Much has been said about polymaths. And today, to get anywhere with your projects, you basically need to be one.
You aren’t just a music producer. You’re also a YouTuber.
You aren’t just a podcaster. You’re also a UFC fighter.
You aren’t just a writer. You’re an explorer, traveler, and adventurer.
Or frankly… you’re boring, and your content won’t interest anyone.
I talked a little bit about this in the slash / conundrum, but the essence of it is the inevitability of not just wanting to be, but having to be good at many things.
Which, for the most part, is a blessing and an advantage. But in this piece, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and explain why being a polymath sucks.
You Become the Go-to Person… for Everything
At first glance, being the go-to person in your social circles might seem like a great thing. People ask you to do work in a variety of a capacities, and you can get paid good money to do it besides.
Sure, but you know what the issue is? The work is inconsistent, and because cashflow is also unpredictable, you end up having to do everything yourself. You can only handle so much work, so there’s a limit to how fast you can complete projects. Hiring is mostly out of the question when you’re having cashflow problems, so you can’t reliably scale or expand.
This is coming from personal experience. But as I dive into Nathan Fancher’s Magnetic Micro-Books, I now see I’m not the only one that’s ever been in this position.
Being in demand is a nice feeling. But it’s also exhausting. Revenue is rarely predictable, and as a career path, it doesn’t lead anywhere. It feels like spinning wheels, and it ends up being more limiting than freeing.
Branding Yourself or Your Product Only Gets Tougher
I have passions, sure, but I have such a wide range of interests that my content ends up being a mixed bag. On any given week, readers can expect a bit of everything. They say variety is the spice of life, but sometimes it can make your head spin.
I’m the guy who harps on focus, but my own journey has been so circuitous that sometimes I don’t know if my students take me seriously (“do as I say, not as I do”). I only give them guidance to this effect because I don’t want them to discover later in life that they could have made something of their talents if they’d concentrated on a few key areas instead of tackling a mile-long goal list.
Don’t get me wrong. The journey has been awesome. But if I understood this point well, I think I would be living my dream life already instead of being in the process of creating it. Climbing the ladder only to discover that you’re up against the wrong building is an awful feeling.
When you’ve got a million things to offer, you’re passionate about all of them, and they’ve all helped you pay your bills (often at the right times), how do you even choose? It’s hard enough to serve one audience well, never mind half a dozen audiences, who you end up being mediocre to.
As we continue to embrace the unconventional life as a society, there may come a time when this is completely normal. You’ll say to someone, “I’m an internet marketer-singer-songwriter-podcaster-YouTuber-blogger,” and everyone will nod their head and respond, “oh yeah, I think my cousin’s son does something like that.” But we’re not quite there, and in the meantime, I can honestly say I’ve suffered a great deal.
Suffering is optional, yes, but it would be inauthentic to say there has been no pain and that I regret nothing. I can create completion with that, and that’s what I’m opting to do, but that requires creating an entirely new possibility and being in action as well. Otherwise, there’s no completion.
Regardless, personal and product branding can quickly become a total nightmare as a polymath because you have the added responsibility of trying to connect the dots of your scattered world for people who might be interested in what you’re offering.
You End Up Wondering… A Lot
If it wasn’t clear from the last section, then let me state this in no uncertain terms – if you don’t find what you would consider success on your own terms earlier in life, you will start to wonder what you could have done differently to get you to your chosen destination and whether you can even get there anymore (because you now have a track record of failures proving you can’t).
It’s not as though you don’t know what your destination is. You’ve probably been present to it for a long time. And you’ve been working your ass off to get there. Trying to ignore the six-month success savants who keep touting their $6,000 moths on Medium or Amazon or Myspace or god knows what. Knowing you’ve probably got more talent in your left pinky. Knowing that your work ethic is godlike compared to their care-free, entitled, three-hour workdays.
Comparison is the root of all unhappiness, yes, but we all wonder. Again, to say or think otherwise is inauthentic. It’s also gross, but if we don’t face it, we can’t advance.
I have an amazing life in a lot of ways. And I don’t mean to diminish myself or my accomplishments in the slightest.
But if you’re not where you want to be, that can only mean there’s more available. Why would you hunger and thirst for more if it weren’t? The pain of not living up to your potential, and not knowing what’s holding you back, is one of the greatest pains there is.
Being a polymath is awesome. But it’s all about knowing how to channel your passions and energies into the right things. And that’s a decidedly complex issue. Only now am I starting to see.
We’ve got to dig deep, friends. We’ve got to ask ourselves the tough questions. We’ve got to be willing to raise our prices and prune away the things that don’t fulfill us or make us happy. We’ve got to be just selfish enough to make these changes.
And, most importantly, we’ve got to stop lying to ourselves about what we want, and instead get up and go and get it. No more talking about it. Otherwise, we should simply give up and try to be content with what we already have. And that’s a sad life.
Play all out. Play full out. This might be the only life you get.
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