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Mar 22 2012

The blessing and curse of multipotentialities

I am not kidding when I say that I have tried to write on this topic at least a half dozen times. Here, for guest posts, for the book that is sucking my will to live in a good but exhausting way in progress. Even this post took two days and countless changes, atypical of my usual workflow. The universe finally kicked me in the head on Wednesday when Douglas Eby’s wonderful post Multiple Talents, Multiple Passions, Burnout came through my Facebook feed.

Multipotentialities in the gifted population is pretty common. I remember when I first heard of it my immediate thought was, “There’s a name for that? I’m normal?” Normal, of course, being relative. Ahem. But I was stunned and relieved to learn that wanting to learn/try/do so many things and knowing deep down that you could do a damned fine job at quite a few of them had a name. I thought it was just being mentally flighty, and I struggled with it for years. I still do. I worked with the wonderful Lisa Lauffer a few years ago, trying to find which of my many interests would be The One. So many possibilities, so burnt out inside. If I picked one, the others would have to go by the wayside. And so I was stuck.

They’re a curse in that there is just so much in this world to learn, to do, and it’s all fascinating. A couple years ago I read AJ Jacob’s awesome book The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, about his quest to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. In it, he interviewed Alex Trebek, who stated something along the lines of ‘I’m curious about everything, even things I’m not interested in.’ That line perfectly sums it up. It’s a curse, especially now with the internet; information is so readily available. Tom asks me what I’m going to do on any given day. My answer is homeschooling and slogging through the to-do list. What that really means is homeschooling and becoming paralyzed by all that I want to do. The world won’t end if it doesn’t get done, but a little part of me withers away when the sun sets and I realize that I’ve moved exactly zero steps towards the eleventy billion interests I have. The blessing is having eleventy billion interests. There is always something new to learn or experience…if you’re not exhausted and paralyzed by trying to decide which one you’ll pursue first.

I used to be quite focused, back in the day when I studied flute to the exclusion of nearly everything else. In my studies, I was convinced I would be so much better if I could be consistent and lock focus and ignore everything else and just work. In truth, I would have been a lot better, but I couldn’t maintain focus at that level no matter how hard I tried. There were so many other things demanding my attention after so many years of being neglected. Eventually I did burn out on the flute, and now rarely play. That’s partly because it is often physically painful (Hi there nerve damage! Hi there TMJ!), and partly because I’ll never get to the level I was at pre-burnout and it hurts to hear myself now. When Tom and I first met (19 years ago this summer OH MY GOD WHEN DID WE GET SO OLD? HOLY CRAP I’VE BEEN WITH HIM HALF MY LIFE!!) I still had that intense focus. Driven. Passionate. I knew what I was going to do. I’m not like that anymore, and I often feel like he’s the victim of relationship bait and switch. He married the driven flutist with few outside interests; today that person is long gone, replaced by a woman with many different interests, many different passions, and a case of adult-onset child-induced ADHD. Simply having kids makes it nearly impossible to indulge in intense focus. He, however, still has laser focus, which, when combined with his extreme giftedness and oh my holy hell overexcitabilities, has its own challenges. The gifted marriage is all kinds of fun, kids!

Eby’s article, and the ones to which he links, convinced me that I need to take a step back. Especially now with homeschooling A, I have far too much on my plate. Stuff is falling off and getting stepped on and eventually a squished grape is going to bring me to my knees. Stuff I ordinarily enjoy doing is pissing me off, simply because it’s one more thing to do, and I’m doing it poorly at that. This rambling post falls into that category, I’m afraid.  I was nuts to add NaBloPoMo to my schedule this month, and in the interest of contentment, I cry UNCLE. I didn’t post yesterday and hey, I’m still here. I know this post is the ultimate in navel gazing, but I also know I’m not alone in this. And if you’re a gifted adult, I’d guess that you know exactly what I’m talking about here.

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  1. Cara @ Brooketopia

    It has a NAME?!?! I am so happy to learn this!

    Yes, I completely understand what you’re saying, and I completely support you in your decision to clear the plate a bit. It’s good to do that every once in a while.

    But oh, if we could only figure out how to do all the interesting stuff to the extent that we wanted to do it all ALL THE TIME. For me, that is bliss. Ignorance has never been bliss, only a grating resignation to the fact that there isn’t enough time to learn it all.

    1. Jen

      LOL! It has a name. 🙂 Doesn’t make it any easier, but at least now we know what it is!

  2. Mona

    I know exactly what you’re talking about, and am on the healing end of one of those major burnouts that we multipotentialites suffer from time to time. I’m bored to tears on a daily basis because I am frozen (as you so eloquently describe) by the vastness of my interests and not knowing which to start on or how. Wish I had advice. If I did I could make zillions of dollars in writing that book (to go along with the four other books that are in various stages of writing) to cure us of our ever-living interest and curiosity in the next thing.

    But then, I like it that way, too… I just like to learn about new stuff even if it’s not in my “area.”

  3. Valerie Hartman

    Preaching. to. the. choir. Can I get an AMEN, sista’? Seriously though, I have done a great job of clearing off that plate of the moldy-oldy interests and am doing a much better job focusing on the Top 5 interests. My plate is still overflowing and everything touches, but hey! I am one hell of a multitasker and that is how I like it. Bring it on!

    Excellent post! My favorite line “a case of adult-onset child-induced ADHD. Simply having kids makes it nearly impossible to indulge in intense focus.” Is it wrong to look at your kid’s ADHD medication and wonder what it feels like to F.O.C.U.S.?

    1. Siggi

      Amen!

      (How did you manage to get it down to a Top Five list??)

      1. Valerie Hartman

        Lack of energy to do more than a few things well. I find it exhausting to push myself in too many directions and decided to do less, but better. And still the nights are too short. I now have a list of things to tackle this summer when all five schools on my family calendar (and with 3 kids, that takes extra planning to achieve!) go on summer break.

  4. Lisa

    Well, I could have written this post too, except for the flute part. Even the “gifted marriage” bit is bang on. I spend far too much of my day soaking up info to satisfy my intellectual intensity that little else gets done. My husband used to tease me that I would come up with these grandiose plans to “learn Japanese” or “play the cello” — well, I AM pretty good at languages and music, thank you very much — it’s just a question of making it a priority. But, it wasn’t that I was just SAYING it — I had intentions, ability, etc., just got pushed off course somewhere along the way.

    It’s sad that I’ve become a dilettante, rather than passion-driven like my kids are. Maybe someday when society collapses and we have no power for our computers, I’ll finally pick up those languages and instruments — oh wait a minute, how will I use my Rosetta Stone?

  5. Gette

    Really excellent article – so true for me I could have written it myself (but didn’t because of all the reasons you mentioned)!!!

  6. Jodie

    It’s like you read my mind. It’s wonderful to have so many interests that you’re never bored, and there is so much information available, that it is overwhelming. Encyclopedias were bad enought with their cross-references, and then you add the media and the internet to the equation, and a person could happily click away for years, following links to new and interesting sites. To add to the mental chaos, my daughter is just like me, she wants to know “everything” about a subject before she moves on, so we are often heading to the library or the computer to explore something new.
    I love the journey, and have accepted the fact that, while I can’t learn everything, I am an adult and can follow my interests as long as I want to, and let them go when my interest fades or something new comes along.

  7. Brenda

    I love your piece as I relate to it so well (even the flute part as I too once played the flute and even got a degree in music!). I currently am supposed to be focusing on studying as I’m a doctoral student but found myself not wanting to focus on statistics and found myself here! I’m also a mom and may have some ADHD but wish I wasn’t so thirsty for knowledge and wish for calmer days! Yet would we easily get bored if we didn’t have that full plate!? Okay enough procrastinating! Thanks for your article!

    1. Jen

      Yeah, my degrees in music are getting SOOO much use. :/

  8. Daina

    Thanks so much for writing this. Keep it going. This is EXACTLY my life (except mine was trumpet, and I’m still unmarried).

    1. Jen

      I’m really tired of multipotentialities. They’re exhausting and demanding and overwhelming, but it is what it is.

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