Da Vinci was a polymath. If that sounds like something terrible, you (like me) probably don’t care for mathematics, but being a polymath has little relation to addition or subtraction. Rather, to be a polymath is to be gifted at a number of things. Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, an inventor, a musician, a sculptor, an architect, and a ton of other things. He was a thinker and a tinker.
He reminds me of one of my roommates from college, Adam Haroff. Adam is a thinker and a tinker as well. He’s a musician, a painter, a woodworker, a computer programmer, a sound technician, and more. But most important to me, he is a friend.
Though it has been years since we shared a room, we’ve stayed close. In college, our friendship was epic. We enjoyed similar things and spurred each other on to achieve great things.
Well, Adam did the achieving part. I like to think that I helped inspire him. But the truth is that I am not a polymath. I am a basic guy with basic interests and rudimentary skills in a few specific areas. And that’s okay.
Probably the best thing that I learned from being roommates to a gifted thinker and tinker was that I can still be great, even if I am not the best.
An author that I like once said that one of the biggest shames of globalization was that people who were good at something stopped doing it because they were not the best. And so, I’ve learned to love my singing even though I am not Elvis or the Beatles. I have learned to love my writing even though I am not Kurt Vonnegut or J. R. R. Tolkien.
Being constantly around someone who is better than you in astonishing ways can either cause you to give up, or challenge you to become better. Which will you do?