How I Polymath

My drive to learn and my commitment ethic are at odds with each other. I follow through on what I start. There are more things I would love to start and see through to completion than I can reasonably accomplish. What can a person with finite resources do to satisfy both needs?

I curate, delegate, and accommodate.

Curation is the art and science of tending a garden of interests to bloom and bear fruit across the seasons.

My interests are diverse. I love finding out how systems work, from mechanical contraptions to organizational behaviour to societies and governments. I like to write poetry, speeches, essays, code ranging from one-off utilities to infrastructure. I enjoy the fine and performing arts, especially when I contribute to a musical performance. I’ve felt a need to understand the causes and work toward solutions to address inequities as long as I can remember. I like to keep in good shape physically, intellectually, and emotionally. I could perhaps fit everything I crave into three or four lives, but I have one just like everybody else.

Like a good investor, I work to maintain a diverse portfolio. I notice patterns from one domain and look for how they might fit in another. It’s not that I refuse to develop a specialization — I have a handful of well mastered skills — but that nothing completely consumes my interest and time. If I load up heavily in one area, I notice others suffering. I make so much time for music, so much for leadership development, so much for activism, so much for technology and make adjustments periodically based on my internal and external environment.

How does one delegate learning and experience?

This is where friends and colleagues take the spotlight. Some people I’ve known for longer than I’m supposed to care to admit write or speak eloquently about their work, and others follow their own set of sources. I make time to regularly keep up with people who write about science fiction,¬†system administration, queer and disability issues, and the management of technology among others. When a topic or issue comes up that I want to investigate in more depth, I start a personal conversation or do some of my own research.

One of my best current sources of breadth is Toastmasters. My club includes people from many backgrounds. Each of us draws from our own lives, interests, and experiences in our prepared and impromptu speeches. As people join, grow in capability, and move on I have my eyes (and ears) opened to many professions, backgrounds, and immigrant experiences. I have difficulty imagining a similar level of diversity among people who passionately share their common interest: in choral groups we tend to discuss music, in technical groups technology, and so on.

Critical to managing my resources is jealously guarding them.

For years, my partner and I set aside one evening a week as inviolable: a dedicated time to unwind and reconnect with each other. No matter who or what came along, it would have to be some other day. Over time we’ve (rarely) come to a mutual agreement to share our commitment with an event or special guest. We’ve also recognized that our individual and mutual needs don’t always wait for the schedule.

These days, I track my commitments and leave space around them. A week full of busy evenings or a weekend packed with events is a rarity planned far in advance, with a recognized benefit for the cost. There are easily a dozen events I’d love to check out every week in July, but with three evening commitments a week I’m swamped. I can catch many of them next year or next month, when my calendar opens up a little.

I’ve got a date with myself this Friday night. I’ve got a book picked out, or I might watch an episode of something. There will be a cat. It’s all part of a busy, fulfilling life.



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