The Polymath Talk

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Jerrod and I

 Below is the text of my Launch Out St. Louis presentation. I’ve had a few people request I post it somewhere. Although it is written specifically to be delivered verbally, hopefully it makes sense as text. The cadence and inflection were an important component of the delivery. If you’d like the full experience, the video is here.


Pondering Purpose: Perspectives of a polymath paralyzed by potential and possibilities

(this presentation is brought to you by the letter “u”)


As a young child I woke up at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning. I would bolt out of bed and sit under the glow of the television, eating my cinnamon toast and watching cartoons. After solving crimes as I rode with the gang in the Mystery Machine, I’d get together with my super friends to battle the legion of doom. I’d grab a picnic basket with Yogi before running through the desert with the Roadrunner. This life was full of adventure…it was a good life. A simple life. And then… then I would find myself in space. Zooming into the earth, I discovered a city built on stilts. In those houses in the clouds, a car would fly by. This car held one of my favorite families. The Jetsons.

Even as a young boy, my head was in the clouds. I love looking to the future and imagining the possibilities of all the things that could be. In the world of George, Jane, Judy, and Elroy, not only were there flying cars, but robots would brush your teeth or clean your house. People moved from room to room by being sucked through large tubes, often while a machine dressed them for the day. There were moving sidewalks. Kids could actually talk to each other through their televisions. The future was Rosie, so to speak.

As enamored as I was with this shiny future, I always felt sorry for George. It wasn’t because his boss yelled at him so much or because he was accident prone. No, I pitied George because of the work he had to do. George’s job was to push a button. One button. Sure, he might have been good at his job, but that’s all his job was. Even sitting on the floor in my batman underoos wearing my Chewbacca house shoes under the glimmer of that cathode ray tube, I knew I wasn’t wired that way.

When I grew up, I wanted to be a duck, flying freely through the sky and floating lazily on the ponds. I wanted to be an astronaut, exploring space. Discovering new life and new civilizations. I would be an inventor and automotive engineer, shepherding in a new era of technology. I wanted to be a marine biologist, sailing on the Calypso and diving to the unexplored depths of the seas. These weren’t phases I went through, I wanted to be all of them at the same time. You see, we aren’t all wired to be like George.


I’m a polymath. A polymath is someone who passionately pursues many different things. It’s different than ADD, but there are similarities. If you ask my community of friends what it is that I do, you’re likely to hear that I’m a photographer. Someone else might tell you I’m a pastor, or maybe a missionary. A different person might tell you I’m a writer. Someone might say I work in information security. So which is it? All of the above. That’s what a polymath looks like.

All my life people have asked me what I want to be when I grow up. People are still asking. As if I have to pick. As if there is one thing. To tell you the truth, I still haven’t decided and I know now that I never will. I’m perpetually undecided.

From my perspective, I was paralyzed. Those infinite possibilities have that effect on a polymath. Our cultural narrative tells all of us we should find one thing to do. Find that one thing and master it. They tell us that is the secret to finding value, meaning, and significance in life. The world tells you to find that one button to push and then push it with all of your might for all of your days. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell observed that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to be world-class at any one thing. But what if I’m not wired that way? What if you’re not? When I focus on just one thing, something tragic happens. I’m fighting against my built-in programming. If I sell my camera to buy a typewriter, a piece of my soul dies. When that happens, I’m not as good a writer. Because I’m a polymath, I need the interplay between all these different disciplines in order for any of them to be good. That tension must exist, it provides the spark for creativity and the fuel for the journey.

My perspective had to change. Paralyzed is no way to live. But what can I give up? What one thing should I choose? I wasted years this way.

When I quit my day job to be a writer, I experienced the longest dry spell of my life. When I stopped writing to focus on photography, words burned in my head and in my hands, consuming me until they found an outlet.

It was only when I accepted myself as I am–the way that I was knit together by our creator–it was only then that I discovered the joy of being a polymath. Within the tension created by balancing writing, photography, preaching, and information security, I found life. Exhilaration. Instead of feeling pulled in a thousand different directions, I looked for the common thread uniting them all. In this new exploration, I discovered the beautiful journey my life was designed to be. I became unstuck. I became free.

Perspective. That common thread I found was that our lives have significance and meaning. We were each created for a purpose. Everything I do points to that truth in some way.

That first step…the one that took years to discover…is acceptance.

To step into a life of meaning, we begin by accepting the beautiful tapestry that we each are. You were designed to shine, but first you have to step away from the things that hinder. For me, it was that big button George Jetson pushed his whole life. I had to stop looking for that button that would complete me and instead look at myself. I had to discover my own unique shape and then accept it.

I had to accept my polymathedness. I had to understand my own composition and trust the one who created me. I had to accept that I’ll never be the best at any one thing, even though I could be pretty good at many. That was a difficult truth to swallow, but I found freedom on the other side. I discovered room to flourish. A space to be me. That freedom to explore flows from self-acceptance. Instead of trying to be like someone else or living up to someone else’s expectation I learned to trust God with the way He wired me.

All my life I’ve heard it repeated: you can be anything you want to be. The uncomfortable truth is, you can’t. You see, we are each uniquely designed. We’re customized. When we accept that the possibilities aren’t truly infinite, we begin to understand that the options still left on the table mesh with our internal composition. Instead of mourning the loss of all you can’t be, embrace the satisfaction of doing what you were created to do.

Perspectives. Acceptance.

Moving forward into a life of meaning, even after we have accepted our own uniqueness, is still a struggle. For me, even when I accept that I can juggle multiple gifts, I still think I need to focus on a single one. I’m a high achiever, I want to be the best at what I do. Over the years I found myself turning opportunities down because I feared failure. I feared I would never be the best. I sat on the sidelines, waiting for the day I would discover my true calling. Waiting to discover what I could be the best at. Eventually, I found it. I overcame that paralysis when I understood that the only thing I could be the best at is being me. When that clicked into place, I found even more freedom. Freedom to truly explore my own unique design and purpose.

This is integration.

We naturally tend toward elimination instead of integration. We try to cut out all the little things in our lives that don’t contribute directly to our dream. But all of us here are human, and humans are complex.

In my journey, when I focused solely on writing, my perspective was that my day job was hindering me. It was my big obstacle, so I eliminate it. What I found out, though, is that income helps. Later, I thought photography took me away from graduate studies. Public speaking interferes with my ministry. My struggles with physical pain and clinical depression undermine everything. But I learned to integrate it all into my message and my mission. It is all part of my story, and that story is glorious. Through everything I do the core message remains…life has purpose. Life has meaning. I believe that. And I believe in you.

My words, photos, ministry, and entire life are crafted to point to the truth about our creator and ourselves. We were custom crafted by a glorious and beautiful creator who loves us very much. As we learn to embrace this, we learn to step boldly into all we were designed to do. There is nothing as satisfying as integrating all you are into all you do.

Even our obstacles. Those things that seem to so painfully hinder us…lack of money, lack of time, lack of support, sickness, loss… all those things shape us. They refine us if we let them. The struggles give our lives focus. They help us prioritize. As we persistently push through the pain, we emerge stronger and wiser. If our perspective lets us. A healthy perspective tells us that every obstacle is temporary. Even our darkest and most painful moments can be endured. They can be integrated into our story.

Perspective. Acceptance. Integration.

After gaining this new perspective of acceptance and integration, another struggle still remains. This one is particularly troublesome for the polymath. Distraction.

A polymath that has accepted his own design easily rationalizes a lack of focus. It can resemble an attention disorder. It’s easy to only write when inspiration strikes. To only minister when on a mission trip. To only take pictures when conditions are perfect. If every aspect isn’t ideal, we always have something different to tinker with. What I’ve learned, though, is that discipline is the one habit that differentiates between average and exceptional. Significance versus meaningless. And who wants to live a meaningless life? I certainly don’t.

Hopefully none of us do.

So once we discover that common thread connecting all our various pursuits, it’s important to find the discipline to focus. It can be okay to jump from thing to thing, as long as each is working toward the larger vision, allowing the natural tension between disciplines to feed each other and the message. Andy Stanley once said that our direction…not our intentions…determines our destination. We can’t let our diverse interests divert our eyes from the end goal, a life of significance that impacts the world in a positive way.

Perspective. Acceptance. Integration. Discipline.

That’s the point of this presentation about polymaths, potential, possibilities, and paralysis. The truth is, you might not be a polymath at all. But, just like me, you have a unique design. You have a purpose…a work to do that is significant and meaningful. You might feel the tension …between what you’ve got to do and what you’d like to do. You can’t let go of your current circumstances to step into the new, but you can’t let go of the new stuff either. All of us end up there some time.

And when you do, remember to adjust your perspective. Accept who you are. Integrate everything you have into everything you do. Keep stepping in the direction of your dream.