I’m a polymath1. That means I am a “Renaissance soul,”2 a “scanner,”3 a “Jack of all trades,” or a “multipotentialite”4 on my best days. I have a wide diversity of shifting passions which takes me from one field of interest to another. In many cases I am a dilettante, which most often means a person with a superficial or feigned expertise in a given area (we’ll go with superficial in my case). At the end of the day, I like to think of myself as a Renaissance Soul. It sounds more romantic and creative.
I like who I am. As a matter of fact, I’m probably my biggest fan. Over the course of my life, I have cultivated my own curiosity, indulged my desire to learn, slaked my thirst for novelty, and pursued a host of diverse passions. At every step of the way, I have tried to be true to myself and seek personal fulfillment in each endeavor. In many ways, I have succeeded. I have trained myself to have more ideas than ants at a picnic. I have self-taught myself fairly demanding skills and then used those skills professionally. My résumé is an omelet of vibrant flavors and experiences. There are many unpleasant experiences that I might choose to change in my life, but I can’t really argue with the end results. As Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam.”
Here comes the big “however.”
However, the Renaissance soul comes with a price. In fact, there are many costs associated with following the many paths of your passions. Here are the ones I have seen in my own life. I’m sure you could add your own.
A former student of mine commented “You’re starting something new? Again? Your retirement accounts must be awful.” Yes, there was a certain amount of truth to that. Chasing a wide variety of passions can cause financial stress over the long term, especially if long-term wealth and security are priorities for you.
If you pursue a new interest or career path every time you get bored, it is unlikely that you will reach the highest levels of income within a single industry. Richard Branson has built empires in diverse areas like music, airlines, telecommunications, and space travel, but, there are two things you must remember about Richard Branson; He is first and foremost an entrepreneur and he probably works 80 hours a week. If you want to indulge your wandering heart, you will not find wealth by working for someone else’s company or limiting yourself to a 40 hour work week.
Even if you think you can handle the risks of entrepreneurship, you must be willing to work hard to master a specific area of expertise before moving on to your next adventure. You must take a deep dive into that subject and properly research your options before taking any personal or financial risks. If wealth is your ultimate goal, then you must be willing to discipline yourself, tame your many passions to focus on what needs to be done, sacrifice your free time, and take financial risks (large risk, large reward). If you are unwilling to make those kinds of sacrifices, then you must recognize that there is a balance to be struck between personal fulfillment and financial security. You can pursue long-term wealth and security or you can follow your passions, but you can’t really do both.
Even the proponents of “location-free” careers and design-your-life programs will agree with me here. You can follow your dreams and be free, but you can’t be lazy. There is no substitute for discipline and hard work.
Reputation or Prestige
Much like financial security and entrepreneurship, if you want to pursue multiple interests in your career, it is unlikely that you will be considered a “Very Important Person.” This is especially true if you work for a large company or organization. To climb the ladder of prestige and success in an organization, people want to see you on a logical progression of jobs in a specific area of expertise. The CEO can come from almost any area within an organization, but they always come from senior leadership, and getting there requires focus and determination.
Many Renaissance Souls are enamored with the idea of working for a world renowned company like Google. This love affair is fed by the famous freedoms and perks that those companies offer like flexible work hours, catered lunches, game rooms, and plenty of creative play time. Here’s the catch – they don’t hire people that come from open, creative, and diverse environments. They hire people with highly specialized and significant skills and then put them in creative and diverse environments. Don’t expect to be hired by a premier company based on the fact that you have the potential to be an asset to their organization (“I can do great things if they’d only give me a chance.”). You need to prove yourself before you can get in the front door.
Speaking of getting in the front door, if you have your heart set on working with a large creative company, be prepared to pull your hair out before you even speak with a human being with the potential to hire you. Most companies of any size now use an automated software system that prescreens your application for compatibility with a given job description. If your résumé doesn’t follow a logical progression of job types and increasing levels of responsibility, or if it lacks the right keywords, then don’t expect a computer to appreciate your diverse skillset. Instead, you will need to focus on developing meaningful and authentic personal relationships with people already working within that company who can recommend you for future openings.
If your love of diversity is one of your highest priorities in life, then you will most likely find yourself constantly applying for entry level jobs. I have learned over the years that career hopping is mainly a young (and cheap) person’s game. The more experience you accumulate in any field, the more valuable you become. The more valuable you become, the more likely you are to be promoted to a position of leadership or influence. This then becomes a double-edged sword. When you get the urge to explore a new career field, you may find that you have too much leadership experience to be considered for entry-level jobs, but you have too little practical experience in that particular field to qualify for a more senior position. You will be both overqualified and under-qualified at the same time. You will be disregarded as a “bad fit.” Again, meaningful personal relationships will pay off better for you than your résumé.
Even if you invest time in personal relationships with people who know you well, your will still find yourself scratching your head and thinking “Man, nobody gets me.” People will always try to put you in boxes which are too small for you. Among my many jobs, I have worked as a teacher, a missionary, a graphic artist, an innkeeper, and an ordained minister, yet I now work in information technology. When I express an interest in moving on to something new, even people that know me well say things like “I’ll keep my ears open, but I don’t know anything about technology jobs.” When other people cannot imagine themselves doing anything new, they will have difficulty in understanding your desire for variety. Their boxes are too small for you.
Self-Image and Self-Reliance
If you consider yourself to have a Renaissance soul, then learn to love yourself. Other people will love you, but you need to be able to value yourself as an individual (this is good advice for anyone, but especially the Renaissance souls). In the same way that nobody gets you, they will also not give you reliable feedback on your value as a person or as a professional. You will be constantly perceived as less valuable because you don’t fit neatly into a box. This will require you to know yourself, be authentic, and derive value from your own standards and not from the expectations of others.
In the same way that you must know your own value, you must also promote that value to others if you want to be heard and understood. As hard as self-promotion may be for you, it is a necessary and invaluable skill for the Renaissance soul. The hard truth here is that there will almost never be a situation where someone says “You know who would be perfect for this project or this job? You!” Expect the need to sell yourself and prepare accordingly.
Are you a passionate person? Are you sure? Because everyone else sees you as having no passion at all. You seem fickle and uncommitted, with a tangle of possible paths before you and a wake of unfinished projects behind you. What they do not understand is that learning, new ideas, and creativity are your passion, not a single field of study. Accept your many passions as an expression of your own uniqueness.
If you want to honor yourself as a Renaissance soul, you need not lower your expectations, but you must let go of some notions and false ideas. Stop defining your dreams by specific income goals, specific companies, or specific job titles. No one else will give you success unless you earn it according to their standards. If you want to be a Renaissance soul, then you must take responsibility for your own success and measure it according to your own standards. Wealth, security, and fame may come your way, but they will be byproducts of your journey and not the destination.
Like everything in life, a Renaissance soul has personal costs, but it also offers valuable rewards. What are you willing to give up in order to be true to yourself? What other costs have you seen that I missed here? Let me know.
- Polymath via Wikipedia [↩]
- On Amazon – The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One [↩]
- another link on Amazon [↩]
- Psychology Today [↩]
- Catching Up
- Mensch or Mooch?