Hi folks! Wednesday is here, time for yet another post. I’ve been going a bit heavy lately as I try to find the right topics, the right balance, the right length, etc. So, for today’s post, I’m wondering if any of you out there find yourselves having interest in several seemingly unrelated subjects or fields. If yes, have you ever wondered why this is so when so many of the people we know don’t seem to have this issue?
‘A polymath –what is that?’ I asked the first time someone described me by the noun. It simply means a person with varying interests in vastly different, often unrelated, fields. From its Greek root, poly means ‘much’ while math means ‘to learn’ –which directly translates to ‘learning much’. Wow, there’s word out there for people like me?! I mused.
The opposite of a polymath is a monomath. The dictionary defines a monomath as a person with extensive knowledge of a single field or subject, but very little knowledge of others. The clearest distinction between the two is that a polymath is a generalist whereas a monomath is a specialist. The advantage of being a monomath is having the ability to focus on one subject, narrow it down and study it deep enough to master it. This same narrowing and deepening explains why experts so often miss the obvious —simply because it belongs in an area outside their field of specialization, a major disadvantage to being a monomath. Generally, monomaths thrive in our society today because we live in an age of specialization in both our school systems and in our occupational environments.
The main advantage a polymath has is knowledge accumulation in various fields of interest. The biggest disadvantage is the lack of focus in any one specific field so we end up only scratching the surface in each field instead of studying it to masterly depths. I am a polymath in every sense of the word; I always have been from as far back as I can remember. Our general state of mind is somewhere between impatience and restlessness, with our hearts constantly wandering off to that next great adventure; until it’s time for the next one, and the next one, and the next one. We study vast subjects in various unrelated fields without going too deep in any one particular field because it’s hard to achieve mastery in one area then run off and achieve the same in yet another unrelated areas. As a result, we polymaths are often jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none.
From when I was a teenager, I remember my dad consistently telling me to make sure I don’t end up a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. By some lucky chance I listened and became a master in the field of finance and accounting. Still, I constantly tend to go off and do other things as well. In addition to my finance specialization, I studied politics and graduated with a masters degree in international politics and security studies simply because I am interested in world politics and the formation of super powers. I also went off and studied arts and fashion because clothes have always interested me from when I was a kid flipping through my mum’s fashion magazines. I am currently taking a course in Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management to better understand the workings of that industry. And in 2014 I graduated with a diploma in interior decorating because I’m fascinated with sophisticated homes and wanted to know how to decorate mine tastefully, just like in the magazines 🙂 Lol!
There are advantages and disadvantages to being either a polymath or a monomath; the onus is on us to make it work for us either way. For me, I now know it’s okay to be a finance professional and to blog about life and style. It’s okay to want to be a writer. Its okay to closely follow world politics and watch China poised for world dominion (though they still don’t fulfill the ‘political ambition’ criteria). It’s okay to want to dabble in photography and videography and even a bit of coding –mainly because I have mastered something already, which then gives me the freedom to go off and indulge all my other interests while making a half-decent living.
Achieving specialization is tough while a polymath; we set standards we’d like to reach in one field and then are unable to do justice to our areas of gifting. Yet it can and should be done if we expect to thrive in a world dominated by monomaths. Whatever our occupations, the majority of us appear to need an outlet for our creativity (I’ll write a piece about the left-brain vs. right brain debate in a future piece). For now, it helps to realize there is nothing wrong with us wanting to do more than one thing; it’s okay to be interested in unrelated fields. What we as polymaths must do is seek to master one area of interest so we can lead in something and gain the respect and compensation we crave and deserve. A fulfilling life comes from having the freedom to choose our lifestyle on our terms, and this ability comes from specializing in a chosen area which we can in turn leverage to gain this much-touted freedom.
I should stress that there’s no right or wrong way of being, only strategies to position us for success either way. Are you a polymath or a monomath? What advantages or disadvantages have you experienced in your day-to-day life or your professional life? Let’s continue the discussion in the comment section.
Photo credit: Lilian Nabora Photography
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