How do you become a polymath?

The difference between polymaths and people like me, people who are just interested in too many subjects, is mastery. Polymaths become masters in a bunch of fields, like Leonardo da Vinci did.

But to become a polymath, you can’t chase just any subject. As cool as it might be to know everything there is to know about the shrimping business, that won’t add to your street cred as a polymath.

To become a polymath, you probably need to gain expert status in at least three separate academic subjects like math, science, politics, philosophy, economics, art, or maybe even some psychology nowadays.

My thought is that you should probably try to pick one deeper topic within each of those subjects to really own, instead of trying to get a general idea and appreciation for each of those broad subjects. Like for math, instead of trying to learn everything there is to know about math, you might focus on statistics as it applies to population control, something like that.

I’m not sure that’s going to make you a polymath automatically. Da Vinci didn’t specialize in one particular part of art – he tackled them all: painting, drawing, sculpture, and so on. I do think, though, that starting with one and diving into it deeply is a better strategy for gaining mastery than trying to focus on all of them at once, at least at the beginning.

Once you gain expert status in one topic, you can use that knowledge and reputation and what you’ve learned about mastery to transfer into other topics. Using da Vinci as an example again, he got into anatomy because he wanted to learn how to paint and sculpt body parts better. That approach makes sense to me because it draws on the motivations you already have and creates a web of knowledge to keep everything held together.

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