissance Soul. The hazard I find is not going deep enough into any one subject because I get entranced by the next interesting thing. You’ve inspired me with writing out your list. Perhaps I’ll try doing the same.

    And – wow! Quite ambitious with the languages! How many do you speak so far?

    • Dolly Garland October 20, 2012 at 08:00 # Reply

      Sarah,

      I speak 3 so far. English, Gujarati and Hindi. So 4 to go :-)

  10. Tennille Chase October 19, 2012 at 11:27 # Reply

    I love this. I never knew that polymath existed untill today. I am much like everyone. I want to learn and I am never at an end for something to want to learn. I am constanly challenging myself and sometimes the options make it hard for me to pin down one thing too. I cannot wait to reflect on this in my own journal.

    Cheers.

    • Dolly Garland October 20, 2012 at 08:01 # Reply

      Tennille,

      It’s positive that we have this strong desire to learn, but yes it can be frustrating. I hope journaling about this helps you, and if you have your list, please share it with us here.

  11. Desiree Ashcraft May 6, 2013 at 18:25 # Reply

    I love this! I am on this path, but didn’t know it! I started out as a high school teacher, and am now studying to be a nurse!

  12. Helen Conway November 14, 2013 at 09:03 # Reply

    Dolly, this is great! It makes me feel normal! Yesterday i was reading about picking one goal and focusing only on the essentails to achive that. i think that jas great merit in terms of short therm focus. So maybe this week one focuses on learning Tagalog and the next week on learning to fly and so on rotating focuses. But. Was TOTALLY stumped as to how one could pick just one area you wanted to be expert in!
    Here are some of my topics: i am further in in some than others as you would expect.
    1. textile art
    2. The psychology of self development/productivity/ happiness/ creativity/ journalling
    3. Encaustic art
    4. Getting a yoga teaching certification
    5. Artisan bread making
    6. Fiction writing
    7. Requalifiying in law in another country so I can be an ex pat.
    8. Judaism
    9. Visual journalling/ urban sketching

    • Dolly Garland November 14, 2013 at 13:51 # Reply

      Helen,

      That’s awesome. And of course we should not be restricted to mere one topic during our entire lifetime. I think if we are to look at everyone who’s achieved something significant, we will see that they are well rounded. Their expertise might be in one or two areas, but one can’t expect to achieve much without having at least reasonable awareness of variety of different things.

      So good for you to make a list of your polymath project :-)

  13. Helen Conway November 14, 2013 at 09:04 # Reply

    I think I should add to my list
    – Learning how to add a comment to a blog on ipad without it being littered with typographical errors. Sorry!

  14. janet January 28, 2015 at 15:59 # Reply

    Polymath . It isn’t what you learn it’s how you learn. Almost instantaneous and the ability to filter out the truth of something and moving on to where that truth takes you.

  15. Daniel May 30, 2015 at 23:26 # Reply

    Hi, I know this is an old post but I hope someone is reading this. I am wondering how you done on becoming a hyper-polyglot, i am currently trying to learn a new language (French first then Italian, Spanish, Latin and Russian)

    I was considering using Rosetta stone but would be interesting to know what you have used and how you fared with it. Thanks.

    • Dolly Garland June 7, 2015 at 00:06 # Reply

      Daniel,

      I personally use Michel Thomas (love his programmes, but the original ones that he did himself), and for regular practice Duolingo is great. I got to quite good language with Spanish (enough that I was able to volunteer in Ecuador with it). It’s slipped back for a while as I haven’t been able to practice it, but that’s what i would use again.

      Good luck. I look forward to hearing how you fare with your goals.

  16. Paul June 25, 2015 at 21:38 # Reply

    Hey! I stumbled across your site whilst ‘investigating’ the term ‘polymath’ since learning that Benjamin Franklin was one such person.

    I also learned today that the great man would have more than likely been diagnosed with ADHD (I can resonate with that – I have borderline ADHD).

    It’s funny really, I was chatting to a friend today, and we were discussing the issue of becoming 40 (I am 40 in August), and still trying to decide what we ‘want to be when we grow up’ lol.
    You see, I have always wanted to do everything – and thought I should be specialising in something. My conversation today brought back a memory from when I was a child; years ago a friend of mine observed that I seemed to know “a bit about everything, and a lot about something”, those were the exact words. I was 14 at the time, my friend was around 40 (actually he was my friends dad – but I considered him a friend as well).

    Anyway, my point is I really get it now, and your challenge is similar to mine:

    Do what the hell you want to do. Do it all.

    If one has the ability in any subject area, why waste talent by choosing to live by the ‘conveyor belt’ system?
    N.B. the ‘conveyor belt’ system is a phrase coined by yours truly which is closely aligned to another phrase I coined – ‘closet management’ (which incidentally has nowt to do with clothes/wardrobes/cupboards) ;)

    You have a great site going on here which I am about to explore some more :) good luck with your challenge, and I somehow suspect our paths will cross again – watch this space ;)

    Cheers!
    Paul

    • Dolly Garland July 2, 2015 at 23:10 # Reply

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Ben Franklin is also one of my favourite polymaths. I assume you are familiar with his autobiography? If not, I highly recommend it.

      And yup…I love how you put it: “Do what the hell you want to do. Do it all.”

      I look forward to hearing more from you.

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