Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Blessing of the Polymath

Have you ever had someone say to you to "Pick one thing, and do it very well"?

Frankly, it is EXCELLENT advice. But, if you are anything like me, you probably find that doing just ONE thing – even well – is not enough to satisfy your thirst to explore life, entrepreneurialism, art, and whatever else your dream up doing next.

I was describing this to a friend, who told me "Scott, it sounds like you have the curse of the Renaissance Man." To which I replied, "Today, that would be called a POLYMATH. But I consider it a BLESSING."

I must clarify: it is only a blessing IF you actually SEE all the various sciences, art, and pleasures you dabble in through to some form of COMPLETION. It is good to multitask, but better to focus on one thing at a time.

Therefore, if you are like me, and just HAVE to explore all those options, perhaps it would behoove you to at least focus on that ONE activity – consider a time slice – so you do it well. It is critical to your success to excel at whatever vocation you pursue. If you must dabble, I would advise first mastering one skill or talent, then moving on to another. Otherwise you will have loose ends hanging everywhere. When I recently realized I had eight projects going but none to completion or fruition I immediately determined that I would work my tail off to either make each project successful or kill it. If you can, pick one thing and master it. Like the author who writes a book about one subject, that would be adviseable to many.

Now, in my own case, I did not do that. I dabbled in many things. If you go back to AspireNow's early days, I did not follow my gut advice and create a sales program first. I started by writing about life purpose, lifestyles, relationships, and business success – ALL at the same time. Did it work? It did not go nearly as big as I had imagined in the early years. This is because I did multiple things and chose topics in which I was not yet an expert. Although I now consider myself an expert on those topics, it took years of research and practical coaching to get there.

AspireNow WOULD have thrived much sooner had I followed David Ricklan's model at, and set-up AspireNow as a portal to all the people who write about self-growth. I chose not to do that. Instead, I sought to make AspireNow more about my own perceptions and experiences from life. Well, today, David Ricklan has 300,000 Facebook friends following his Facebook page and as of this writing I have about 274 following mine. Lesson learned. We succeed by the choices we make.

It CAN be a blessing to be a polymath. The instance in which it is a blessing is when you SPEND THE TIME to get GREAT at what you do. If you are to be polymath, you must adapt a way to learn things very fast. Timothy Ferris, in his book The 4-Hour Workweek, claims to have mastered this super-learning process himself, as part of teaching himself multiple foreign language systems. I will add that it probably does not hurt that Tim is also very smart. Seriously, though, I need to talk with him about his system of learning, because I believe it would help any polymath be more successful. So, go ahead and do multiple things. Learn and develop systems to do them better, so you may accomplish proficiency faster. If you do this, you can be a polymath AND be successful in many of your pursuits.

The other challenge is that if instead of picking one thing and doing it well you instead choose multiple things to focus upon as your vocation, it may simply take you LONGER to get GREAT at all of them. I found this to be true for me. Jack Canfield, the co-author behind Chicken Soup for the Soul, the most popular book series of all time, shared on stage that he "struggled for years" before finding the magic combination of people and publicity and product to get the product out and successful. This is not unusual for the polymath who is an aspiring author or entrepreneur. Yet, Chicken Soup is not about one topic, but about many stories that warm the heart and soul of the reader. So, perhaps, Chicken Soup's success is a POLYMATH's dream come true and example that perseverance is key!

If you are going to play music, play it in a way that enables you to exceed expectation by mastering concepts. I mastered playing by ear, and playing the blues, but I still make mistakes on the saxophone. I may not understand the theory as well as I could, or I might have heard a series of notes incorrectly while quickly learning a song. The average musician and listener may miss the mistakes, but trust me when I tell you the professional will not miss anything out of sorts. Recently, at a Burning James band rehearsal with Terry Lawless, keyboardist for U2, Terry asked us "Does the sax part go like Scott is playing it, or like the way the rest of you guys play it?" I gave Terry credit for his classy way of saying "Scott, you are playing the wrong notes, man!" Make no mistake about it, the professional will ALWAYS know where your mistakes are at – the only question remaining is whether he will call you out on the mistakes he hears.

It was the same for me with learning Salsa dancing; when a masterful Afro-Cuban dancer came to guest teach a class at my local dance club. She immediately saw my steps and said "No, try this.” Then, she showed me the proper movement. I later asked her if she was good at swing dancing, too. She said, "No, I pretty much just do Salsa dancing. I enjoy it the most, and can compete at a high level with Salsa." In her case, perhaps she picked one thing and did it well. Yet, if you notice, on Dancing with the Stars, they make each dancer do many forms of dancing, so it may be a sign of a developed dancer to learn steps and form to more than one form of dancing. Me? I am just trying to get past the beginner level at swing OR salsa! It is hard when you play music, as often when they are dancing you need to play music. Choices, right?

As an entrepreneur, if you are creative, you will dream up many new ideas that you COULD develop into a company or new product. The question is to pick a number that you can MANAGE CAPABLY. In fact, at GE, the CEO once made a statement "If we cannot be #1 or #2 in each product category we compete, then we will kill that product." The leader made a point "we must excel at what we do." So, make your choices wisely. Pick the products, businesses, hobbies, and interests you love and can achieve success in the most.

Then, bust your butt to be the very best at those interests. Often, the person who rises to the top is not the one with the most talent, but the one with the most heart and drive to stay at it when everyone else went home. In the end, perhaps this is the secret to the BLESSING of the Polymath. Maybe to be the best at multiple things will require you to work longer, avoid time-wasting activities, and maximize each activity to the fullest through laser-like focus.

What do you say about being a polymath? What makes you successful? Please share in the comments link!
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Rob said...

I think we are related! I bounce a bit too much. I heard an interview where the millionaires all had one thing in common;they each had failed in business about 17 times.
I'm catching up. I do think my lack of focus in one area has hurt me. This article may have enlightened me where I needed.

Seriously Fun Self-help! said...

Hi Rob, glad you could relate. And, I hope it doesn't take 17 times for you... there might be some truth to that for some, but let's learn from each other's mistakes so we can manifest abundance sooner!

Amy-Claire said...

Very interesting blog post :)
Can everyone please take a look at my self-help blog please, it would be very much appreciated-

I want my words to get out there and help people. thank you

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