If you’re anything like me, you’re fortunate enough to know what you’re good at. You also like to stay there, forever honing your proficiency in one or two areas to the point where you are an undeniable expert in these fields but helpless and hopeless everywhere else. As a pitiful example, you might be able to rattle off all of Shakespeare’s major works but believe the square root of one hundred and sixty-nine is Avogadro’s number.
Schools already encourage students to engage in a large number of disciplines in order to produce well-rounded individuals but outside of the classroom, it is challenging to take the initiative to leave your comfort zone. What, then, are the reasons to learn about anything other than your areas of expertise?
Firstly, learning about topics with which you are unfamiliar simply means there is more to know. Unsurprisingly, we have a tendency to be fond of individuals who are knowledgeable about everything. Nowadays, we refer to such people as polymaths or as Renaissance men or women, a term which stemmed from the great thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, particularly the great Leonardo da Vinci, who was a painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, mathematician, engineer, and writer. The possibilities that come with knowing a wide variety of topics are endless and the thought of being a potential polymath is no doubt impressive.
Tackling subjects that are unusual to you additionally presents an opportunity to challenge yourself and to better familiarize yourself with the ways you learn best. With topics that come naturally to you, the learning process is intuitive as you dive in without much worry or hesitation. When you choose to look into more challenging subject matter, you are forced to process your material much more slowly and decide for yourself the methods with which you will go about learning this new material. Studying something new thus presents a chance to discover your preferences and your learning styles more deeply as well as a chance to “know thyself”, as the ancient Greeks were wont to say.
Lastly, learning more than what you’re used to has plenty of practical benefits, assuming you put your new knowledge to use. Exposure to new ideas and skills enables you to hold conversations with others about topics that would otherwise confuse or disinterest you, give your own advice thanks to your freshly-acquired expertise, and interact with your subject of choice in real life when you recognize it. So go ahead and take on that new language you’ve been too nervous to approach. Start making sense of rather than simply wondering about the stars on a summer night, especially if you have no experience in astrophysics. Make art even if you have the aesthetic aptitude of a five-year old. Expand your horizons and prepare to surprise yourself with how much more there is to learn but more importantly, the extent to which you are capable of grasping what you don’t already know.