Becoming a Polymath: My Progress Report

 

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I have written about my life-long goal of becoming a polymath before. It’s been a while since I wrote about that topic, but I’ve been doing more experiments and research, and gaining further clarity on my own goals. So over the next few weeks I will do a series of posts about becoming a polymath. This is more of a progress report, as to where I am, and also why it matters.  Next week, I will talk about what I have learned over the years, since I first consciously decided to be a polymath in 2012.

The reasons that first got me into pursuing polymathy have not changed. I still want to learn too many things. I still want to do too many things, and though I have found my own specialisations, they are not – and are never going to be – very narrow streams. Because I simply like too many things. And I am okay with that.

I also find that more and more people I admire, particularly the historical figures I find fascinating were either polymaths or close enough to it. Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin being the obvious examples. But I recently finished my MA dissertation, and discovered that Arthur Conan Doyle was a polymath too. He was qualified and practising doctor, a writer of crime, adventure, historical, journalistic, spiritual and other non-fiction materials. He boxed, and played cricket at a county level. He travelled widely, lectured, wrote a play (or two), and all in all, accomplished a fair bit across multiple disciplines.

So what is this being a polymath all about?

Dictionary.com defines it:

Polymath (n.) – a person of great learning in several fields of study

A common risk in pursuing polymathy is that you may end up becoming a dabbler. A generalist without in-depth knowledge of anything. There is nothing wrong with that, but it depends on your goals. My personal opinion is that pursuing polymathy for some of us is not a choice, but a result of personality traits. If I focused just on one thing, single-mindedly for the rest of my life, I would be utterly miserable. It does not mean I want to flutter about from one thing to another, but simply that I want to excel at several things that matter to me, and are in fact complementary and serve my overarching goal of creating a Kaizen Life.

My initial Becoming A Polymath project lists 7 goals. You can read them in detail in the original article here. In this article, I’m just listing the headers, and a progress report:

Becoming a Hyperpolyglot

I am still learning Spanish. I started teaching myself before I went to Ecuador, and it improved immensely while I was there, volunteering for three months, teaching in Spanish, and working with children who only spoke Spanish. But after that massive improvement, I returned to the UK and neglected it for over a year. So now I am covering some of the old ground. After finishing my MA, I’ve once again started giving daily attention to Spanish. It’s not a lot (because unfortunately, it’s just not a priority at the moment), but it’s consistent so that I feel that whatever I learn and practice is settling in. My intention over the next 12 months is to make considerable, measurable progress.

Writing (Fiction)

Fiction also took a back seat while I was doing my intensive one-year MA, but now I’ve returned to it with a vengeance. Despite the slow work though, there has been progress on fiction front. I finished a novel, which I am now editing. I also finished several short stories and poetry, some of which have been published, or accepted for publication. (You can check out my writing bibliography here) I currently have several rough drafts on the go, which require rewrites and edits, and I am brainstorming a new novel, which I hope to start writing for NaNoWriMo 2015.

Writing (Non-Fiction)

I did a lot of non-fiction writing during my MA. It was an interesting challenge focusing on Master’s level English academic writing, particularly after years of colloquial writing (they are very different!). But I feel like I have learned a lot. There is also of course writing for and related to Kaizen Journaling that continues. Non-Fiction, at least for me, is easier than fiction because I feel it either comes from research or knowledge/experience that I have acquired. Either way there is a sense of authority in it. When I write non-fiction it’s because, at least to a certain extent, I have a level of expertise in that field. Fiction is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Journaling

Journaling – by which I mean, my personal experiments with journaling, continue. Here, I’m always experimenting, and there is always more to learn. Things I learn through my journaling processes are the lessons that eventually get shared with Kaizen Warriors. There is just so much to journaling, so many benefits that I am continuously discovering that this is certainly a lifetime process.

One form of physical activity – Changed to overall physical fitness, trying new activity, challenging the body

My original goal was to be good at one form of physical activity, such as yoga or running. However, I’ve now changed that goal to focusing on overall fitness, trying new activities, and challenging my body. While there is not definite progress on a particular form of physical activity, there has been a ground-breaking (for me) development within last 12 months. I’ve begun to enjoy gyms. For someone who’s always looked at exercise as a necessary evil (when I could be doing something more productive with my time, as my old self would say), this is a major development. A part of me still likes the glamour of running – the ease with which some people manage to put on a pair of shoes, and run – rain or shine. The pleasure they seem to get out of that torture. The mental zone they seem to go into, and the sadistic pleasure they get from painful marathons. A part of me wants that. But I have come to accept that I like the idea of it more than the thing itself. I don’t want to go running in cold, wet, English weather. I don’t want to worry about whether I should carry a bottle of water, or if I could actually manage without having anything to drink. How should I carry my keys, and my phone. I like gyms – the conveniences and comforts they offer. So, I’m just going with what I enjoy.

Human Behaviour / Body Language / How the Mind Works

This is the one area where I have no measurable progress. Measurable is a key thing because I set myself no specific goals. I know I have learned a lot about human behaviour in the last three years, but it’s been through life experience rather than conscious attention to learning. So in this area, I definitely need to set some goals.

Learn to write with my right hand as well as I do with my left hand

I have not been treating this as a priority either, so my efforts have been quite lacklustre, and half-hearted. Considering how much torture my left hand gets with writing, I probably should focus more on this. My only excuse is, I’m too impatient when it comes to “mindless” tasks that simply require a lot of practice to improve as this does.

 

So what does this mean in terms of Polymath progress? These goals are for a lifetime, because in itself, they contain numerous goals – some big and some small. So clearly, I’m not expecting to simply tick them off the list. So far, there has been progress, but it has been more haphazard. My plan going forward is to have more definite projects and mini-goals for each of these main categories. Priorities also need to be constantly kept in check, because it is impossible to do it all at once, so my plan is to have no more than three main priorities (the less the better) at any given time. 

When pursuing polymathy, it’s not just about the subjects or the goals. You also need to be more efficient in processes, be good at time management and organisation, as well as be able to multi-task without losing focus. Whether or not you reach your destination, on the path to polymathy, you will certainly end up acquiring or developing a lot of skills. 

 

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY

Journal about polymathy today. Does being a polymath appeal to you? Why or why not? If you intend to develop your specialism, what is it? How does it serve you better than being a polymath?

 

 

2 thoughts on “Becoming a Polymath: My Progress Report

  1. I remember your first blog about this and loved the idea but forgot to get started planning on my own path towards polymath! Now I’m reminded of what a great idea this is. My starting list included a couple of yours and follows:
    1, Because of hand surgery in 2011 on my primary hand (left) I had to start writing with the right hand but didn’t keep it up — it felt good for a while to have this skill.
    2. My husband & I retired from a university & took advantage of a retiree benefit of free tuition — we became Spanish majors and completed all the requirements for a degree. Practice, practice, practice — we have several activities we do every week to keep speaking and learning.
    3. Be good at arithmetic and math. People would never brag if they were not able to read but so many people say things like “I’m just no good at math” — I don’t want to be one of those people. I am relearning (not just memorizing) the multiplication table and have a class from The Great Courses on math (oh, yeah — my husband is an engineer and great at math; he’s a good teacher)
    4. Like you used to be, I am not enamored with exercise but want to live a long, healthy life. We walk about 2 miles every day which is a start, but am still looking for what will work and will start trying the “Nerd Fitness” program which I could do at home.

  2. Janis,

    This is absolutely wonderful :-)) Thank you for sharing your goals. And I look forward to hearing about your success stories (failures included!! It’s all a part of the journey).

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