The Case for Being a Multi-Hyphenate
Throughout history, and today, the most successful people are good at more than just one thing
One of the most intriguing things about the ancient world is just how much range people had.
Aristotle was more than a professional philosopher. He was politically active (traveling and advising Alexander the Great). He was an expert on a diverse array of subjects, including biology, metaphysics, agriculture, medicine, ethics, and botany. He was also a great teacher and writer, impressive skills on top of his already considerable genius.
The great Greek physician and surgeon Galen was a doctor with many fields of inquiry. He ended up influencing the development of many scientific disciplines — like anatomy, physiology, and neurology, just to name a few.
Expertise in one domain may help fuel excellence in another.
Among the Stoics, who I write about, we see incredible range. Seneca was not just the philosopher we know him as now, but one of Rome’s most popular playwrights and the emperor’s trusted political advisor. Marcus Aurelius was dabbling in philosophy… while he was emperor. Cleanthes was a boxer and a water-carrier… who studied Stoicism under Zeno in his spare time. Posidonius made breakthroughs in natural history, astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, geography, geology, seismology, ethnography, mathematics, geometry, logic, history, and ethics… in addition to working as a political advisor and military strategist at the highest levels. Zeno, the founding teacher of stoicism, began his career as a successful merchant voyager.
In the not-so-ancient world, Ben Franklin was an author, publisher, printer, satirist, freemason, postmaster, politician, civic activist, scientist, and inventor. If that wasn’t enough, he happened to be one the world’s foremost meteorologists and experts on tornadoes! Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence… in a swivel chair he invented! (He also designed his own house.) The physicist Marie Curie, who is most famous for her work in radioactivity and developing mobile X-ray units in World War I, also managed to win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields (physics and chemistry).