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How to Become a Modern Day Polymath

Pursue Your Many Interests and Develop Expertise in 2024

Welcome reader.

In this article I aim to discuss how to approach learning and building competence in a great many, varied areas, i.e. how to become a polymath. To learn more about what a polymath is and to see examples of polymaths you can view previous articles.

Here’s the thing- Becoming a polymath is all about balance and relativity. Figuring out the exact best path for yourself is a journey that only you yourself can undertake. Pursue too many things at one time and you’ll spread yourself too thin, only developing a cursory knowledge of subjects. Focus too narrowly and you’ll lack the breadth of knowledge that is so characteristic of the renaissance person. This concept of balance, just enough, not too much, not too little, will be good to keep in mind as you peruse the following principles.

While these stratagems may sometimes seem to contradict each other, you’ll be best served by realizing that one set of rules to follow is not going to get you where you need to go, if that place you need (or want) to go is towards a state of wide ranging knowledge and skill, accompanied by expertise in at least a few disparate areas. Pursuing knowledge in many different fields requires many different tactics, tools, and a willingness to adjust, to ebb and flow with your own energy levels, and with what’s drawing your attention at any particular moment.

Cool? Let’s begin.

How to Become a Polymath

Authentic Interest in Multiple Subjects

At the top of most any list about polymathy characteristics, you’ll find the trait of curiosity. If you’ve found your way to this article, you most likely already find yourself drawn to many interests, so in a sense this is a given. However, if you’ve made the additional mental leap to decide upon becoming a polymath, here are a few additional thoughts.

It can be a common trap, once you realize how many interesting fields there are, to decide that everything is intriguing, everything is important. Even though this might be exciting (the world is my oyster!), it can quickly become overwhelming. Absolutely, go ahead and try things on for size, dabble and sample, and experiment! But make sure that when you decide to invest a significant amount of time and energy into something, that it is because it’s truly important and interesting to YOU, and that you’re not just doing it for someone else.

This can be especially tricky if you have someone important in your life who is passionate about a certain thing. By all means, do that cool thing with them! But don’t confuse their passion for your own. This can become an issue for certain people pleasing personality types who tend to absorb the traits of others around them.

Additionally, with the prevalence of social media, there can be self-imposed pressure to get good at something to show off to your friends, for likes on the ‘gram, or because of some internal desire to validate yourself to others.


Generally speaking, doing things for your own genuine curiosity will give you better staying power. Doing things because we think it will make us appear a certain way to others or for some other false reason can quickly lead to unnecessary stress, resentment, and/or burnout.

It’s important to consider, on a regular basis, what authentically interests you enough that you are willing to devote precious resources to it. Give your time and energy to subjects you’d happily immerse yourself in even if no one else was ever aware.

Know Thyself

More introspection here. As mentioned before, what you need to figure out is not the best path, but the best path relative to you. The best way to accomplish all that you want is to know yourself well.

More to the point, you need to know how to motivate yourself. Dilettantes dabble, but if you’re now pursuing polymathy with intention then you need to know how to push through that initial dabbling period to get to where true expertise lies. And you need to be able to do this on a continual, extended timeline.

I’m speaking specifically regarding the daily work and time spent towards gaining expertise. For myself, two things that keep me working towards goals are a sense of accomplishment from completing tasks and visible progression/improvement over time.

What motivates you in the moment? To study, to practice, to build, to rehearse?

What demotivates you?

How many tools do you have in your toolbox that can help you get back on track?

Remember we started off talking about balance? Of course you need to pursue that which stokes your curiosity. But you’ll also need an ability to apply stick-to-itiveness, or what Angela Duckworth would call “grit” to make any real headway. There are going to be times when you are eager to do your work and times when you need to but just don’t wanna. We all experience this “resistance” to borrow a term from Stephen Pressfield, but whether you’re able to achieve your intentions is going to hinge on how you handle these moments.

Knowing how to motivate yourself, how to steer your impulses, when to buckle down, and when to give yourself a break will help you over the course of your polymath journey to be as successful as possible.

Intellectual + Physical

I’ll admit that this is my own bias showing here, but then again isn’t this whole article? Assuming you are fortunate enough to be able bodied, why wouldn’t you pursue goals in both of these areas? To leave either your physical or intellectual potential untapped seems to me a great waste. This is one area where I feel that most, if not everyone, would benefit from following a path that includes activities and goals in both the physical realm as well as the intellectual.

The most obvious physical goals might include certain performance metrics or a certain aesthetic. But if you’re not the sporting type, you can still pursue activities that use your body, such as gardening, building different things, hiking, camping, etc. And in the intellectual realm, if you have no other loftier goal than simply reading a book, you can literally learn about almost anything by doing so.

Become an Autodidact

For those wondering, an autodidact is a self-taught person. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about successful individuals that I’ve known, it’s that they don’t wait for (or even seek) permission. Whether you live in a city with a large university or out in the sticks surrounded by empty fields, you need to realize that if there’s something that you’re interested in, you need to be willing to seek out the information on your own.

Buy a book, borrow a book, go for a private lesson, research on the internet, practice on your own, have a conversation with a friend, go and watch an expert, join a club, attend a masterclass, etc, etc.

Do the best you can where you are with what you have at your disposal.

Don’t wait for the perfect time. Don’t feel that you have to buy fancy equipment or get a degree (although if you have the means those can be valid paths). Don’t wait for permission from the heavens. Take responsibility for your own journey. Just go do the thing.

Dump the Self-Help

Hot take- self-help books are lame. Well, maybe it’s not that hot a take, as many already think this. But if you’re into self-improvement you might not want to face this truth. I’ve recommended a few different books that fall into this category, and I do think some are very valuable. But, after you’ve read more than a handful you’ll begin to notice that most things that can be said about self-help have been said. Many times and in many different ways. My point is not that books on self-improvement don’t have good advice, but rather that you’ve probably already read it or heard it.

It’s time to move on and start applying some of that advice by learning about your chosen fields of interest. Consider reading other non-fiction books that can still be informative or inspiring. The areas of history, science and biography are voluminous. Why read in these areas (they sound lame right?)? Because you’ll learn actual facts, events, and relevant information that help you make sense of the world and make connections between different areas. You’ll spot trends, be sharper in conversation, make better informed decisions, and strengthen knowledge that the rest of your school chums forget after a couple years.

By reading these types of books, you’ll challenge yourself to pull out your own lessons. And they can be absolutely fascinating. Books in these areas can be just as entertaining to read as any good fictional story. I just finished reading a book about then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, who practically abandoned his post to lead the cavalry charge on the freaking field of battle in a war with Spain! I mean, WAT!? There is no member of any military department that high up in the organizational structure that is going to jump into battle today (and for good reason). To do so is hiiiighly unusual. But I digress…..

Although this guideline is more about the general pursuit of knowledge, I’ve included it here because many would be polymaths are coming from an interest in self-improvement. Find out what the major works are in your area of interest and go read them.

Figure Out Your Priorities

You want to be an Olympic medalist, an entrepreneur, double-major in college, and write the great American novel. I get it. But if you attempt to do all of these things at once you’ll likely fall short of some of your goals or end up being mediocre at all of them. What good is double-majoring if you have a “D” average?

You’re smarter than that. Order your goals in terms of what’s most important to you. If you only achieved one, which one would that be? Now everything else is subservient to that goal. You’ll still attempt to complete tasks for goals B and C, but when push comes to shove and something gets dropped you’ll still have ensured that you put most of your efforts towards your most important objective.

This is just a jumping off point. We’re not setting things in stone here. If things change for you down the line you can reorder your priorities some, just as long as you don’t get stuck in an infinite loop where you’re constantly flip-flopping on what you actually want to do. Once you’ve decided your priorities you’ll need to come up with a gameplan on how to tackle them. That’s where the next step comes in.

Experiment with Scheduling

This is the sticky one. I originally wrote a long-winded (imagine that) scenario here explaining how to schedule things and various ways to balance activities. I might re-attempt that in a later article, but for now I’ll just give this abbreviated version-

You have many interests and limited time. Figuring out how to work towards your ambitions while not feeling like you’re treading water is maybe the most delicate and complex dance you’ll need to figure out. But I can’t give easy guidelines here because some things are one and done and others need to be maintained.

Some skills, such as playing an instrument or speaking a foreign language are perishable skills, meaning that if you don’t spend time keeping them up you will lose the ability to execute them at a high level. The same thing goes for athletic skills. Now, you may retain the background knowledge of the skill(s), so if the actual performance of skills isn’t so important to you then you may have some leeway there.

In the case of other larger steps towards expertise, such as earning a degree in a field or holding a job in a field for several years, you could finish up and then move on to the next challenge. In fact some people do “collect” degrees or change jobs every few years. However, I’d imagine that if you cease to put your knowledge into practice that this information would begin to dim as well.


You have to come up with the right formula for pursuing new interests while keeping the skills you’ve already acquired (assuming you wish to).

Option 1- Pick one field and accomplish an objective. Then another in the same field. Repeat until expert level, then move on to another field.

Option 2- Juggle a few interests and alternate accomplishing goals in each until you attain expertise in all. Then pursue other interests. Or don’t.

Option 3- Pick one field to focus on while you merely maintain competence in the others.

Experiment with these various options, feel free to add, subtract, tweak or otherwise mold them to your needs. Pay attention to what seems to work for you and keep doing that until it doesn’t work anymore. Then try something else. These options can work on a micro (daily) scale or a macro (years) scale or something in between. The way you juggle things will be highly dependent on you, your personality and tendencies, and of course your chosen fields of interest. I don’t believe any one set schedule or assortment of rules will work for everyone, so experiment, customize, and have fun along the way!

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, I write these thoughts down because I’m still trying to figure things out for myself. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but keeping these principles in mind has assisted me in my own pursuits to a great degree. Although these are pretty broad suggestions, I do plan to go into more detail in future articles. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any thoughts on polymathy or different ways to pursue it, please leave them in the comments section below. Till next time!

For a Look at Polymaths Working Today

For a Further Explanation of What a Polymath Is

For a Look at One of Our Favorite Fictional Polymaths

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