Have you spent your life frantically searching for that “one thing” you’re “supposed” to be doing? Do you have a hard time honing in on one path in life because you have multiple interests? Are you easily bored?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re not alone!
Until recently, I felt that there was something tragically wrong with me for having multiple interests. I was constantly down on myself for switching interests, majors, careers, and even hobbies! The result was a constant sense of guilt for being unable to just hone in and focus on one thing. And I felt as if I was somehow “behind” in life for the many twists and turns I’ve made, both personally and professionally.
Let me catch you up to speed on a few of those twists and turns.
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In my younger years, all I ever wanted to be was a veterinarian. I grew up on a farm and loved all types of animals but specifically wanted to be a large animal veterinarian.
All through high school, I focused on math and science classes. In my junior year, I chose a college with an excellent track record of preparing its students for the study of veterinary medicine. And then, not even a week into my freshman year, I did a complete 180. I suddenly found myself majoring in music, of all things!
At first glance, it may seem like a completely random change. However, I had actually taken piano lessons since the age of 7 and had a sincere passion for the instrument. But I had never considered music as a career until the first week of my freshman year at the university.
Studying piano at the college level was challenging in many ways. Despite the challenges, I found so much value in what I was learning and was incredibly motivated to improve my own playing abilities. It was, at first, all-consuming.
But then, at some point, my tendency to explore kicked in again.
Blazing New Paths
The summer after my freshman year, I worked as a camp counselor at a camp which featured horseback riding. I loved it so much that I spent the entire summer re-evaluating my decision to pursue music. And by the end of the summer, I was again signing up for ALL the math and animal science classes.
During the fall of my sophomore year, I spent time shadowing a large animal veterinarian, a prerequisite for veterinary school. In my head, I had this vision of what being a veterinarian was all about. And although the science fascinated me, the realistic daily life of being a veterinarian was polar opposite from my vision.
I found myself once again switching majors. This time to pre-law.
I honestly have no idea how I landed on this one but I did have some vague understanding that lawyers do a ton of reading. And I LOVE to read so somehow that seemed like the logical next step for my life.
My pre-law phase lasted exactly 1 semester and my transcript was officially starting to resemble some crazy squirrel desperately searching for buried nuts.
Multiple Interests Collide
Since my business law grade certainly didn’t reflect a passion for that field, I again dedicated myself to music. Even despite all the major changing I had done over the past several years, I had continued to study piano. I also had taken a position accompanying a church choir in my college town and even took up studying organ, something I had never in a million years considered doing before.
As graduation grew closer however, I grew more and more anxious about how I would actually make money after college. My degree was not strictly a teaching one but had more of a broad, liberal arts emphasis. That meant I would have to be creative about making an actual living. Not a great feeling when at your core, you are a type A planner who NEEDS a plan to survive.
I did briefly consider studying piano at the graduate level however at the time had very deep-rooted doubts about my talent and playing ability. Combined with significant performance anxiety, it didn’t seem like the best option at the time.
And so, once again, I did a complete 180. I finished out my music degree and ultimately graduated with a bachelor of science in fine arts but after graduation, set my sights on nursing.
Again, this may seem like a complete deviation from everything thus far except on two counts. One was that my mom was a nurse and I therefore had a somewhat cursory understanding of what the job entailed. The second was that I had a TON of science classes under my belt thus far.
Trouble finding clarity in your life? Check out this post to find yourself again.
What the …???
Over the next several years, I gradually finished up a 2 year nursing program, worked a variety of different nursing positions including as a floor nurse and in management, and finished up a 4 year nursing program. At which point I began asking myself, “Now what?”
Once again I began feeling restless.
Ultimately these feelings culminated in pursuing a graduate nursing degree and eventually, a career as a nurse practitioner. Although I enjoy the flexibility this position offers, I continue to long for new knowledge and experiences in completely unrelated fields.
And I have continued to foster music in my life through various accompanying gigs, an occasional piano student, and a full-time organist position at a local church.
Even beyond nursing and music, I also started a blog and took up the sport of dressage in recent years.
At this point, you’re either nodding your head because you have a similar story or are asking what the f*** is wrong with me.
And I sincerely hope you are the first because maybe you too have felt behind and confused about your multiple interests. Maybe you’ve been frustrated by your lack of significant progress in any one area. Or perhaps you feel annoyed that you just can’t seem to follow one thing to completion.
Your Greatest Strength
This next part is 100% for you. I see you and feel you because I was you until I discovered this book which changed EVERYTHING. And after a bit more research, I discovered that there are actually people out there wired just like me. People with multiple interests in seemingly unrelated fields, called by some “polymaths” and “multipotentialites” by others.
Regardless of the term, I discovered the truth that there’s NOTHING wrong with having multiple interests. And not only is there nothing wrong with multiple interests but it actually could be your greatest strength!
The Myth of Specialization
From an economic standpoint, specialization makes sense. Specialization, or the focus on one specific task or field, results in greater productivity. It also enables the ability to become really good at something because it’s the only thing you focus on.
And specialization is emphasized even from our earliest years. Specialization is expected from the minute you are first asked what you want to be when you grow up. At that moment, the seeds of being “one thing” above all else are planted.
As we grow older, we are expected to fall into some type of category. We either fall into the doctor, the factory worker, or any number of other “one thing” categories. And by doing so, putting everyone into neat and tiny boxes becomes infinitely easier.
But what if you don’t fall into a specific category? What if having multiple interests means you are constantly on the search for that next thing to fully engage and fascinate you? And what if you never felt that “one thing” calling?
Well then, my friend, you are very likely a “polymath” or a “multipotentialite.” You have the unique ability to morph into many different categories and provide the type of insight no one else has. Having multiple interests is your super power and your greatest strength.
And you most certainly are not alone.
Real Life Examples
Throughout history, there are dramatic examples of people who have multiple interests and never specialized in any one thing. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, was a painter, inventor, and early engineering genius who made lasting impacts on a wide array of fields.
Nikola Tesla was a mathematician, inventor, and humanitarian who also spoke 8 different languages.
And Helen Keller made profound achievements in activism, as an author, and as a lecturer all over the world despite her significant sensory challenges.
Clearly, there are profound benefits of having multiple interests even if society would have you believing otherwise.
Creative Problem Solving
One of the most significant benefits to having multiple interests is the ability to creatively problem solve. Instead of pulling from a very specific and narrow knowledge base, you are able to integrate ideas from seemingly unrelated topics. This offers a completely different perspective to problem solving.
Although I’m not denying the fact that there are times when a specialist perspective is required, multipotentialites are in a much better position to solve truly complex issues. And as the world becomes more and more complex, we need multipotentialites to synthesize information which may never have been connected before.
We need people to reach out across disciplines to advance technology and our understanding of ourselves.
Check out this book for even more fascinating examples of how multipotentialites bring a unique perspective to problems old and new.
Another significant benefit to being a multipotentialite is the variety which comes from having multiple interests. You’re not afraid to try new things and branch out because you’ve done it 3 million times before.
I would also venture to say that you’re deeply connected to yourself and have a solid understanding of your interests.
You’re likely to be one of those people with 15 different simultaneous (and seemingly unrelated) projects but wouldn’t have it any other way!
Overthinking on overdrive? Check out this post to find out how you can clear your mind.
One Step Closer to Success
In a specialized world, giving up on something before you’ve seen it to fruition very much seems like failure. It seems like a complete waste of time and effort.
But what if I told you that every failure is a step closer to success? What if I said that quitting something early on actually means you are that much closer to true success?
Instead of wasting your time on projects or hobbies you’ve lost interest in, you’re free to move on to the next thing. And yes, there’s something to be said for sticking with something to the bitter end but there’s also something to be said about having the courage to move on.
Even if your progress seems small, we can’t predict the future. There’s no way to know the impact that small progress will have on your or others in the future. No effort when done for a noble pursuit is a waste!
Never be afraid to move on because you never know the success hiding around the next bend in the road!
Check out this book for even more stories of how “giving up” is a good thing.
It’s Your Turn
At the end of the day, having multiple interests is a spectacular quality which opens countless doors for you. It’s true that you’ll probably never find your “one thing” because you’re destined for “greater THINGS.” Your contribution is an outstanding one which we need in this highly complex world we find ourselves in.
I honestly had zero understanding of just how powerful having multiple interests is prior to stumbling upon a book written by David Epstein called ‘Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.’ Prior to reading this book recently, I felt that I was doomed to continue wandering around aimlessly searching for the “one thing” which is my destiny.
His book completely revolutionized my outlook and left me asking, “What next?” Where else can I contribute? What are the other areas where I can make an impact?
If any of this rings true to you, drop what you’re doing and grab ‘Range.’ I guarantee that it will erase all the guilt you’re carrying around and enable you to triumph because of rather than despite your multiple interests.
And as always, I would love to hear what you think about this post. Tell me all about the winding path your life has taken thus far and what you’ve come away with as a result of failing to stick to the beaten path.
And never forget that you are amazing with incredibly unique gifts to share with the world!