Is it possible to have two loves, both equally cherished, without jealousy?
In our society, this is illegal. You can only have one (legal) love. But what about other pursuits, like our work? I think being professionally polygamous is often equally frowned upon. We’re supposed to have one specialty. One niche. And perhaps a micro-niche on top of that.
I think this type of narrowly defined niching leads to serious imbalance because in reality, all things are interconnected.
I’ve decided to be polygamous in my career, having commitments to multiple loves.
Professionally, I write about and create products related to self development (my first love). And now I’ve started to pursue writing about bodyweight exercise and am in the process of creating a product to help people become fit without going to the gym (my second love).
I love both of these paths equally. In fact, I don’t see them as necessarily separate and distinct. They are simply different expressions of my purpose.
Within my personal, non-business pursuits, I also have two marriages: one to music and the other to martial arts. So far, they’re both okay with that, and no jealous brawls have ensued.
A lot of people will tell you that that’s not okay. You have to be hyper-focused, they say. You have to make a choice. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. (To be honest, I’ve never understood this saying. What’s the point of having cake without eating it?)
I think that’s bullshit. You can find a way to integrate your various interests, without any one of them getting jealous. But it requires a serious paradigm-shift. One that moves from separation and exclusivity to integration and unity. It’s about finding the connections and similarities, not simply the differences and disparate qualities.
This is important if you want to learn the art of…
Living two lives in one
Unsuspecting journalist by day, dashing superhero by night. That would be cool, but not exactly what I’m talking about here.
If you want to master the art of living two lives in one, you must embrace the path of the polymath, the person that excels at many things. Not just a jack of all trades and master of none, but a master of many pursuits. Someone who seems to excel at so many things that it almost seems like she has superhuman powers.
I’ve been experimenting with a way to do this that anyone can learn from. It’s a habit called embedding.
This is a concept I learned from gymnastics strength training. It’s not uncommon for gymnasts to embed different types of training within one workout. A simple bodyweight movement on the rings could incorporate dynamic active flexibility, maximal strength training, skill development, balance, coordination, and mental (focus) training, all at the same time. It’s these types of movements that are incredibly powerful when it comes to their practice because they’re able to incorporate many different types of training at once. Since a gymnast needs to develop a large number of physical proficiencies, embedded training is highly optimal.
Borrowing from gymnastic training, I’ve started incorporating this approach in my personal fitness, but I’ve also found that it can be applied elsewhere.
One way I’ve done this is with hiking. If my wife and I go on a hike together that incorporates or embeds a lot of other things at the same time. We’re not just exercising together, we’re spending quality time together, and getting in touch with nature. Say we’re both interested in learning a new language; we could utilize that time to practice together, embedding yet another activity. If I’m hiking alone, I can embed walking meditation as well.
Another way to incorporate embedding is by using triggers. Every time I open up WordPress to start writing, I create a mental trigger to remind myself to be mindful while I write. After a few weeks of practicing this, it starts to become automatic. Now, I’ve just embedded mindfulness practice as a part of my writing.
These are just two opportunities for using action more meaningfully and being more effective. The more you explore this concept, the more you’ll find ways to make use of it.
If you look closely, you’ll find that one benefit of pursuing multiple interests is…
Often the greatest innovations come from the most unexpected intersections. The more you can find these uncommon connections within the various loves or arts you practice, the more you’ll find that doing one benefits the other.
For example, in martial arts I’ve learned that playing the drums has given me an advantage in knowing the importance of rhythm. Because I know the differences in timing, cadence, and broken rhythm, it’s been easier for me to incorporate this awareness when sparring. I’m able to incorporate this experience to make me a better martial artist. Practicing self-development has also made me a better martial artist, because I know the importance of going with myself and self-empowerment. Reversely, martial arts has improved my practice of self-development by giving me a physical, palpable measurement of how well I am staying present and conscious.
I could continue illustrating the different ways the paths I’ve chosen are interrelated. There are many obvious connections, but also a lot of uncommon connections and benefits that can be found when a closer look is taken.
What all of this comes to down to is…
The importance of integration
The polygamous (or polymath) life is about integration. Without it, rifts and divisions will poison the well. This whole idea ultimately leads to integration and breaking down the boundaries between the different activities in our lives. Sure, we could aim for balance between work and life, but I think it’s better to obliterate that distinction entirely. They should be one and the same.
Our lives aren’t meant to be compartmentalized, neatly divided portions of time allocated to specific isolated activities. Life isn’t meant to be lead in a linear way like that.
I think the more we can break down those boundaries, embed and integrate the various, & seemingly disparate aspects of our lives, the more we can find freedom.
Our work shouldn’t have to be distinct from our recreation. Our health shouldn’t be seen as separate from our relationships. Our passions shouldn’t be separate from our contribution.
Whenever we do one thing, we do many. The goal of life then is not to see how well you can partition, label and taxonomize. That leads to separation, disparity, disconnection and suffering.
The aim of the master of life is to galvanize, unify and integrate to the point where you can no longer tell the difference between one pursuit and the next.
photo courtesy of eqqman
Dave Doolin says
I can definitely relate, having competence in several areas: carpentry, IT, programming, engineering.
Sometimes, hard to explain to people the value in being able to “get things done” when the focus is on resume buzzwords!
Adam K says
I totally agree its tough have multiple minds and many interests, but necessary to embrace them. Nice article keep up the good work.
James Schipper says
I have a post I’m working on about a similar subject. Some see it as a disadvantage not to be a complete master of some particular subject. I’m not adverse to “mastering” any particular thing, but there is just so much I want to see, do, and learn.
It is quite possible to be good at a number of things at once — better than most — even if one doesn’t achieve Olympic-level mastery of a single subject.
Nathalie Lussier says
Yes! Not only is it possible to live two lives, but I think it’s necessary. Pushing down our different loves and interests, either personally or professionally is actually doing you a disservice. Oh and your clients too. ;)
I love how you’re starting to branch out, even if it might not seem connected to other people’s mind – it is because it’s all stemming from you. :)
Bamboo Forest - PunIntended says
I definitely echo your sentiments here.
I’ve been an athlete my whole life. I study martial arts, I play basketball, I surf. Recently, though, I’ve started practicing Iyengar yoga. A practice that’s amazing at creating inner stillness and focus of mind. I’ve only found that yoga has not only led to me having a clearer mind and greater self-discipline: I believe its made me a better writer too. Anything that makes the mind clearer and decreases stress, makes one a more erudite writer. Brain power = better writing.
Very creative, unusual and interesting thoughts, thank you.
I also think that combining several average skills can be more efficient and innovative than a single and focussed high level skill.
(example: movie maker and user interface designer)
When it comes down to it, I think it’s all about exploration…..inner and outer exploration. Constant experimenting. I definitely don’t think we need to limit ourselves to one career pursuit and even if you do that, that’s fine, however, I think the people who are most happy have a balance of other activities, hobbies and interests. Too much of one thing is well…..too much!
A few thoughts.
In Success Built to Last the authors found that the enduringly successful aren’t balanced at all – and they often have many interests.
Wild analogies and strange intersections are often the provocation for creativity. Borrowing Brilliance is good on this.
Love. It is possible to use friendship rather than marriage as the model – exclusivity isn’t often a problem then (except in our childhood where some people rate who is their first best friend, second best friend and so on).
I think we can achieve a unity of many lives and interests – though it’s specialisation that is usually promoted.
Thanks for the post.
Amelia Jane says
Just last night I was reassuring my friend to go with her instincts and comparing it to spinning poi – you become more aware of your body and the poi so you learn to move with them and go where they want to go, which trains you to listen more to your body and your instinct when it comes to emotions as well. Martial arts and spinning poi are similar when it comes to self-development, perhaps!
This is such a great post, and definitely makes me feel less guilty for trying to pursue many different avenues of interest; now to learn to excel at them…
Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist says
This “embedding” concept is interesting. Seems to be like multitasking, but without the part that screws you up. I.e. integrating only things that make sense to be integrated.
I totally agree upon the advantage of uncommon connections. This is it what I see as an advantage of being “deliberately dilettante”, too: Instead of being an expert in one micro niche, know a lot about a lot of different things and be the guy that makes the connections nobody else would be able to identify. Combining workout and personal development for example makes a lot of sense sense.
Great post, Jonathan!
Mike Stankavich says
Jonathan, you raise some great points. Being one dimensional can be very limiting. If you tightly focus on a single specialty, you both put yourself at risk of demand disappearing for your one thing, and you miss out on the uncommon connections.
I really like the embedding concept. I’ll draw from that idea as I look for ways to incorporate deliberate practice into my life.
Jai kai - SharingSuccess.TV says
Wow… excellent post Jonathan. I absolutely agree with the idea of integration and having multiple passions. It allows for more awareness, mind maps(neurological pathways) and creativity.
I have integrated my passions for learning and teaching yoga, martial arts, music, hiking and language… I could practice these arts separately but one of my greatest joys is leading yoga retreats in the mountains where we as a group
hike, practice yoga & meditation infused with martial arts, learn some basic Sanskrit and chant with music…oh soooooo much fun.
I looking forward to our interview and hope to talk about this a little more…
Joshua M says
What a great post. I have been a long time reader and enjoyed your work but this really resonated with me. It pretty well describes how I try to live my own life too. Although I use the term Renaissance Man more since people seem to have a better upfront understanding of that specific context; I will have to start using polymath since I like it for the historical and one word use. Keep the great work and looking forward to seeing how Bodyweight Renegade works out too.
Travis Webster-Booth says
I completely agree that it is the intersections and uncommon connections between apparently disparate areas that generate wonderful results. I must say, however, that the idea of courting too many “loves” in my life has often prevented me from properly attending to any one of them. Every time we “pick up” another love, we are effectively kissing goodbye the time we might have spent with a previous love.
My point would be that love requires time and attention. Perhaps sometimes being polyamorous (in any sense you wish to interpret it) causes you to lose out on the some of the big wins that might have been possible with a bit more focus- the leap from “jack of all trades” to “multiple aces” is a vast one.
As usual, a thought-provoking post. Always appreciate your unique angle!
Nhan-Esteban Khuong, L.Ac. says
Thought provoking post.
Western ideology tends to separate and compartmentalize things, including people. Thus the tendency to emphasize niches and specialization. This approach certainly has it’s strengths and benefits, but it’s also important to step back and really take everything in as a whole — integration as you mentioned.
This is one of the concepts I really like about Eastern thought. The emphasis on systems and interconnectedness. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, the body is seen as garden rather than a machine, a dynamic living system whose whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.
There are so many facets to people and life and it’s important to express them.
Great topic! Thanks for the plug :)
Victoria Vives says
Jonathan! This post is AMAZING!!!!
Thank you for mentioning me :)
I love how you apply the term EMBEDDING. So perfect!
I very much appreciate your self-development background, because it really makes you a better martial artist. I rarely find that aspect in other people I spar with, and it really makes a difference. Martial arts has such a great self-development potential.
I enjoyed it reading it very very much. Awesome job!
By the way, that “cake” thing was hilarious! Hahaha! If there is cake I eat it, that’s for sure! Lol!!!!
Pace Smith says
Right on, Jonathan. I definitely learned this from my experience with being polygamous (well, polyamorous). All three of us lived together and were each married to each other. It was important to make time for each pair-relationship, but we spent lots of our time with all three of us together, talking, playing games, or consuming visual media.
I bet you weren’t expecting anyone to take your post so literally, but I can definitely back you up that embedding is a very important skill for anyone with multiple loves — of any sort. (:
Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com says
It’s the T model that people talk about. Have one thing that you are really interested in or two and that you are great at. And have lots of small things that you have a tiny interest in but are capable at.
It’s great that you can get away from tunneling yourself into a niche. The magic really happens when you find ways to combine these integrated passions that you are new an expert at. You can really whip out some innovative ideas and help people in ways never thought possible.
I definitely want to second Travis’ comments though. It is very easy to get distracted when you have many passions. How you deal with this time management will determine whether you are a jack of all trades and master of none, or a truly integrated polyamorist (is that even a word???).
I’ve seen Tim Ferriss choose they just do whatever piques your interest at the time and forget the rest and it seems to work for him but I think some level of maintenance of passions shoud be involved if one truly loves them, just to keep all the progress you’ve already worked so hard for.
Good post Jonathan. It got me thinking!
Nacho Jordi says
Amen, amen, amen. Specialization is simply not natural.
You made me remind something funny I once read: one always excels in the second discipline he’s most fond of (maybe because being too anxious to succeed damages our performance). I don’t know if it true (I want to think it is not :D), but in my case at least, the fact is that developing varied activities improves your performance in all of them, and prevents you from becoming too obsessed.
Tracy Chapman says
I love this concept. I have many interests and have been trying to decide either if I should pick one and “do that first so I can focus on it” or how to divide up my time so I can give some attention to each one, which never seems to work.
This article has given me a lot of great insight on how to best get the life I really want – how to “walk many paths at once”.
Thanks Sid. It’s funny how the universe drops me little hints through you and Leo on Zen Habits, and others. I’m just struggling to set up an online business coaching small business bloggers. It’s a struggle because I’m supposed to be finding a ‘real job.’
What I’ve found has been really strange. Setting up this business seems to be something I have to do. The more I accomplish and get ready to roll, the more I find myself able to face the prospect of getting a day job. Whereas before I procrastinated about one and was scared by the other.
Tomas Stonkus says
Yea, I used to think that one should only focus on one thing only. Yet, I would end up seeing many other successful people leading a multidimensional lives.
The it hit me, that I do not have to settle for less and that I can have a multidimensional life as well. Right now, I am a writer, athlete, finance expert, explorer, philosopher and so on.
Life reminds me of working out. If work the same muscle over and over again, it will get tired and you will get bored. However, if you attack multiple muscles at a time, you are able to build a body that is integrated.
Same way with your brain. If it foes only one thing over and over again, it will stop responding to the stimulus. If we engage is different activities, then we will stimulate our lives from a variety of different angles, which will help us grow and understand the world as a complete whole as opposed to separate pieces.
I believe you should be good at more than one thing and completely embrace that. I’m not saying not to pick one niche but instead to give an area a chance and then go for it.
Learning to master a few things can increase your life in many ways now and in the future.
I feel that’s what the message from this post was about.
What do you take from this?
Alex Gibbons says
Hey Jonathan, thought provoking post, thanks.
I totally agree that specialisation is not a sustainable strategy. Life is integrated and specialisation takes us into a more fragmented position which, for me at least, is not the way I want to go.
The truly great polymath Buckminster Fuller had a lot to say about this so go check him out if you haven’t. He was way ahead of his time and believed that specialisation would ultimately lead humanity to extinction if we don’t get our shit together.
I could write a lot about this but a couple of quotes from Bucky’s wikiquotes.org page is probably better:
“On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate”
“Unity is plural and, at minimum, is two.”
“One of humanity’s prime drives is to understand and be understood. All other living creatures are designed for highly specialized tasks. Man seems unique as the comprehensive comprehender and co-ordinator of local universe affairs.”
Ryan Hanzel says
Exceptional post bud, I think that integrating several passions into your day is common for many people, finding a way to be proficient at all of them is the tricky part. Finding way’s to improve on this through repetitive conditioning is an excellent way. I really enjoyed your post and your view on things!
Lex | uKaizen.com says
I must say I agree with this post, mainly because it’s one of the things I’m doing at the moment. It may be a tough route to try and excell in more than one area especially if their totally unrelated, but it’s usually the hardest route that you gain most from. Interesting read, keep ’em coming :)
Lex | uKaizen.com
yes i agree, few years ago when my friends used to tell me that i am doing lots of unrelated stuff i used to reply saying that i am doing things that appear to be unrelated but they all help me reach the same goal
Craig Thomas says
Nice post. I love being quirky and knowing little bits about many different things I’ve tried on a random occurance – definitely makes great conversation starters.
You make me think of the 80:20 rule; the principle that you get 80% of the reward with 20% of the effort.
I believe if you truly want to receive 100% of the reward/benefit from any one ‘Love’/’Passion’/’Endeavor’, you can’t have more than one love.
But if your like myself, I can live with 80% of the reward/benefit from any one ‘Love’/’Passion’/’Endeavor’, I can and do have multiple ‘Loves’/’Passions’/’Endeavors’ all being serviced virtually in parallel. I also believe I am happier for it. Never spending more than 20% of my time on any one pursuit, keeps them all fresh and interesting.
I recognize I will never experience perfection with anything that I pursue… but who really does?
Albert Ciuksza Jr. says
This is a great articulation of what I’ve been thinking for years. When I was on my own, I would integrate this stuff as much as humanly possible. The question is being able to do it while working a 9-to-5, where you really have to focus on what they’re paying you for.
Iyabo Asani, The Entrepreneur Success Coach says
Wonderful! I believe that Daniel Pink in his book, A whole new mind, would consider this “symphony.” Integration is critical to business in today’s market and I cannot agree with you more.
Gianpaolo Pietri | The Optimalists says
Very well said and well written Jonathan. Love the idea of embedding, as well as the term. It goes very well with what you describe. As an architect, I have used that term often when describing a design concept to a client. Architects often have to integrate and ’embed’ a great variety of theoretical concepts, existing conditions, and technologies in order to create a project that is as efficient and yet as aesthetic as possible.
But it had never necessarily occured to me to think about my personal interests, relationships, and endeavors in that way. After reading this post, it makes absolutely perfect sense to do so. As a result, i will more actively consider how to integrate all the different things I am involved with. If there is something I believe in it’s in engaging in all the things that move you.
And now I see how they can all be brought together based on the common ground they each share.
Arsene Hodali says
Everyday I tell myself that it’s okay to do what do (dancing, photography, & personal development) even when they have nothing in common.
Everyone always talks about niche this, niche that, and as you said “specialize”. Then people quote Gladwell “if you want to be good at something spend 10,000 hours on it, thus the only reasonable thing is to only focus on one thing”.
But I have found integration between them. Through dancing you learn how to entertain people, improve presentation, and you learn a hell of a lot about timing. Through photography you learn to notice what others don’t, and see art in everything. And this has all helped with my writing and personal development. Then personal development, especially minimization helped with photography and dancing, because I learned to focus on what truly mattered.
As an artist you learn that everything is interconnected. If fact most artists struggle with finding something to specialize in, truly specialize in… and they never do. Photography, Design, Music… how many great artists combine these for example?
I truly congratulate you on this, and you’ve proven once again why you have one of the few (10) blogs I read.