Uncovering your Inner Polymath
Has the desire to pursue multiple different disciplines been a constant thread in your life? Do you sometimes feel flaky about being like this? This isn't something unusual, in fact there have been numerous polymaths throughout history including Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci.
On my own journey I have studied numerous topics including foreign languages, computer programming and psychology. I have found that there are times in my life where I am drawn to a certain topic and there are times when I feel like I want a break from it and explore something else.
This has never meant that I gave up on studying a topic entirely, sometimes I simply need a break from it so that when I come back to it I have a new perspective to work from. Learning new skills and work in general isn't all about discipline and focus, play and curiosity also play a large part.
How to be Everything is a book that normalises this desire to create a career from pursuing multiple disciplines. The book helps to de stigmatise the very normal urge within some of us to pursue multiple passions.
This book serves as a practical guide to open your mind to the many options that exist for a multipotentialite (Emilie's word for a polymath). Did you know that for almost a decade in the early 1900's Albert Einstein worked as a patent officer for the Swiss government? It was during this time that he produced some of his most notable work.
The Einstein Approach
In How to be Everything Emilie presents strategies for pursing multiple disciplines in a practical way that respects important factors such as your unique tolerance for risk. In the book she refers to the Einstein Approach. Simply put The Einstein Approach is having a full time job or business that fully supports you, while leaving you with enough time and energy to pursue your other passions on the side.
How do people find the energy to pursue The Einstein Approach? Emilie presents an interesting insight in a case study of a guy called Charlie. Charlie's full time job is in IT which allows him to tap into his analytical and problem solving skills but his hobbies on the side are more intuitive, artistic and body centered. Thus he is reenergised by the shift from a logical mode of thinking to a more intuitive way of being.
The 4 strategies outline in the book ate:
- The Group Hug Approach - one job or business that allows you to wear many hats.
- The Slash Approach - having two or more part time jobs that provide you with variety.
- The Einstein Approach - having one full time job or business that fully supports you and allows you enough time and energy to pursue your other passions.
- The Phoenix Approach - working in a single industry for a few months or years and then starting a new career in a new industry.
Emilie empahsises that it is OK to mix and match these approaches, in fact that in itself is the essence to being a multipotentialite.
The Practical Balance
Emilie lays out 3 components to a happy multipotentialite life:
She methodically takes each aspect and breaks it down into bite sized take aways. For example with money she points to the fact that we need money to live and flourish but the amount varies dramatically from person to person.
In my own life I have found that more money was available for me to spend on training and personal growth when I started to prioritise what mattered to me. This meant that I was less inclined to purchase random items and experiences impulsively.
When to Quit
Emilie draws an interesting distinction between quitting because things feel tough and quitting because you got what you came for. She calls this point in the journey The Personal End Point.
It is easy to confuse this with Resistance as they are both accompanied with feelings of boredom, dread, restlessness and fear. The key distinction she makes is how long it took for the feeling to arise and what is its intensity. If it is sudden and intense then you are more than likely dealing with Resistance but if it has gradually taken hold of you it is more likely an indicator that you have reached your Personal End Point.
Special Tools for Zero-Progress Days
Emilie points to the truth that there are some days where you will not feel up to the task and that is normal and OK. On days such as these there are two approaches that will help you to navigate the day with a little more grace:
- Lower Your Expectations - Instead of expecting myself to churn out similar amounts of work a day I have found that the freedom lies in self care and being OK with having a 'low productivity' day. On such days it is more beneficial to focus on that one thing that you want to get done that will help keep you trucking.
- Track Your Small Wins - the brain is wired to focus on the negatives more than the positive. This aspect of humanity is one of the reasons why your ancestors didn't get eaten alive. Using this piece of knowledge we can recalibrate by tracking our small wins.
How to Get Yourself to Do the Work
Emilie suggests a number of options, three of which I also utilise:
- Meditation - meditation can help to distance yourself from the many thoughts that flow through your head on a daily basis. Meditation is a state of mind rather than a practice but it comes down to knowing yourself and if the practice can help you move into this state then this is a worthwhile practice to cultivate.
- Movement - movement helps you to get out of your head and back into the body. I have found that when I can get out of my head just enough space is created for fresh thinking to come in. This new thinking can help shift my perspective towards the solution I have been looking for as well as help me to connect new dots that I haven't connected before.
- Gratitude - this can help you to notice the good things that are already in your life. I have found that in the learning process I can focus on the process itself more, the more I can appreciate where I am now and it is from this space that I can move forward. Emilie suggests to take the time to intentionally write a list of the things you are currently grateful for.
Your Learning Environment
It is important to focus on the process itself instead of thinking about everything you need to do. The book points to a useful question to help refocus the mind - which one to three itty-bitty action steps can you take right now to move your project forward?
A useful technique that can be used in tandem with this question is the pomodoro technique. This is a technique that was developed by author and entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo in the early 1900's, that helps to cultivate focus and intention. You can use the pomodoro technique like so:
- Set the timer for 25 minutes for doing work.
- Take a 5 minute break.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2. When you've completed four pomodoro's, take a 25 minute break.
The book highlights some of the insecurities that multipotentialites experience. Insecurities such as how to explain what you do to others? Emilie highlights that there isn't a one size fits response and your answer can depend on the context and who it is you are talking to.
Emilie also highlights the fact that there is no Expert Guild who gives its approval to the real experts. She points to the fact that it is normal to feel like an imposter and that it is helpful to keep in mind that there will always be someone at a better or lower level than you so the best thing is to focus on your work and your process.
The book helps to highlight that you are not bounded to certain people who may not share your values and enthusiasm. You always have the choice to leave and seek out like minded people.
In my own life I have found that finding the right communities has mean't that I can get much more done and come up with much better ideas than if I were to try and do it all alone. It also helps me feel more connected to other people, find more meaning, direction and purpose and decrease the feelings of loneliness and isolation that can come up when you set out to create something from nothing.
Over to You...
Have you experience in pursuing multiple different topics all at once or in a sequence? Have you read How To Become Everything? I would love to hear your thoughts and insights.