5 Lessons I’ve Learned on the Path to Becoming A Polymath


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Last week I wrote my progress report, on becoming a polymath project. As promised, this is the follow up article. The road to polymathy is not straight-forward. I started off in uncharted territory, and I’m mapping it as I go along. Often by going over the same road again. There is still a long way to go, much more to learn, and no doubt many more unplanned and may be even unwanted lessons to absorb. But here are five key lessons I’ve learned (or re-learned) on the path to becoming a polymath:

You have to remember your goals

Sounds obvious, right? Yet, out of sight, out of might happens so often to goals. I have a list of goals that I regularly review, daily goals, weekly goals, yearly goals, even my 40 before 40 goals. But what I often forgot to look at were my polymathy goals. I thought that by focusing on the things that I need to achieve now, I will be moving in the right direction, because my current goals are also carefully planned to add to my future goals. This, as it turns out, is only a partial truth. Not just for me, but for everyone. Your current goals inevitably end up including things that you have to do, but are not part of your long-term focus. Day jobs for example, are a clear example. Therefore, not reviewing my polymathy goals probably made my progress slower, and the process little bit more inefficient.

By the way, one of the best ways to remind  yourself about your goals is to make sure you regularly write them down. I usually do this whenever I start a new journal, and also a few times in-between if I am going through a review process.

Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.

Robin S. Sharma

Failure is okay

As Jack Canfield said:

Don’t worry about failures. Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.

Failure means you are trying. As long as you don’t keep failing at the same thing, in exactly the same way, then you are learning something. Even if all you are learning is what does not work. You will need to accept, sooner or later, that failure is part of the process. If your goals are at all challenging then failure is inevitable. The important thing to keep in mind is that failure is not the end of your journey. It’s only a part of the process. If you are afraid of failure, if you avoid it at all costs, then you need to change your perspective. Embrace failure. Don’t let it stop you. Failure is not your enemy.

You can adjust or even change your course

I was already aware of this, and have done so in the past, but it is still a constant reminder. When you write down goals, there is a sense of permanency about it. I feel like once I’ve decided I have to do it. But of course I don’t have to. I’m not talking about quitting just because the road gets rough. The world is full of people who give up on their goals. Don’t be one of them. Giving up is not an option. However, changing course is. You may find that your goals change, or that you need to refine it more. For example, one of my original goals for polymath project was to “Master one form of physical activity.” After actually becoming more physically active, I found that it’s more useful to do different things that use different muscles, and challenge my entire body. Therefore, my goal now is to focus on “Overall physical fitness, try new activities, and challenge my body.”

This refining is important. It means I’ve learned from my experience so far, and I’m willing to adapt to changing circumstances. Always be willing to adapt. Stubbornness is good when it comes to not quitting in the face of all adversities, but rigidity is not. Being rigid limits you. Being flexible frees you. Therefore, allow  yourself to change or adjust your course when necessary.

Measuring something is the best way to speed up progress

If you are not keeping track of your goals, they may get done, or they may not. They probably won’t. Or your progress will be much slower than what you are capable of. This is where specific goals become essential. You have to have goals that are specific enough that you can measure them.

For example, if your goal is to write every day, you could just answer in yes or no. Did you write today? Yes. That’s one form of measurement. It works if you are trying to build a habit, as long as you remember to at least keep track of that “Yes” or “No” answer. However, the more effective thing would be to have a specific goal. I.e. write 500 words every day. That gives you a goal to achieve, and it also enables you to measure your progress. If you are writing a 1000 word story, you know you can finish it in two days. If you are writing a whole book, you can work it out by the word count. Specificity and measurement makes difficult goals much more achievable. It can also give you a motivational kick.

Actionable steps are essential

For my sixth goal – Human behaviour, body language, how the mind works – I didn’t really have any specific steps. I know I made some progress on it through life, but that was it. I didn’t have a plan, or any way of measuring it. That’s not very effective. It doesn’t allow me to describe what exactly I learned and how I learned it. It also doesn’t allow me to measure my progress. It doesn’t allow me to distil the lessons I’ve learned. All in all, it’s not very efficient, and certainly not effective for an aspiring polymath.

Actionable steps allow you to know what you are supposed to do. It saves a lot of time too, because then you are not sitting there wondering what  you should be doing. Actionable steps allow you to measure your progress easily. And of course, they speed up your progress towards your goals. Small steps towards larger goals go a long way in the long run.


These lessons are a good way to reflect on my polymath journey. I hope they help you on yours. Even if you are not planing to become a polymath, all of the above lessons can help you with any goals you have. 



Let’s start with the most basic one. Do you know what your goals? If you’ve them written down, review them. If you haven’t written them down (or can’t find them) then write them down now.