“Jack of all trades, master of none”; an insult warning you that by trying to tick many boxes, you fail to master any. For people who have multiple different interests, its sometimes tempting to dabble in many different ventures, diluting your focus. Whilst this can hold you back at times, we’re frequently shown examples of people throughout history, who whilst famous in one field, were also greatly-accomplished in another. Their example suggests that once you’ve mastered self-discipline, your attention can be re-directed with great success. Beyond self-mastery history also shows us many discoveries or accomplishments in an area such as engineering, which would not have been possible without an insight from an area typically considered opposite. I was reminded of this recently through music producer Quincy Jones’ interview with Vulture where he called out Paul Allen as being a talented musician “who sings and plays just like Hendrix”. Praise indeed for the co-founder of Microsoft.
“Music is emotion and science”- Quincy Jones
Let’s take a look through the history books to understand some of the most successful cross-discipline thinkers.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous and celebrated artists of all time. Responsible for both the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, his name has long outlived his body. But here’s the thing about Leonardo Da Vinci; not only was he a remarkable artist, he was also a remarkable scientist and mathematician. An exploration into his iconic sketch, ‘The Vitruvian Man’, shows you how he was able to demonstrate a deep understanding of the relationship between anatomy and geometry, in an ink drawing. A drawing which also pulls in considerations from the worlds of philosophy and religion.
What else, you ask? Da Vinci was fascinated by aspects of science and is credited with thinking up early versions of: the helicopter, anemometer (measures wind), a giant crossbow and scuba gear as well as increasing the accuracy of the clock. Combining his knowledge of science and art also allowed him to have significant impact as an architect, shaping the criteria for this profession as we understand it today.
Then there’s the physique of his ‘Vitruvian Man’ which is understood to be based on da Vinci’s own body, suggesting he was athletic. Oh and here’s another thing; da Vinci was a vegetarian. Anyone who is vegetarian to some degree now-a-days can begin to understand the radicalism of that diet in his time, where meat was considered the ultimate in culinary luxury.
His bio could read:
Leonardo Da Vinci: Artist / Architect / Biologist / Mathematician / Inventor
Benjamin Franklin is one of those names lots of people know for different reasons. Before I read about him in depth I thought he was a past President of the United States. He wasn’t. He was however one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the US, credited with helping secure the country’s independence from Britain, all that while ago! So Ben Franklin was a Politician. What else?
Franklin’s first professional role was as a printer, editor and contributing writer of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Having discovered that his overall influence and profitability would be greatly increased by controlling supply, he revolutionised the postal system of the time and became the first postmaster general of the United States Postal Office.
Beyond his day jobs, Franklin is credited with inventing the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove. His experiments, generally inspired by daily observations, included theories on oil viscosity and even urine catheters.
As well as his practical achievements, I’d argue that Franklin was a philosopher. Beginning aged 20 he set himself the following rules (summarised): be frugal, be truthful, be focused and finally ‘speak no ill of no man’. He also adopted vegetarianism, in part for financial reasons, believing in its moral and health benefits.
His bio could read:
Benjamin Franklin: Journalist / Editor / Politician / Physician / Linguist / Philosopher
Known for being the Prime Minister of Great Britain during the war period, Churchill represents a (slightly ironically) ‘golden age’ for British politics, where the common enemy was outside the country. Victory during WWII is credited in no small part to the decisions made by Churchill, despite often being pressured by his party to surrender to the Germans. During this period, Churchill delivered many critical speeches to his country who listened with intent as the lives and existence of them and their families hung in the balance.
His role as prime minister came after years of political and military influence. His positions included Home Secretary, Battalion Commander and Secretary of State for War. His success though, both before during and after his role as prime minister, can be partly credited to his accomplishments as an author and correspondent. His literacy output included a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs, and several histories. In 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Before getting into the art of writing, Churchill was interested in painting and painted hundreds of landscapes using oil paint. Some of his works won awards anonymously, having been submitted under a pseudonym. Then beyond art, literature and politics, Churchill was also fascinated by physics as revealed in his science writings which explored the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and evolution. Named the Greatest Briton
of all time in a 2002 poll, Churchill is widely recognised as one of the most influential people in British history.
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it” – Winston Churchill
His bio could read:
Winston Churchill: Politician / Author / Economist / War Correspondent / Influencer
So if you thought having a ‘portfolio career’ was a modern phenomenon, how wrong you were. Above are just some of the household names who’s influence and ability in their lead field was greatly enhanced by an interest in a field seemingly unrelated. Some of us find the sciences infinitely more fascinating than the arts, whereas others find much greater pleasure in craft and creating. To see skills and knowledge in these brackets though is of course a product of our own making and perhaps a little more cross-disciplinery exploration could open up new avenues. Below are the potential LinkedIn Bios of some more modern women and men who are redefining themselves in the public eye.
Maria Sharapova: Tennis Player / CEO / Willy Wonka / Author
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Actor / Body-Builder / Governor of California / Salesman
Terry Crews: NFL Player / Actor / Furniture Designer / Artist
Gwyneth Paltrow: Actress / Dietician / Editor
P. Diddy: Rapper / Producer / CEO / Marketeer
Karlie Kloss: Super model / Computer Programmer / Presenter / Philanthropist
Lexy is a writer, DJ and marketing professional living in London. She is a gemini and a feminist who loves coffee and leather trousers. Instagram.com/lexonthedecks