One of the myths of high ability, multitalented people is they can choose whatever personal and career paths they want, and realize their abilities without hindrance.
It doesn’t always work out that way.
In her Unwrapping the Gifted post “Multipotentiality,” K-12 gifted education specialist Tamara Fisher quotes Bryant (a pseudonym), a graduating senior who lists his possible future careers as “applied psychologist, scientific psychologist, college teacher, philosophy, mathematics, architect, engineer.”
He says, “I find it difficult to choose between careers because I fear how large the choice is. Having many options available is pleasant, but to determine what I will do for many years to come is scary.”
Fisher notes, “Multipotentiality is the state of having many exceptional talents, any one or more of which could make for a great career for that person.
“Gifted children often (though of course not always) have multipotentiality. Their advanced intellectual abilities and their intense curiosity make them prime candidates for excelling in multiple areas. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
“On the bright side, they have many realistic options for future careers. But on the downside, some of them will struggle mightily trying to decide which choice to make.”
Fisher adds that having “so many great possible outcomes can be a source of debilitating stress.”
Too many options
In her post Multipotentiality: When High Ability Leads to Too Many Options, Lisa Rivero also writes about what makes for a polymath definition of gifted people.
She describes Jason, a college junior, who “is trying to decide what to do after graduation. He is leaning strongly toward graduate school but is unsure of whether he wants to stay in the United States or study abroad.
“An honors student at a liberal arts university, he has taken a wide variety of courses–from chemistry and calculus to philosophy and political science–and he has gotten As in all of them.
“While he knows he is fortunate to have so many options available, he also sometimes panics that he will make the wrong choice and end up in a job he doesn’t like.
“If he gets a Ph.D. in political science, will he be tracked into being a college professor? If he pursues a master’s program in economics, will he regret not continuing with political science? And what about all of those classical languages he has studied? Were they just a waste of time?”
She adds, “This frustration can continue past adolescence as adults with multipotentiality may find themselves drifting from job to job, unable to settle in any spot long enough to know if it would satisfy over the long term, feeling that their lives and careers are a hodge-podge of failed attempts.”
Too little challenge?
In the case of Jason, Rivero writes, “Rather than indicating that he is equally good at everything, his college career thus far might instead be an indication that he is not being challenged at a level to show relative passions and aptitudes.
“Perhaps he would continue to thrive and be engaged in graduate-level math but find post-college classical languages more frustrating and less interesting.
“Alternatively, he might excel in a job that allows him to use his knowledge of Latin and Greek and Sanskrit but find that his interest in political science wanes once it becomes more specialized or practical.
“In addition, his temperament may determine whether the pursuit of research, teaching, or field work is the most comfortable fit.
Rivero explains, “The authors of the Journal of Counseling Psychology article describe this good fit as ‘optimal adjustment’ – a match between personal abilities, personal preferences, and requirements and rewards from the workplace environment.”
[Parts of this article were adapted from Lisa Rivero’s book A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens: Living with Intense and Creative Adolescents. The image is also from the article.]
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All this can be true for adults too. Of course many people are able to realize multiple talents.
In my Psych Central post Amber Benson on Writing: Creating is Kind of Intoxicating, I wrote about actor Amber Benson (Tara on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) who also has multiple credits as a novelist and screenwriter, director and producer.
Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was often referred to as a renaissance man.
An obituary noted, “In addition to his photography, film work and poetry, he composed a symphony, sonatas, concertos, film scores, and wrote novels, instructional photography manuals, essays and three memoirs.” (From my post Being “scattered” and proud of it.)
Also see my article: Multitalented Creative People – Quotes by and about Leonard Nimoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Xavier Dolan, Juliette Binoche, Viggo Mortensen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Natalie Portman and others.
But having advanced potential and exceptional capabilities in many talent areas also means, almost by definition, you are underachieving: you can’t do everything.
One of the pleasures of my life has been pursuing serial interests in often radically different fields: being a research assistant in genetics and later in left/right brain wave research; a visual effects camera operator, and multiple other jobs and pursuits.
But one of the ‘costs’ has been a life unmoored to any career, and many periods of anxiety and self-doubt.
Thankfully this series of sites I have created is not only creatively rewarding, but also of some value to other people.
The Too Many Aptitudes Problem, by Hank Pfeffer
“Most people have about four or five strong talents… Most jobs require about four or five. As many as 10% of the population has double that number of aptitudes… There is evidence that people with too many aptitudes (TMAs) are less likely to obtain advanced education and/or succeed in a career than those with an average number of talents.”
Adult underachievement – not living up to our high potential
In a very real sense, everyone may be called “underachieving” regardless of whether they are gifted or not. One short definition is “Performance below potential.”
Are you a scanner personality? Maybe all you need is a good enough job.
Barbara Sher writes about and leads retreats for Scanners – “also known as renaissance men and women, eclectic experts, happy amateurs and delighted dilettantes.”
Book: Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement
– by Kenneth W. Christian, PhD.
Video related to my book: Developing Multiple Talents – The personal side of creative expression
“Part book about creativity, part compendium of useful tidbits, quotations and research, and part annotated bibliography, this is a wildly useful and highly entertaining resource.” – Stephanie S. Tolan, fiction writer and consultant on the needs of the gifted.
Creative people are complex and multitalented.
Along with the benefits of many abilities and passions, there are challenges in realizing so many interests.
Creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, “If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude.”
In the video, Emma Watson says, “I want to be a Renaissance woman. I want to paint, and I want to write, and I want to act, and I want to just do everything.”
Viggo Mortensen once commented: “Photography, painting or poetry – those are just extensions of me, how I perceive things, they are my way of communicating.”
In the video, Barbara Sher comments about multitalented, multipassionate people: “One problem I run into with a lot of Scanners is perfectionism.”
See my related article for more quotes and resources: Interested In So Many Things: Creative and Multitalented.
Author and entrepreneur Emilie Wapnick notes, “My resume reads like it belongs to ten different people. Music, film, web design, law, business, personal development, writing, dance, sexuality, education– all of these are or have been interests of mine. They come and go (and sometimes come again).”
video clip from her TEDx presentation:
Video with Emilie Wapnick: A Disturbing Trend in the Blogosphere…
“Why are all these successful multipotentialite entrepreneurs telling us to “pick one thing” when they themselves USED their diverse background to build their business?!”
Program / ebook: Renaissance Business – “Specifically for the Multi-Passionate Entrepreneur”
Related program of hers: The Productivity for Multipotentialites Course – “Ah, isn’t it lovely having so many different interests? Being a multipotentialite is wonderful, except when it comes to actually getting all of those great projects done.”
This is “a complete productivity system for multipotentialites. Throughout the classes, you will be introduced to a number of practices and rituals to help you integrate all of your passions into your life, without the stress.”
Read more in my article Resources For Multi-Passionate Entrepreneurs.