The old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none” is something we have heard many times. It talks to the archaic view of how a person should live their life. We tend to blindly follow the doctrine that our careers define for us. When asked, “what do you do?” we answer with “I’m a lawyer” or “I’m a doctor” or I’m professional iceberg mover” (look it up, it’s a thing) and while these are all noble pursuits, what do they actually have to do with the person we actually are?
This is why I think it is important for all of us, especially us gentlemen, to embrace the idea of being a jack of all trades or rather a polymath.
A polymath (“having learned much”) is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. (da Vinci anyone)
I mean at the end of the day isn’t life all about doing things that excite us, that are out of our comfort zones and challenge who we think we are and what we know about ourselves. That sounds much more interesting than mastering just one trade!
So why should we strive to be a polymath?
Boredom, or avoidance of it rather.
We all get bored by repetition, doing the same things day in and day out can drive you crazy! This can be said for work, relationships and even ourselves. Plowing away at the same job can be become repetitious and therefore tedious. Now I’m not saying that all jobs are boring, a lot of people love what they do and get huge enjoyment out of their vocation. What I am saying is that even astronauts on the international space station get bored some times. Being stuck in a metal tube orbiting 400km above the earth with little company and a toilet that resembles a decommissioned Dyson vacuum cleaner, it’s no wonder the novelty wears off sooner than expected. So having something else that gets you going is important. Some people run, mountain bike (a bit hard for astronauts on mission I know) or have some other hobby. This is something they are passionate about and think about during work hours until they can fulfill it in their free time.
Hobbies, for example, can help your productivity at work.
They help relieve stress by getting you out of the office and getting the office out of your head. You can relax; think about something other than the mountain of paperwork on your desk or that overly demanding boss. It can have a meditative quality. Like with running for example all you think about is your breathing and putting one foot in front of the other, you become completely present on that and everything else becomes less important. Exercise also allows you to sleep better, increases you attention span and produces endorphins, which make you happy. Playing chess or doing puzzles can help problem solving and analytical skills.
Hobbies can also help your relationships and make you more confident.
Being stressed can add pressure onto loved ones, cause over reactions to insignificant events and in severe cases cause depression and self-loathing. Relaxing and doing something for yourself allows you to be more compassionate with them and with you, it allows you to give them and yourself a break every once in a while. The benefits of just generally being cheerier are obvious, for everyone. Who doesn’t like being happy? Increased problem solving skills can aid in dealing with relationship issues and issues in our own lives.
Confidence is built by obtaining skills; if you do not feel confident about something then all you need is a new skill. You can’t obtain new skills without putting yourself out there though. You have to be prepared to learn and fail, a lot!
Having a hobby is just a drop in the ocean, and possibly a simplification, of what it takes to become a polymath. Learning new languages, writing, travel, anything can help you develop skills that will be vital in circumstance you wouldn’t expect them to be.
Tim Ferriss mentions in his post on the same topic (The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades) that it is possible to become world class (in the top 5%) using the 80/20 principle and cutting the learning curve to obtain results as fast as possible.
Even if you don’t not wish to be the best at something the same idea of being a jack of all trades can be used to increase our abilities and strengthen our lives to allow us “to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.”
The idea of being a polymath fits perfectly with the idea of being a modern gentleman. He is able to converse well on varying topics, is not scared to venture out of his comfort zone and uses every opportunity to expand his knowledge and obtain new skills.
Don’t let your career pigeon hole you and shut you off new experiences, you never know when they may come in handy.
Great resources and listens.
Tim’s article as a podcast: http://podbay.fm/show/863897795/e/1405710085?autostart=1