Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Refuse to Choose - the problem with Polymaths

Refuse to Choose
By Barbara Sher
Rodale Books  2007

Do you know what a Polymath is? A polymath is the new name for what we used to call a Renaissance Man. A man who knew a lot about a lot of things. Names like Leonardo da Vinci spring to mind.I mean lets face it - women were never considered to be intelligent back then - even through they were.

I am 40 something years old and I still do not have a career. I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up. I am interested in lots of different things. I find it extremely difficult to have to choose just one area and be required to stick to that one area for the rest of my life.

Today I found the answer for what I am. I am a polymath. I am also a generalist. But todays economy (whether depressed or booming) prefers to train humans up to be specialists. I do not like being a specialist.

Today I found a book that describes me and my kind. It's called Refuse to Choose, by Barbara Sher. It has an interesting subtitle Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams.

I also found a review of this book. I haven't read this book yet - but I am putting it on reserve at my library so I can read it ASAP.  Here are some excerpts of this review that I totally agree with. I hope to find a general career I can start working towards. The following comments are some excerpts from the review.

It’s about the types of people Sher calls “scanners” (as opposed to “divers”). People who would rather survey the whole horizon than go diving as deep as they can in one spot. She calls them scanners, I call them polymaths, but they’re very similar.

The main thing I got out of this book was that it’s OK to be a scanner, it’s just how we’re wired and not something we should try to suppress, and in fact it’s a good thing. Which I already knew, of course, but it was nice to see a recognized life coach saying so and talking about her clients who have successfully pursued their diverse interests.

One example of how she shows that scanners are OK: the false stigma of quitting. Many scanners get very frustrated with themselves for not being able to finish what they set out to do. Barbara explains why this is not a sign of failure, but a sign of having goals that are achieved before a project appears to be done. When a bee gets nectar from a flower and then moves on to the next one, do you call it a quitter for not sticking around

And some comments from the Amazon page are as follows - comments that again, I totally agree with.

This is a really good book. You need to read it if you are someone who has so many interests you can't seem to get anything done. If everyone you know says you just never grew up and settled down then you are probably a Scanner. Do you have so many interests the books and papers pile up? Do you constantly find things that interest you and you never seem to be able to finish them? You are almost certainly a Scanner, and you need to hear what Barbara Sher has to say. It can make a big difference.

What I have ALWAYS been is confused. I am not stupid--actually more on the intellectual side. I have varied interests in the Pre-Raphaelites, travel,hockey, making mosaics, growing a garden, politics, writing, being healthy, quirky little English movies etc etc. And instead of picking one career..I have found myself in menial jobs--retail, shelving books at a library, working reservations for a major airline, temp jobs with insurance companies etc etc. And I am still barely over minimum wage, intellegent and having friends wonder what is wrong with me--or asking if I had ADD.
For years, I beat myself up because I hopped from job to job because as soon as I mastered a task, I got bored. Every time I fell in love with a new hobby, I tried to make it a career, only to feel boxed in as soon as it began to take off. I thought I was afraid of success or lazy or undisciplined, but none of that was true. Barbara Sher taught me that I have a beautiful mind--like Leonardo da Vinci. Well, maybe not that good, but I have a hungry mind that needs stimulation. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
Because I am interested in so many things, this book naturally grabbed my attention. Barbara understands that "scanners" are not just losers or non-commital type but are people wired differently than others. They have great abilities that decades ago would have made them someone like Edison or DaVinci.

These comments come from other people who are just like me.  They describe me (Bibliohistoria) and my life PERFECTLY. I am not alone.

My interests are reasonably wide and somewhat varied. They include - reading, genealogy, politics, science, gymnastics (but no other sports), archaeology, science fiction, paleography, history, geography, bibliography, computers, apologetics, cartography, archives, records management, library science, and any other area of interest you can find mentioned in this blog.  
In terms of a career so far, I have recently completed a Diploma in Business Administration. I graduated last year. I have no other educational qualifications. I do make a lot of plans but they never seem to come to pass. I have been out of school for over 25 years. This diploma is quite generalized (which is why I chose it) and not specialised. I did think about doing either a paralegal course or a medical records management course, but did not want to become too specialised. Now my general diploma is a hindrance in obtaining a job as I dont have anything "special'.
When I finally get to read this book, I will post a review and my understanding of what I can do to hopefully salvage the next 20 years of my working life.

One final comment  (Source - Hunter Nuttal)

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

I’ve always loved that quote, but I don’t think he took it quite far enough. Let’s try again.

“A human being should be able to make six figures online, write an enthralling novel, design a relational database, mix a perfect margarita, calculate a stock’s annualized return, juggle five balls in the lotus position, nail every shift point in a drag race, throw a murderous left hook, solve Rubik’s Cube while discussing the latest tax laws, do heavy squats without a back brace, stand with their legs straight and touch their palms to the floor, identify a stranger’s Myers-Briggs type, separate fact from fiction in the law of attraction, make a baby feel safe, make a child laugh, make an elderly person feel respected, be one of the guys, and give a girl multiple orgasms. Specialization is for insects."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like I am a polymath myself. Now I am really curious about this book.