To live a richer life is a common aspiration, but it’s hard to figure out where to start. Through these five TED talks, we share a few sources of inspiration for our perspective on this topic: that broadening our cultural horizons is the surest path to living a richer life.

We’ve written about the value of living wide before. Those who follow us on Facebook and Twitter know that the #PolymathLifestyle is more than just a hedonistic pursuit. It’s about reorganising our careers, our curiosities and our minds to experience the value of broad discovery. (And sometimes, venturing a few thoughts on what connects all things too). In short, we believe that to live a richer life is to cultivate the pluralities within each one of us and to engage fully with all aspects of life.

Despite our bi/tri-cultural upbringings, multiple mother tongues and multidisciplinary studies, it took us a while to start practicing what we preach (and we’re so not there yet!). It was only after finding and following individuals who demonstrated the achievability of a polymathic life that we started turning our natural inclinations into an actual lifestyle. Without them, we might still be full-time lawyers with only enough time for a hobby or two.

Whether you’re interested in a broader education, a varied career or just new experiences, here’s five TED talks that inspired us to take our first steps. They encouraged us to revise our preconceptions on what’s truly valuable in life and to realise how free we all are to live a richer life by cultivating our inner polymath.

We’d love to hear which TED talks and public speeches have inspired you too – please leave us your favourites in the comments below, drop us a line or deploy your messenger-pigeons.


1. Ken Robinson on curiosity, creativity and education

One of the most-watched TED talks of all time, Ken Robinson’s amusing but ultimately serious insights on modern schooling systems highlight the role of educational values in either nurturing or neglecting creativity. Criticising the negligence shown towards creative disciplines in favour of the narrow focus that defines today’s educational syllabus, Robinson laments how this deprives adults-to-be of the opportunity to live a richer life, and to create innovations and experiences that improve the lives of others.

Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. But what we do know is: if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. […] Creativity – the process of having original ideas that have value – more often than not, comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

2. Emilie Wapnick on why some of us don’t have one true calling

From the woman who coined the term multipotentialite (we prefer polymath) comes this dogma-challenging perspective on how to apply the #PolymathLifestyle in a career context. Deriding modern society’s misplaced assumption that specialisation is necessary for success, Wapnick touches on harnessing our broad curiosities and interests to build a professional life that is both fulfilling and authentic to who we truly are.

The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticised in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny, or the one true calling. The idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is, and devote your life to it. But what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way? What if there are a lot of different subjects that you’re curious about, and many different things you want to do? Well, there’s no room for someone like you in this framework. […] There’s nothing wrong with you. What you are is a multipotentialite.

3. Nathan Myhrvold on answering who are you?

We love Nathan Myhrvold. A man of exceptionally broad talents, this millionaire jack-of-all-trades (and one-time champion of the Greatest art of all, barbecue) tells us about his most recent response to the question who are you? In a talk that spans the Easter Islands, applying science to cooking, the search for UFOs and penguin shit, Nathan explores his latest passions, giving us glimpses into the inner workings of a mind that is truly excited by learning anything.

This whole talk has been a mile wide and an inch deep, but that’s really what works for me. And regardless of whether it’s nuclear reactors or metamaterials or whale sex, the common or lowest common denominator is me.

4. Ben Dunlap on life-long learning

Author, dancer, professor and all-round polymath Ben Dunlap discusses the irrepressible desire to know, no matter what the subject, and tells the story of two mentors that inspired him to a life of ceaseless learning. Sandor Teszler, a Holocaust survivor who helped advance racial integration in South Carolina, and the doctor Francis Robicsek, who was as passionate about Mayan ceramics as he was about Harry Potter.

Learn as if you’ll live forever. This is what I’m passionate about. It is precisely this. It is this inextinguishable, undaunted appetite for learning and experience, no matter how risible, no matter how esoteric, no matter how seditious it might seem.

5. The Minimalists on how to live a richer life with less stuff

This one’s a little different. Although not minimalists ourselves, we like the backstory behind these two guys and their underlying theme: in order to live large, they chose to remove themselves from the wealth of possessions that had only left them feeling stuck in hollow, highly corporate lives. They refocused their priorities around living a life they found valuable (encompassing a wide array of activities, including a hugely successful blog) rather than abiding by the conventional career and life path they’d once felt trapped within.

Take a look at whatever takes up the majority of your time. […] It’s not that we think there’s anything inherently wrong with material possessions or working a 9-to-5. There’s not. We all need some stuff. We all need to pay the bills, right? It’s just that when we put those things first, we tend to lose sight of our real priorities – of life’s purpose.

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