The unlikelihood of polymaths

Thinking of polymaths like Thomas Young naturally leads to thinking of human achievement. Though most people do not  become wildly successful intellectuals or athletes, most do have a job or something they do regularly.  What determines success in each individuals field?

Bill Gates has become successful in computers and business and has undoubtedly spent countless hours at his craft. Is the path that Bill Gates took to success the same as the worlds top Halo players? Do the best musicians, athletes, artists, scientists, and C.E.O.’s all have similar prescriptions for success?

I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book  Outliers.  Gladwell list several examples of  people who have become sort of figureheads for success. People such as hockey players, musicians, lawers, and businessmen.  He shows how most all these people were given unusual opportunities that provided them with more practice time, and that they happened to become masters of their field by the time their industry was starting to boom. He states that in order to gain mastery a person needs to put in 10000 hours of practice. To give perspective on the 10000 hours rule, it would take a person about 5 years to become a master at their job given a 40 hour work week with no vacation.

He also show that success is as much about our heritage and situation as it is about our ambition. This isn’t a book review and i don’t want to give too many spoilers. However, Gladwell does make some very persuasive arguments about the links between heritage, family, time, socioeconomic factors, intensity, luck, and success.

I’m currently going to school for an engineering degree, working, and attempting to teach my self the guitar and piano, writing, and programming. I hope to gain at least a decent aptitude in most of these things as I fell they will help my career if not make me an overall better person. However, School and work take up the majority of time and it is simply not possible to spend eight hours days on everything that I would like to. Add in additional time needed for social events, family, and the occasional bouts of sloth the chance that I will ever be able to achieve mastery in one of these things, let alone all of them, is pretty slim.

I suppose the best thing a person can do is try. Although it is not very likely that i’ll ever create a masterpiece it is still a good idea to try. Becoming a master is unnecessary for most work, and having a basic skill is usually sufficient for most applications. There is also the possibilities that things are more interrelated than they appear and  some day may combine into something beautiful.

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