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Parenting, Preschool, School Years, Teens

Dirty Little Secrets: Multipotentiality

When I was five years old, I had a theory about heaven. See, I figured that if we could just fly a spaceship far enough to reach the end of outer space, there we would find heaven. So I wanted to be an astronaut. Shortly after that, I wanted to be a writer. I was an avid reader and excellent story-teller. My teachers told me I’d be an amazing author. Then I thought perhaps a singer. I also wanted to be a mother. Then, a teacher. I called the FBI once to see if I could do that, but decided it would take too long. I was considering psychology as well as law. But I really wasn’t sure. I dropped out of college after my freshman year because I felt that it was morally wrong to accept my scholarship when I had no idea what I my major would be. It took me over a decade to go back to school.

I was a classified gifted child. I’m raising a classified gifted child, which I recently wrote about for the first time. Just writing about my struggles with him and researching solutions to help him has opened a window into myself that has truly shaken me. I never realized I knew so little about myself. Or rather, that I’m not as unique as I think I am.

I can’t decide what I want to be when I grow up. That’s not uncommon. That happens to a lot of people. What I’ve had trouble admitting to anyone is that this is because I have talents in so many areas.

I’m good at almost everything.

This sounds so arrogant and boastful. And ungrateful. How can you complain about being good at too many things? Just pick one and be happy! That’s precisely why I never asked for help.

Choice Paralysis by Lauren MacDonald via Flickr

Choice Paralysis by Lauren MacDonald via Flickr

I couldn’t choose.

I was terrified. Petrified. What if I chose the wrong one? I was a good teacher. I had taught in the public schools while still in high school and was already the youth director at a local church. But I also was very involved in school activities and had a passion for helping others and a keen sense of justice. I excelled in every subject and was interested in conflicting careers. After all, once you choose psychology, you can’t go back and become a lawyer. At least not without going to school all over again.

I had taken career tests. They usually offered strange results. I remember them saying things like counselor, border patrol, apple picker, accountant. Huh? Even after I gave up on a career and became a stay-at-home mom, I kept taking the tests. One of them said I should be a customs inspector. I was so desperate I actually tried to figure out how to become one.

I have always been quietly jealous of people who have a strong talent and know exactly what they want to do.

To this day, I feel like there are so many career options in the world, how can I possibly just choose one? I’m constantly meeting people who have jobs I’ve never heard of. What if I liked that job? The problem really becomes, being good at something or even liking something loses value when you are good at, and like, nearly everything. How can you possibly figure out which one is best?

I’ve learned for myself that what I’m doing is less important than why I’m doing it. If I’m doing something that requires thought and effort and also helps people in some way, then I’ll generally find it satisfying. That’s the best I’ve been able to do for myself so far.

But I worry for my kids.

Both boys are extremely intelligent and multi-talented. I do fear that they will encounter this same issue that I now know has a name:

Multipotentiality

I’m surprised there is not more information on the subject as it seems to me it would be a fairly common concern among the gifted. I found a few articles here and there. The advice was vague and often conflicting. I’m not quite sure what to make of it yet.

This, I do know. Multipotentiality is a real problem.

It complicates the career process in the gifted by providing far too many options and conflicting paths. This causes students to falter and stumble on their way to choosing a career. What can we, as parents, do to help our multipotential kids?

Emphasize advanced education.

I want my kids to have the widest variety of choices open to them in careers as they move through life. Advanced degrees offer the greatest flexibility, so long as they’re chosen wisely. I have always emphasized choosing a career in a field they reasonably enjoy and will provide a good life.  I remind them that all other interests can then be included as hobbies. I’ve always intuitively felt that teaching them to follow their one true passion was incorrect because EVERY person has so many passions. But maybe it’s just us. I’ve also experienced tremendous job satisfaction in careers I never thought I would like at all and hated others I thought I would. I learned it was more about my need to be challenged and to feel I was making a difference. I always felt better when I was earning enough to support my other interests in life and not working so much that I didn’t have time to do so. I think this is still a reasonable value to teach them. However, in the meantime, I need to try to accomplish a few more goals.

Get them into as many real workspaces as possible.

I first looked into shadowing with my older son when he was building incredible structures with blocks as a preschooler and I thought he might have a future as an architect. I just couldn’t see sending him off with a stranger at that age. Then I tried again a few years ago with a friend of mine who is an attorney but she didn’t feel comfortable with it. Now, after reading that these experiences can be so incredibly helpful to children with multipotentiality, I think I’m going to put effort into this again. Instead of just fantasizing about a career, my sons can actually see and experience a career. This can be so helpful when there is a long list of choices and you need more information to narrow it down. I wish I could sample some careers myself!

Make sure the limits of their talents are reached before they leave college.

That, in and of itself, is a learning experience. You can’t really know you don’t love biology enough to pursue a career in the lab unless you’ve reached the advanced levels of that particular science. I’m trying right now to make sure they are in the most advanced classes available to them. But I now have a renewed sense of purpose with the understanding that this will also help them narrow their career choices. There is an urgency in this because they need to start crossing some careers off their lists sooner rather than later.

Advise them to choose a college major with flexibility, if they have any uncertainty.

If my son is interested in programming, science and law, then I would advise him to major in business and minor in science, taking programming classes where he can. He can go to law school with that major, get any job, go to nearly any graduate school or continue later to add a major in science if needed. If, along the way, he decides he does want to pursue programming, he can add more classes for a minor. I would want the degree to be as valuable as possible to him and not be so specialized that he can only make one career choice. And of course, once he acquires his advanced degrees, he will have even more flexibility, with the option to teach, speak or write.

Multipotentiality has been my dirty little secret my whole life. It haunts me to this day. I still feel like the world is full of so many interesting possibilities I’m not sure which I should choose. Right now, I’m pursuing writing and I love it. But I don’t write on one subject. I’ve often wondered if that’s wrong. But I can’t just write about one thing. I’m interested in so many aspects of life, motherhood and parenting. Sometimes it’s a recipe or the news and sometimes it’s breastfeeding. How could I possibly narrow this down? So far, I’ve narrowed it down to this: I’m a mother and I love to write. I hope that something I say helps somebody. That’s the best I can do for now.

©UnnecessaryWisdom.wordpress.com 2013

Have you been impacted by multipotentiality? How do you think we can help our children with this issue?

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Discussion

20 thoughts on “Dirty Little Secrets: Multipotentiality

  1. This is so me that I don’t even know where to respond. Thank you for writing this. I’ve actually been grateful to have sons on the autistic spectrum as their interests are more narrow. My eldest is not and seems so fickle about his interests, perhaps he is like me?

    Posted by Mellissa | May 22, 2013, 2:23 pm
  2. Wow, I never thought about it like that, but now that it’s written down in front of me I know what my problem has been! My brother was always a straight-shot computer geek, but I was into everything, and tended to be good whatever I tried (unless it was athletics…). I started out as a music major, but ended up with wrecked vocal chords and fairly randomly chose history instead. Needless to say, my brother, only two years older than me, is now enjoying a very successful IT career, while I am 9-5ing it and dreaming of getting a real career some day. And I hadn’t even considered my kids could be heading down the same road! Thanks very much for the post!

    Posted by abtwixt | May 22, 2013, 3:41 pm
    • I’m glad you could relate. It was so odd for me to realize so late in the game what the problem was. I saw it with my daughter (who already graduated college) and I really want to head this off with my sons. I hope you can, too, with your kids!

      Posted by unnecessarywisdom | May 22, 2013, 7:07 pm
  3. It is so difficult to be like this but thank you for sharing! It has been my secret too. Im so afraid to make the wrong choice and hate that I didn’t immediately get an advanced degree after my undergraduate. I so wish someone had helped me when I was younger because this indecisiveness isn’t exactly awesome either.

    Posted by Jen | May 22, 2013, 6:52 pm
  4. Wow, again! I swear we must be living parallel lives. I am over forty, going back to school, and I have ZERO clue what I want to be when I grow up…for the exact same reasons. I’ve considered psychology and my current program is in Behavioral Science, but that’s just the AA level. If, and that is a big IF, I continue on to a university, the only program I can even fathom entering is Liberal Arts or Humanities, because I’m fascinated by philosophy, psychology, writing, mythology, and eastern religions. Given my interests, I could stay in school long enough to obtain a doctorate and eventually become a professor. However, I tend to lose interest within a year of pursuing a specific goal. I am good at whatever I choose to focus on, but that doesn’t mean I love any of them enough to make them into a career….which at the rate I am taking classes wouldn’t even be possible for nearly another decade. I never had the benefit of a parent or teacher to guide me in my youth. No one ever said to me, “You could be (this) or (that).” What I did hear was, “You don’t live up to your potential.” I never quite understood why they said that to me, because how does one live up to their potential if no one ever bothers to help them figure out what that potential might be? And, how exactly do you choose ONE thing when you have a buffet in front of you? Yes, I envy those who find that ONE thing and pursue it like their life depends on it. Meanwhile, I sit in my chair and wonder if I will ever fall in love with some sort of work/job/career, while I color with childlike glee.

    Posted by J. Spears | May 22, 2013, 7:24 pm
    • LOL it’s quite possible 😉 I don’t know what to tell you yet. Other than, we have to let go of the idea of just one. We can have multiple loves, multiple talents, even multiple careers. So what if we get it wrong? Just go back and do it again! ❤ Zoe

      Posted by unnecessarywisdom | May 23, 2013, 2:53 pm
  5. Multipotentiality has been the bane of my existence as an adult. I never thought much of being good at everything but at 35 and having majored in a number of different areas at university and having had a variety of jobs, plus being good at a range of sports, I feel like I have gone nowhere. Fortunately I have a healthy and very bright young family which keeps me sidetracked…..

    Posted by Glenn | May 22, 2013, 10:45 pm
  6. wow! You know, I’m here in Europe where giftedness has mostly to be hidden and reading you is just so great! That’s how I really feel. Everyday, I want to change my job because there’s so much interesting things to do and to learn; and of course, people don’t understand and it’s a weakness here but I feel better after reading you. Thank you so much!

    Posted by Laurie | May 23, 2013, 3:00 am
  7. Multipotentiality. When I was 17 and the career counselor looked at my scores and told me I could do whatever I wanted, I wish he had said that would be a curse as well as a blessing. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a stay-at-home mom, which means I end up doing a lot of volunteer work. I find that there are things I’m not that great at, and I end up spending a lot of time doing those things because even though I’m not good at them relative to my other talents, I still do them better than most of the other people out there. When I tell people I don’t want to do those things because I’m not good at them, they think it’s false humility. Sigh.

    Posted by Cynthia Hemminger | May 23, 2013, 7:23 am
    • I wish your advisor had given different advice, too! I did a lot of volunteer work during my years as a stay-at-home mom that was so far outside my comfort zone, and I know how you feel. I even did web design LOL. I hope you can find your niche! 🙂 Zoe

      Posted by unnecessarywisdom | May 24, 2013, 4:22 am
  8. I know how you feel. I am so glad things worked out that I also get to be a stay at home mom and am able to do many things, crafts, online college courses, sports, etc. Thank you so much for writing this, I am learning, because of wanting to help my boys, that being gifted is no longer a tiny world.

    Posted by Melissa | May 23, 2013, 9:28 pm
  9. I love being ,multipotential. Society wants you do do one thing and to me.. as a human being.. thats disrespectful. Why not monetize all you knowledge as aposed to sticcking to one like some animal instinct.

    If you feel sad aobut not know what to do.. you shouldn’t, .. you should embrace that. You may only feel weird about it only because most of society is full of specialists. This does not mean that , that is the right way of living life.

    Whatever your inner wiring is, you should embrace it not matter how different everything outside is. So if you are good at many things and always which to keep expanding and growing, you can monetize all that. Me personally.. its only a benefit to being well rounded because you can make more connections unlike others that are just specialiist. Knowing more let you bring in new ideas and make more connections and think morre outside the box.

    So stop trying to limit your creativity to one thing.

    You have the strength to figure it out and make all things work. The human mind is ment to do more than one thing in my opinion so don’t let society or anyone tell you otherwise.

    Posted by Branko Miletic | March 7, 2016, 1:33 pm

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