As a creative woman in midlife career change (or as I prefer to think of it, midlife adaptation), I’ve been reading about other people that consider themselves polymaths, multi-talented, multi-passionate or perhaps the older and less glamorous epithet, “Jack of all trades” with the shameful words whispered after, “and master of none.”
That last, choked, damning phrase sums up the fear that plagues the multi-passionate. The fear that other people, the normal people, in business or the workplace won’t understand that polymaths really can master several skill sets. I didn’t say “dabble” I said “master”. Polymaths are often very curious people, creatives that don’t see the boundaries between tasks or subjects that perhaps other do. The definition of a "polymath" is a person whose expertise extends across diverse fields of knowledge.
Not everyone will relate to this example, but as a mother I see a correlation between having more than one career or industry skill set and having more than one child.
When I had my second child, I didn’t say, “Sorry! I already have one child to love. There isn’t room for two of you.”
That’s how I see adding a career.
Polymaths don’t need to send the second, or third, or fifth interest or skill set packing, saying “I’m all set, thanks! I can only love and successfully nurture one career.”
I don't really like to use the term "career change" for what I am experiencing, because I feel the more apt description would be "career addition" or "career adaptation". I'm adding a career (or two), not switching them out. I'm listening to what others need and adapting to the changing times.
Yong Kang Chan, the “Nerdy Creator”, has written a perceptive and encouraging post in support of the polymath at: https://www.nerdycreator.com/blog/being-polymath/. In his post, he lists the joys and challenges of being multi talented. A polymath might derive pleasure from learning and pursuing new activities but may experience discomfort when an employer assumes they change careers because they lack dedication.
While I am not necessarily claiming to be a proper polymath, I love to immerse myself in projects that engage my creativity, love of research, and attention to detail.
I have spent the better part of my life with both feet firmly planted in the fine art world, but a few years ago, when I woke to the knowledge that I have usable skills in the digital world, I started to feel awkward. Would others accept that I could, in all honesty. be passionate about more than one immersive career? How would I present myself? How would I explain the connections between all the things that I like to do and learn about?
I had to sit down and make sense of myself first. It didn’t take that long. My art forms are all analytical and orderly. I am a professional, classically-trained realist painter, a digital marketing assistant, and a fiction writer. In general, the things I get excited about all have to do with details, structures and analysis.
I’m happy to see a change in hiring trends in the marketing sector. I have filled out several applications and written cover letters with specific questions, all of which asked things like, “How did you specifically solve a problem for a past client?” or “What management style do you prefer and why?”, even humorous questions that still give employers insight like, “If you are in control of the office music playlist, what station would you choose and why?”
I like these subtle changes in the sorts of industries that I operate in, because they show more of a concern with how a person will fit in with a team and solve problems and create solutions cooperatively, than what precise platform skills or college degrees they come with. Polymaths know we can learn new skills quickly, it’s the way we put together ideas that a company needs to appreciate.
Consider hiring a polymath because:
A. Polymaths can see the big picture and connect ideas more readily.
B. Polymaths are often highly motivated internally. We don’t need micromanagement when we are genuinely engaged in a project.
C. Polymaths are natural problem solvers. Again, we’re the kids that learned many skills and probably sat around with logic puzzle books when we weren’t busy outlining a business plan or making art.
D. Polymaths are adaptable. If we like something, we are happy to learn more about it.
Although we are all used to hearing the first part of the “Jack of all trades” quote, the full quote is slightly more open-minded. It’s not brilliantly supportive, but still, it should be used more often. Remember, would-be employers, “A Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”