I’ve been going through my books as part of a de-cluttering jag. I found this one – which I loved when I read it and I now think I need to re-read. It’s called The Renaissance Soul “Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One”.
- Does the thing you are doing, even though you enjoy it, never feel like “it”?
- Do you pick up interests, burn through them, and then drop them?
- Does doing the same thing “for the rest of your life” seem like a life sentence of boredom?
- Do you feel like you should know “what you want to be” by now?
- Do you wish you could feel focused and commit to one thing, but you just can’t make yourself do that?
It describes how our culture is skewed right now toward rewarding people who have “one true interest”. The author compares Mozart vs Ben Franklin. The former was all about music, music, music from a young age. Ben Franklin on the other hand, had a lot of disparate interests, from politics to experiments with electricity to creating the first public library–and more. She gives a bell-curve of interests with Mozart on one extreme and Franklin on the other and most people in the middle.
The problem is for some reason (probably due to industry wanting to have highly specialized workers or something like that), our schools and our culture tends to reward people who specialize early and stick to one thing.
People who don’t fit this model often feel broken or deficient. They keep trying to get themselves into a mold that doesn’t fit.
I know I suffer from this self-criticism immensely. I have 4 blogs (and am working on launching 3 more) and I often feel like a freak. Shouldn’t I have just one? If I only had one I could write on it more regularly, and isn’t that what I’m supposed to do? Will my readers feel abandoned? Will I lose momentum? Am I sabotaging myself? Am I diluting my personal brand? AHHH!!!
This post isn’t a “I have the solution” post, more of a “I am working on this one” post.
For anyone looking for career advice who is a “multi-passionate”, check out Emelie’s blog at PuttyLike.
I’ve been thinking about this since Naomi of IttyBiz launched her Online Business School – which is based on the whole idea that we *need* to diversify more, that all this specialization is the source of instability rather than security.
And that got me to thinking about how doing more than one thing to earn money is so frowned upon in our culture. If you have more than one job or pursue anything but a single-minded career track – then you’re essentially a loser who is doing it wrong. (Yet folks who put all their proverbial eggs in one basket are the ones suffering most right now – which is Naomi’s point.)
And it’s funny that attitude is so persistent given that statistically we know people in our generation will have at least five careers in our lifetimes, and those coming up behind us will have even more. That’s just economic reality.
And it’s weird how we confuse who we are (which tends to be fairly constant) with what we do (which may or may not be – does it matter?).
I’m also reminded of a lecture I heard awhile back by Paula Prober who works with “gifted” kids (although she calls it having a “rainforest mind”, which I love). One of the many insightful things she said was one of the worst things you can say to someone with many interests – all of which they have a talent for – is “Just figure out what you’re good at and do that.” Overwhelming. So one of the many things she helps kids (and adults) figure out is how to make choices based on more than talent and interest – because for some of us that’s just not enough to narrow it down. Not that she advocates choosing *one* thing, just not trying to do it all all at once – because that can be frustrating for all sorts of reasons.
I’m kind of all over the place here. I hope you can see the connections.
I guess all I’m trying to say is you’re not broken or deficient or in any need of fixing. I think you actually have an advantage. I think it’s just a matter of setting yourself and your beautiful multifacetedness up for success – so it’s not a liability, but can function as the asset it is.
Yeah, another problem with the “figure out what you are good at and do that” is that just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you want to do it (or want to keep doing it). When I stopped doing custom web design for folks I had a couple people email me and say “Why did you stop? You were good!” and I was like “Uh…I know, but…so?”. One thing the author of this book says is to be aware of when you are done with something and let yourself move on to things that are more alive for you.
I’ve had a long and tortured history of not feeling OK doing what I do. Between not having a “one true thing”, or feeling like I’m not living up to my “potential” unless I become a doctor or lawyer or other professional, or at least, if I’m going to be in business, have a big well-known business and wear power suits – sigh. But I like my friend Sarah‘s phrase: “Less and less to prove” and try to remember that.
I agree that our culture says you are a loser if you do more than one thing for work. I remember reading an article in Cosmo or somewhere that said to avoid men whose job had a slash in it, like musician/carpenter. I can’t remember if it was because they were supposed to be flaky or have baggage or just not “upwardly mobile” but the implication was pretty clear: they are losers and you don’t want to date a loser.
I’ve always thought it was more secure to be self-employed, with multiple income streams, so I’m with you on that -> somehow knowing that doesn’t quiet the inner voices though.
I suppose it stems from feeling like I didn’t really have a choice. I really can’t get by in structures like workplaces or school. By the time I finished undergrad I just couldn’t force myself to go to class anymore. One time I showed up for the final and they had rescheduled it – they handed out the test and I was WTF? This isn’t my class. The prof was so pissed at having to give a makeup test (lucky for me there was about 5 of us). I still got a B. The absurdity of the grading system bothered me immensely. I can get As and Bs simply because I can retain information and write better than most people. But someone without that ability could go to class every day and try really hard and still get a C. I didn’t feel lucky; I felt like I was part of a wretched system devoid of humanity and purpose. It was a really gritty time for me.
Er, I’m digressing. My point though is that even though I feel it’s absurd, it has still colonized my brain to the point that I have this lingering feeling of being deficient because I couldn’t fit myself into that mold. It’s frustrating.
Interesting topic. Do those of us who have multiple interests suffer from a disorder or is it just a natural way of being for some?
We live in a world that wants conformity. It was common a generation ago to have just one job, often doing the same repetitive task every day. There are still industries like this and need people who can work this way.
While a genius, Mozart was obsessed with music which could be a different topic for discussion. Franklin was a genius also but like Einstein, Edison and others could not contain their interests to a specific subject. This is a common trait for highly intelligent people.
I cannot remember the last time I had only one job combined with a hobby of the month. I have learned to be less impulsive which allows me to become better at what ever I am pursuing at the moment but for me, life would be very dull without a little newness now and then.
Look at your nature as a gift. Most of the greatest discoveries came from trying something new or what popular belief may try to call ‘overextending”.
Just remember to take in what is around you and enjoy the moment. We can overextend to the point where life becomes to hectic causing our minds and health to suffer. Do what you enjoy to the point they are still enjoyable.
Michael Plishka says
Great post! Just had a conversation with a friend who’s an innovation consultant/trainer on just this topic!
Thanks for the book reference, I’ll be getting it.
This article/frame of reference, describes me to a “t”. (what does that mean anyway?!?)
I wrote a blog on this not too long ago (yes it’s in one of my multiple blogs! 😉 )
Nevada Jones says
I often feel like commenting on your posts, but usually decide against it because I feel like, “well you’ve said it all. I’ll just be redundant.”
So I may be redundant here, but this is one of the most refreshing posts I’ve ever read. I personally feel like, “hey, it’s great to be a Renaissance Man, but then I’m spread thin and can’t really accomplish anything.” I get stressed-out trying to satisfy multiple external work pressures and multiple internal creative pushes.
I will say that over the past several years, I’ve learned how to zero in on the so-called “big thing,” but there are still many deeply fulfilling “not-quite-as-big things” that pull my attention. See? I’m framing it negatively, with a scarcity mindset. I think that’s part of the problem. “Pull my attention,” “not enough energy,” “can’t commit,” “not passionate enough,” etcetera.
I particularly identify with the wrestling match college you mentioned in a comment. I’ve been in and out of so many schools since I graduated high school it makes my head spin. That’s a really interesting topic. I still have no Bachelors degree in anything. I wonder how many people out there grapple with similar issues with college. What’s wrong with an apprentice relationship? What other alternatives are there? Are there other ways to learn critical thinking in a more practical, hands-on way? (I don’t mean to deride college too much — it’s great for many. But not for everybody.) Being in school feels like Vegas but less fun and less tacky. “What happens in academia, stays in academia.” And I love to learn! But again, the scarcity mindset: “If I’m a full-time student, there’s no way I’ll have time for what REALLY interests me — I’ll be neglecting what I know is my true mission(s) in life!”
Maybe a digression, but maybe an interesting topic to think about. At least for me. And it’s related in many ways to the main topic here, to which I return:
I like how Roger concluded his comment above. “Do what you enjoy to the point they are still enjoyable.”
Etymology, another interesting hobby. To a T – no conclusive derivation but probably short for “tittle”, “a small stroke or point in writing or printing”.
Oh hey please do comment if you feel like it! It helps me feel like I’m not talking into a void for one thing, but also it’s just cool to hear other people’s perspectives. Nothing is really redundant because each of our voices is unique.
I’ve mostly come to the conclusion that college is largely a cultural training institution more than a work training one. You learn how to have white collar values and modes of thinking. It’s a reinforcer of class structure. At least in the liberal arts. It seems like in science and engineering they might have been learning things applicable to actual work. Maybe. Most actual job training comes later, like in law school, medical school, with your Masters. The idea of “general education” really means “the knowledge middle class/white collar people are expected to have”. It’s this hegemonic way of defining a certain subset of all human knowledge as “the fundamental knowledge to have”. Which is absurdly hegemonic. Which is of course ironic because the concept of hegemony is something I learned in college. All that postmodern stuff seems to be something they teach but never apply to themselves. It drove me crazy.
But one day I asked my Postmodern Philosophy prof if Nietzsche was happy and he laughed and said no, actually, he went mad and died a slobbering idiot and I was like uh-huh I see. Well OK then.
Oh, d’oh, I meant to paste in a link to this cool 10-year map of business practice. It’s a cool representation of evolving interests.
Terry Heath says
This is really interesting. Your blog feed came up in my Google Reader as a recommended feed. I think it had been there awhile but I had ignored it. So out of curiosity I clicked it this evening.
Your book recommendation couldn’t have been more appropriate to what I needed to hear. I ordered it right away.
Weird, huh? Google and the universe (or maybe they’re one!) knew what I needed.
Now maybe I won’t feel so bad about “not knowing what I want to be when I grow up even though I’m 45”. I’ve always felt it was a mixed blessing to be really good at just about whatever I put my mind to; it’s great to be smart/talented/whatever but it’s hard to be going in so many directions, at least in this society.
Maybe I’ll come to grips with those divergent paths just being all in the same patch of woods. Here’s hoping!
Michael Plishka says
@Emma Thanks for the cool etymological explanation! Makes sense to me!
I spent some time mindmapping my interests to try and pull things together under a common thread…feel free to try 😉
@Terry Welcome, hey I’m always glad to be part of mysterious helpful synchronicities.
I’m heartened that this thread is getting such thoughtful interaction, I guess I am not alone in this!
I wanted to mention another book that was helpful in a similar way and might be relevant to some of you, Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential. It’s about how “talented and gifted” kids grow up to be adults whose brains work a little differently than most people, including that they often learn jobs fairly quickly and then get bored, and that having interesting stimuli is like a physical need to keep the brain happy.
Which actually is part of what was so awful about college…I ended up doing great in classes I was interested in (there were a few). But in the ones I had to take for my degree, I had to force myself to memorize information that felt completely irrelevant to me and was thus painfully boring. It was torture to sit through lectures. Especially when I wished the prof would just make the damn point already. The idea that I was supposed to sustain interest in somebody else’s lesson plans is now kind of ludicrous to me. Wouldn’t I be the best judge of what I want to learn about a topic? What if teachers acted more as facilitators than as dictators-of-curriculum?
Ok, I’ll get off my “higher” education soapbox now.
@Michael Awesome! That seems like a really great way to see your interests so far in a nutshell. I like it! FYI here is the author of The Renaissance Soul’s website which has some interesting materials/downloads including the first chapter of the book and educational handouts for career advisors and guidance counselors (which I found quite validating since a lot of this “should do one thing” trauma comes from the whole “career” crapola we were fed in school).
Michael Plishka says
Ok I had to think about what you wrote because something was bothering me a little.
This is random but related, I just came across this quote which is apropos because of the word “success” which is always problematic for me:
“Success is perishable and often outside our control. In contrast, excellence is something that’s lasting, dependable and within a person’s control.” Joe Paterno
It’s not precisely what I feel, but it’s nearby. I think it’s OK to do things even if you don’t become “excellent” at them, but I *really* think it is OK to do or be a certain way even if it has nothing to do with “success” which often has connotations of fame/prosperity.
To bring it back around, success doesn’t validate who I am or that it’s OK to be that way.
So I think that saying “It’s OK to have multiple interests because diversification is a good business strategy/prosperity strategy” still sets it up as needing justification, i.e. it is coming from the position of it not being acceptable and it needing to defend it or justify it in some way. Does that make sense?
In other words, it’s OK because it’s who I am and I’m OK. Rather than it’s OK because it really is beneficial in XYZ ways. That’s where I want to be coming from.
Terry Heath says
Thanks for the second book recommendation too. I’ve added it to my Amazon wish list (which I just found how to make!) and am sure I’ll come back for it soon (working on the cash flow right now).
Also, great point about facilitator-educators . . . that would be an ideal classroom format! But alas, much of the academic world wouldn’t get it.
David S. says
Hear hear! I agree with what you say and glad there’s a book about it. Another author I like who champions the “multiple job streams” concept is Barbara Winter, who wrote a book called “Joyfully Jobless” and blogs at http://joyfullyjobless.com/blog.
I’ve let way too much of my life go by trying to find the “one thing” that I love the most and can master better than anyone. Almost 50 now and haven’t found it yet. So, now I’m pursuing (primarily) two things I find really fun and interesting, and am hoping the skills will follow as I learn and grow. If one ends up calling to me more, I’ll go that way. As a result, I’ve been in a much better mood and am not frozen by inaction when I was putting so much pressure on finding and pursuing that “one true thing.” The challenge is not to take on too many things at once, or I lose focus and can’t do anything well, and end up frazzled and exhausted. (And for that, naps are good!)
Pace yourself, and thanks for the good writing!
Brandon W says
New reader here; found you by way of Havi. This is a great post by which to be introduced to you.
My whole life I’ve been unable to commit to one interest. I had 5 or 6 majors in college before finally deciding I needed to be “practical” and majored in marketing. Then I took a marketing job and was ground into a pulp by the mechanics of sitting in a cubicle 40 hours a week trying to say the same thing different ways and attempting to convince the executives that product development ought to start with this “crazy” notion of asking our customers what they want.
So I went to grad school. What I realized after I finished my Master’s was that I had just chosen to do an interdisciplinary graduate degree because I liked the various subject fields, and that it had done nothing to improve my job prospects because it didn’t specialize me further.
I have been a television producer, a computer technician, a copywriter, a photographer, an optician, and an administrator in a law school. And I still don’t feel like I’ve found any ONE thing I want to do. Right now I’m struggling to pin down what my next thing is going to be. Perhaps the answer is to go with the flow instead of trying to force myself into another pigeonhole?
What I can say, however, is that having a broad background of knowledge has given me the ability to learn new things more quickly because I can correlate them to existing knowledge. What’s more, I’m able to see trends and opportunities much better than most. That’s a strength I can take anywhere.
I’m glad to see there are others out there like me.
Hi Emma! I’m really enjoying my first visit to your blog!!!
This topic contributes to my thoughts about discovery I made about a week ago. I had the rare opportunity of having my family gone for 4 days. I got to “do whatever I wanted to do” for that whole time. My discovery was that I’m pretty much ALWAYS doing what I want to do, and that I’ve realized the life I set out to create. But I can’t always tell this. When I’m so often responding to input or requests, my awareness gets distracted.
I love the idea of increasing my awareness to honor myself & the diversity of activities I’m involved in. I’ll check out that book!
Anthony Freeman says
Thank you for that post. I’ve always envied people who seem to know what they were meant to do, as I’ve never felt that sense of having “one true passion” or a rigidly defined purpose. Of late, I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the fact that my interests are scattered and manifold. Given enough time–and posts like yours–I’ll accept myself for it, and even learn to enjoy it! 🙂
(Recommendation: Michael J. Gelb’s books about Leonardo da Vinci talk about this very succintly)
elizabeth m says
Hello Emma, a friend just suggested your blog. I am in India, teaching at a small alternative education school. Recently wanted to say that all of my internal drives that lead me here, clearly were WRONG. I appreciated this one so much. In the last three years I gave up trying to put my round peg in a million square holes. They never fit, and I ended up feeling like life was a wash. Revived and listening to my heart and spirit more have made life worth living. Mysteries lie on the other side. People fall into my path. I loose my way a million times. And then, wham, I’m back on again. This is life. I am living. Thank you for sharing.
I feel like you read my mind. I answered yes to all the questions you asked. I’m 24 and have made 3 different blogs and now working on consolidating my multiple interests. I always wonder if I’m selling myself short or setting myself up for failure but then I think- who says I have to pick just one? I’ve always been disappointed in my inability to choose one interest. Your blog was just what I needed to read as I embark on my new ‘journey’. I’ll def see if I can locate that book down here. All the best!
Linden Vine says
I’m not sure how I got to this post, but it’s great, thank you. I’m in the middle of reading what seems to be a similar book, by Barbara Sher, called Refuse to Choose! A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything You Love”. It really resonated with me as I’m interested in a number of very diverse things and in my late 30s still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. She refers to people such as me as ‘scanners’. I’m really interested to read this book now too, thank you!
Yup, there are several books and terms for it. Be sure to check out the blog Puttylike and the Puttytribe too.
I stumbled across your blog yesterday in a fit of existential despair (okay, slightly overexaggerated, but not that much 😉 ) and I’m back reading the same posts again this morning because they filled me with such peace and hope. So thank you for writing this blog, really and truly.
I am very much the person you describe above, and have fallen prey to the constant worry of being ‘jack of all trades and master of none’. It’s nice to see that it’s a personality type and to hear that maybe we should just embrace it rather than worry about it.
My big issue is trying to balance my creative pursuits (writing and music), my love of martial arts (and being good at it) and the more humdrum task of earning a living. But no job ever works for me and I always end up pushing my creative stuff aside by trying to force myself into a job or in training to do a new job. I hoped that self-employment would work better due to time management, but I still hate doing the work, which although it is writing related, still feels too machine-like as there is no space for my ideas. And that was what led me to your other post about not doing things you hate – I spend so much time disciplining myself to do things I don’t want to (thanks society) that I just drive myself completely insane. I also really loved your post on ‘heart’s desire’ vs goals, and did out a list for myself. It really is a good exercise 🙂
So, anyway, the crux of my problem is, as always, finding creative work that pays, and trying to find a balance between that and other passions. Ain’t figured it out yet! (The lottery maybe?)
So I have two thoughts – first on the practical side there is a site called PuttyLike that is devoted to the topic of careers for people who have this personality type.
Secondly on the emotional/inner side, I think it’s important to clearly differentiate between the realistic things you have to do, i.e. earn a living, and any negative self-talk about what you “should” do or how you “should” be. These both take up energy, but the latter is optional and can eat up your energy for the former.
So what I mean is, let’s say right now what you are doing for money is writing. Writing takes energy, especially if you’re not that into it. But you need to do it to eat. So if you were completely neutral about it, it would be like a chore, like cleaning the kitchen or taking your car to the mechanic.
However if you have a lot of mental noise about it, that can really drain your energy more than you need to. Some examples of mental noise are:
– I should be doing something else
– I should enjoy this, how come I don’t?
– I should be grateful that I have work at all
– I should be able to find work that is more fulfilling
You’ll notice what these all have in common is the “should”. In essence a “should” is judging reality as wrong and resisting it.
You can replace these thoughts with nonjudgmental statements that accept reality such as:
– I am doing this right now, and it is feeding me
– I don’t enjoy this and that’s OK
– I am grateful and I am also sad/frustrated and both are OK
– I feel torn about this work because it’s paying my bills but not completely satisfying
– I am looking for work that is more fulfilling and until I find it, paying my bills is good
The general idea is to accept the reality that you are in and do what you need to do with as much equanimity as possible, and not waste energy resisting what is. The peace and calm that come from not fighting reality frees up energy to spend on doing whatever you can to create the reality you want.
Hope this helps…