Polymath Imposter Syndrome

TL:DR | A Deep Dive - Explore the unique challenges of imposter syndrome faced by polymaths and strategies to overcome it.


3 min read
Polymath Imposter Syndrome

Now this idea originates from this multi-passionate problem that people all over the "Multidisciplinary Spectrum" have. That being are they actually good at that skill/expertise, or are they an Imposter?

The reason why I am focusing on the polymath level in the spectrum, is that with the lower levels like jack of all trades or generalist. It may actually be that you are not fully up to an expert level in a particular knowledge area. However with polymathy the expectation of expertise is there.


Introduction to Imposter Syndrome

I'm not a doctor or psychologist, so I'll leave it to a refined definition:

Imposter syndrome is the condition of feeling anxious and not experiencing success internally, despite being high-performing in external, objective ways. This condition often results in people feeling like "a fraud" or "a phony" and doubting their abilities. -Betterup

Feeling successful in your field is both an internal and external balance, and the imposter feeling comes from a dissonance of that balance.

Understanding the Polymath

This is something that has been defined over and over again on this blog. However the basics are:

  • 3 or more areas of deep level expertise.
  • A deep craving to learn/curiosity.
  • Contributing in some way to each field of expertise.

Being a polymath is not something that you can do in a short time span. While it may not take 10,000 hours for each subsequent skill/knowledge area. It does take decades to really amass at least 3 areas of expertise.


Imposter Syndrome in Polymaths

Given the unique situation for each individual polymath, it is hard to describe what it is like for each person. Your expertise could range from creative and soft sciences, to more hard science and technology.

Regardless of the discipline however imposter syndrome can arise.

Since there is this stigma against jacks of all trades for not being an expert in their fields (although they certainly can be), that sometimes carries over to the more higher skilled polymaths too. Since being a polymath MEANS you are an expert in 3 or more fields. You shouldn't have to worry about that, but the fear still comes anyways.

Unique Challenges Faced by Polymaths

This idea of "do I really know each of my specialties that deeply?", even when you may have done all of them for a decade.

The one thing to keep in mind is that you go to where you were BECAUSE you know what you are doing.


Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Firstly, do a count of all of the specialties you have. Try to grade yourself on a scale of how deep of knowledge do you believe you had in that field.

A simple scale goes like this:

Novice > Beginner > Intermediate > Adept > Journeyman > Expert > Master

Self-Awareness and Recognition

This is where you have to be honest with yourself, and it is okay to not be as far as you might think you were.

I'm writing to you as if you are a polymath, or a generalist, or even just someone who is multidisciplinary. As the person making this post, it doesn't matter to me what level you are at.

Simply that you do not doubt yourself, and you can push forward.

Utilizing Strengths as a Polymath

One thing that a lot of people, even polymaths, often forget. Is that the power of cross-disciplinary - transcontextual thinking is immense.

It allows you to take into account your knowledge from a previous field, and translate it to scale into a new field. The way I teach/understand swimming for example, gives me a range of that skill: swimming. Which then allows me to compare to a new field, using the scale I already know. Just simply replacing the terms and progression with those found in the new field.


Seeking Support and Community

There are various places you can find others like us. If you find yourself struggling to understand where you are at, and need another multidisciplinary person to talk to. Then you can always reach out to me, or connect with some of the groups out there! Here are some great examples:


Conclusion

Finding your true level may be difficult for some people, as with every discipline there are different speeds of progression. Hard versus soft sciences if you will, or creative skills as well.

However once you do, it will give you a logical perspective that you can grasp to in order to claw yourself out of the imposter syndrome!

Its time to move Forward as an Empowered Polymath!

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