I was one of those few kids who knew what I wanted to do at 7 years old and then stuck with it until my mid-20s (which may not have been a good thing, but I can get into that later). Still, despite my primary calling, I had a lot of interests—which meant I could see myself doing any number of occupations. At one point, I told my parents I wanted to be a forensic chemist; another time, I told my parents I wanted to be a magician. After seeing Harriet the Spy, I wanted to be…whatever Harriet was1.

I saw Spotlight as an adult and immediately wanted to be an investigative reporter (which I guess brings the Harriet the Spy thing full circle). I watched Remember the Titans and wanted to play football. I read about Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathmetician, and I really wanted to be an ancient Greek2. I read about Robert Moses and learned that I never want to live in New York. Don’t get me wrong—I understood the difference between media and reality. I read a lot of comics, but I never really wanted to be a superhero3. What I didn’t understand (and still don’t) is the the difference between “I find that interesting” and “I want to devote my life to understanding that thing4.”

But maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not brilliant enough to be a polymath, but I’m at least enough of a reader to learn about a lot of different topics. I may never be as accomplished as Benjamin Franklin or Francis Bacon or Mary Shelley or Marie Curie5, but I’ll be able to be interested in everything people like them do.

And, at the very least, that gives me more things to enjoy in life.

  1. Really, almost half of my potential careers can be traced back to a book, movie, or TV show I really liked. This…has not changed.
  2. Even then, I knew my limits as a mathmetician.
  3. Well, not more than other kids, anyway.
  4. Call it a healthy curiosity gone amok, call it a vulnerability to obsessive tendencies, but my intense interest in a lot of things ended up working out for me in the end.
  5. Fair warning: I’m still going to try.

The poor man’s polymath

It’s virtue to be interested in everything, even if you never pick a vocation.