I just quit my job. A perfectly good one. In fact, a really great one for a really great company.
See, every five or so years, I do this. I change jobs. Like clockwork. When I was in my teens and twenties (a hundred years ago), the job would usually change FOR me (I would get fired). More recently, I’ve learned to recognize when something isn’t the right fit anymore and I move on before I wear out my welcome. I haven’t always known why, but I have always moved through experiences like chapters in a book. Like clockwork, I’ve found my next something and taken to it with all the passion of a new lover — eager to learn how this new skill or experience smells and tastes; what makes it unique and special.
Because of my insatiable thirst for learning a new something, I have found myself often looking for a master under which to apprentice, and then immersing completely in that new something –– drinking in every detail, and asking whyuntil one or both of us were exhausted by teaching & learning. This process feels familiar each time, yet exciting and new as I progress from eager student to apprentice to journeyman. Sometimes I make it to expert. Most times I don’t. One thing is certain though: If I stay beyond this point, I begin to get anxious and feel like I am in a rut. An increasingly insistent inner voice keeps saying that there are other topics to absorb and life is fleeting. If I stay too long, I find myself casting longing glances over the shoulder of my chosen somethingat another seemingly more alluring one. Every time, though, I’ve come away enriched by these experiences.
Twenty years ago, I was worried that there was something wrong with me. Fast forward to today and I understand that there’s nothing wrong, its just that I’m not cut out to specializein one thing. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m good at all kinds of things. There’s a good chance that you are too – if you’re a Polymath. This is a new term to me, but it means someone who is good at many things. [Greek: poly (many) + manthanein (to learn)]. It is important to note that there is always someone smarter than the Polymath at a given subject. The specialistis the other extreme – spending long periods of time, sometimes an entire life – developing and curating a deep knowledge of a given discipline. I have the ultimate respect for specialists. They are what I can never be.
Let me try to provide you some color and context: I can write fairly well, though I have lots to learn. I can communicate — REALLY connect — with a ridiculously wide array of people. I learn languages (and even accents) well. I love to learn. I love to immerse myself in new experiences and imagine what it must be like to live someone else’s existence, yet make it myexistence.
I learned, or taught myself how to setup and maintain computer networks, write code for websites, pick locks, crack safes, and decipher complex financial statements. I learned how to weld, how to do plumbing and electrical work. I can coach and motivate teams of highly successful salespeople, rappel down the face of a cliff, sail a sloop, and rebuild a car engine. I qualified as an expert marksman with my M16A2 assault rifle and can shear sheep pretty well.
Because I’ve tried to exist and conform in a society that expects you to specialize in something (remember that cocktail party question: So, what do you do?),I’ve stayed in and around business and finance for the better part of 20 years. As a result, my disparate collection of knowledge lines up heavily around subjects like finance, organizational development, strategy, and finding efficiencies in operations.
Back to the I just quit my job part. One other thing I’ve always been comfortable with is risk. It’s not that I have a masochistic need to inflict poor credit ratings and ramen noodles on myself. Quite the contrary. I always hope for the best each time I take a leap of faith out the nearest window. I’ve mostly been rewarded with positive results, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary.
Part of this particular leap of faith is writing a book about what I’ve learned – at least in the context of how to help you turn dreaming into doing(I don’t suppose there’s a huge audience awaiting my book about sheep shearing!). In this process, I hope to start conversations and make connections that lead to the next chapter on my path. Is your idea part of that path?
I look forward to learning more about the concept of the Polymath (a.k.a. the Renaissance Man or the Generalist). Now that I know that it is a thing, I feel much better.
Can you hear it now? “So, what do you do?”
“I’m a Polymath”
“Wow, that sounds really boring. Sorry, but I hate math. More wine?”
Here’s a TEDx talk about Polymaths