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.
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:
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.
Have you been impacted by multipotentiality? How do you think we can help our children with this issue?
- Multipotentiality: When High Ability Leads to Too Many Options (psychologytoday.com)
- Multipotentiality (blogs.edweek.org/teachers/unwrapping_the_gifted)
- The Too Many Aptitudes Problem (talentdevelop.com)
- Career Planning for Gifted and Talented Youth (davidsongifted.org)