What Is a Polymath?
The other day I was researching topics for an online art gallery I am building. At some point or another I found myself on a wikipedia page. This particular day it was Leonardo Da Vinci’s, despite the fact my college professors told me not to use wikipedia as a source. I am going to do it anyway. Everyone knows that Da Vinci is one of the greatest painters of all time. On top this esteemed title, he was also know as an architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, and a writer. After reading through his long list of title’s, I stumbled across the term renaissance man.
After clicking the link attached to renaissance man(I usually find myself trapped in a wikipedia funnel every time I visit the site). I was led to a term I had never come across before called a “polymath.”
A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “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.
This definition really struck a chord in me. Mainly because growing up I always encountered conversations with people about why I didn’t focus on a single sport, or one specific business idea and block everything else out. They would say things like, “imagine where you would be now had you invested everything into that.” This always made me reflect on my life decisions. It made me wonder if I was doing things wrong. I always felt like all the skills I had picked up throughout life adding to my value and would inevitably groom me to solve some of the more complex problems we face. Seeing this helped reaffirm I was on the right track.
The Early Years
I always loved the idea of being a professional athlete. Performing in front of tens of thousands of people had always appealed to me. I live for the spotlight. I love the pressure that comes with high stakes situations win or lose I feel something is to be gained by being in them. Plus I always wanted to be the best at what I did in life. As I grew up. this appeal started to drift away after a few major injuries. And a realization that someone way more important actually owns the team. But I still loved playing sports because I realized they had many valuable lessons for life hidden in their DNA & I loved being with my friends. I would use those lessons to help build mental models of how things worked later on in life, depending on the circumstance I was in. In addition to all the good memories I made with my friends.
When I look back I realize the entrepreneurial spirit has been deeply embedded into my soul. It all starting by selling those coupon books they have children peddle in grade school. It was either first or second grade, but I was determined to win the prize of selling the most. As everyone knows, there was always that one kid. Who’s mother would sell an outrageous number of copies at her office, and no one else could compete.
It still impresses me that I had the balls to do things like that without ever being nervous. I feel sorry for my mother and all the sleepless nights I have given her though.
That wasn’t going to be this year I thought. So at 9 o’clock. or sometime shortly after breakfast on a Saturday, I rounded up the troops and we were going to hit the streets (of a lower income neighbourhood) selling hard. I hadn’t worked out the details of how we were going to keep track of who sold what, or how the prizes would be distributed. I just figured that would come later. We probably put in close to a 12 hour day. Wandering the streets until dark. The police were alerted and a bunch of family and friends spent hours driving around the neighbourhoods looking for a team of eight year old salesmen. It still impresses me that I had the balls to do things like that without ever being nervous or scared. Although, I feel sorry for my mother and all the sleepless nights I have given her.
Fast forward to my twenties..
My sports career is pretty much behind me. Aside from golf, some beer league hockey and the occasional trip to the mountains to ride my snowboard. I was focused on working. I was still as much an entrepreneur as ever. Now I had experience tracking cars from japan on behalf for my dad to import between the ages of 14-18. This kept my business muscles working. Japanese Imports, had actually become a popular craze for car aficionado’s. Once I had my drivers license, I was given responsibility over a certain area of snow removal for Canada Post. Which would eventually grow into a business I would run for over 9 years, and fund my other projects. My Dad always told me I would know how to work growing up. Which was a struggle dealing with at times, but now I realize the advantage I have on those people who don’t understand, when the going gets tough, we need to be tougher.
During this time, one particular person I had gone to school with built himself a pretty nice internet business making millions. I am not going to get into the specific’s, but it definitely inspired a lot of people to travel down the path of self reliance. All of a sudden, there were a few groups of people building internet startups within my circle of acquaintances. One of my best friends was talking about building his own. Which got me into the idea of leveraging this tool to build a fashion label.
They taught me everything I needed to know about using design programs like creative suite, color theory, product development, photography, fabric/thread selection, the lingo, planning production schedules etc. and how all of these things contributes to the whole brand.
I was 20 years old, in business school. Running my own business and trying to wrap my head around the fashion industry and the internet. I would eventually drop out of business school to be closer with my family and the businesses we built. which would open up time so I could leave Canada. To live in Los Angeles for months on end with my cousin and his girlfriend, while I built a raw denim label(IvyDenim). I was lucky to learn about the creative and business side of the fashion industry, from some pretty kick ass mentor’s. They taught me everything I needed to know about using design programs like creative suite, to color theory, product development, photography, fabric/thread selection, the lingo, and planning production schedules etc. But more importantly, how all of these things contributes to the development of the brand as a whole. The one thing they were all envious of, was the fact that I knew how to build websites & understood a few more things about the internet than them.
Now I am 27, I’ve probably read over 90 books in the past 5 years ranging from finance & architecture textbooks, to human behaviour studies and a long list of biographies. I’ve been involved in the construction of 25+ businesses. and when people ask me what I do for a living I struggle to come up with a specific answer. The best one I can come up with is “I solve problems..” As a business consultant and entrepreneur this is what people pay me to do. Sometimes they have problems related to design. Other times it’s understanding how to use certain technologies to ease the pressure they weighing them down. It can be something as simple as mediating their negotiations with a supplier or service provider. I have noticed most people just need someone to talk to. That has a background filled with experiences that they can tap into. So I have been working as hard as I can to acquire as much experience as possible. So I can help as many people get from point A to B in the most productive way possible.
In the past year I have started experimenting with different creative channels like learning to play music on my guitar and painting once a month. Most people never think to start something like that, this late into life.
In the past year I have started experimenting with different creative channels like learning to play music on my guitar, and painting once a month. Most people never think to start something like that, especially this late into life. But I feel the benefits in my brain and I am excited to see the impact everything has 10 years from now.
Going through this blog post, I see mental snapshots of who I have been throughout my life. and none of them are consistent with the status quo of go to school, focus on a degree and become that for the rest of your life. I want to be known just as much for my artistic creativity, as I want to be known for my analytical approach to solving problems. I want to be a polymath. I believe it is when the art and science worlds collide, that the greatest things can be accomplished, and people and businesses can obtain self actualization.
I’m not sure if writing this will benefit anyone but me, but it help’s me make sense of my memories. It will certainly be an interesting read when I come back to it later in life. As I develop into a better writer.
But my advice to people is to follow your passions. If they do not involve cheating other people and doing harm to yourself, they are probably worth looking into. You never know how the experience will benefit who you want to become, and what you want to do later in life. Who know’s, you might just be a polymath.
Here is a neat resource if you want to look into Leonardo Da Vinci’s work. Artsy’s Leonardo da Vinci page
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