Friday, November 24, 2017

The problem with being a polymath

I found out that the formal word for a Renaissance Man is a polymath.  A good friend of mine gave me the very kind comment of calling me a Renaissance Man many years ago.  Although Renaissance Man has a nice ring to it, I think I like polymath - seems far less highbrow - so perhaps I'm now more comfortable saying I'm a modest polymath, and, I'm a mathie (BMath from the University of Waterloo), so maybe I'll stick with it.  A quick side note - I had always said a BMath was quite unusual, so a quick look at Wikipedia sheds some light on my BMath degree.

By the true definition of polymath, saying I'm a person whose "expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas" is a big stretch, but I do have expertise in a few specific areas such as digital data security, photography and ultimate frisbee, but I have far more deep interests in many other things in my life, including: film; TV; comedy; videography; football (soccer); reading; traveling; wine; writing / blogging / vlogging; technology; discovering, organizing and curating music.   

So what's the problem?

How do I chose, prioritize and balance my many interests.  

Some of my interests fall into place quite nicely - my job allows my to focus on digital data security during business hours.  I play ultimate frisbee year-round and have weekly game commitments.  My favourite football teams play on a set schedule and I'm tempted to enjoy wine at almost every evening meal.  But what about the times that I have free and can pick and chose what I do?  

This topic also touches on something I've probably written about before - balance.  I'm not sure if my desire for balance relates to my being a Libra, but there's something there.  So, I think I could put these interests into four categories (skipping sleep): learn something;do something; create (and share) something; and entertainment.

So as I get interested in more and more things (Freakonomics podcasts) and I want to learn about more and more things (drones), I risk becoming less of an expert in other things (photography).   And that's what is starting to happen - new-found distractions and oow-shiny moments are causing a frequent bout of indecision and wasted time.   

On the flip side of polymathy, many a wise person has said that in life you should find what you're good at and do that thing as best you can.  Well, I'm kind of good at a few things and think I could be good at many others.   Many people think I'm a good photographer, but I know I can be much better with more learning and practice.   But when is it good enough? This perhaps taps into a family trait of perfectionism, which I've seen can be a powerful force in human behaviour and one I'm a little wary of.

Here's another pseudo-problem.  The sage advice from many successful photographers, filmmakers and other artists is you have to have a specialty.  On the web, people can be highly discretionary and find exactly what they want.  So what's the chance that someone like me who spans many subject matters appeals to the modern googler and what are the odds I can create a loyal following.  Whenever I think of specializing, I think about the other things I'll miss and other things I can contribute to.

So, I think I need to trim things a little and get back to what I'm truly good at and can contribute in a worthwhile fashion.  I have to accept that I'm maybe not going to be a hit 50 year old something vlogger, perhaps I should try and enjoy the mess of my iTunes playlists and recognize there's just not enough time in the day to watch every Netflix original series.  I've got a big backlog of photographs to edit and publish, some modest video footage to cobble together and my favourite sports to watch and play.  What more do I need?

I still like being a polymath and a Renaissance Man.  Last night was an interesting example, I went to the Horseshoe Tavern to see an old time favourite band, 54-40, with a friend from ultimate.  He met at Bar Hop's new Peter Street location and also ended up there after the concert.  I enjoyed a wide variety of liquid libation and many deep conversations on an even wider array of subjects - we could have talked all night (and almost did).  And it was a nice balance of yin and yang, like sharing my expertise in encryption and learning a lot more the auto racing industry.  All with a backdrop of our love of music, food and drink.