Many talented and gifted individuals are told, “You can be anything!” But for some, they really can’t. Some individuals are truly talented or gifted in many areas. There are even individuals considered globally gifted because their scores are so high in all academic areas. This is often called multiply talented or multipotentiality. And for them, being talented in many areas makes it too difficult to choose one area to specialize in or focus on. Some people use the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none.” So, for the individuals with multipotentiality or giftedness in many areas, they could be anything they want but they can’t pick or decide on just one. But, maybe this is where society is wrong. Multipotential individuals should not have to pick just one.
Multipotentiality is a huge issue for the educational-vocational counseling of gifted youth. It is too hard for them to choose what they want to be or do as adults because they are capable of doing well in too many areas. They have too many choices and a tendency to get bored easily because they are inadequately challenged. Some have a constant need for something new and challenging. These youth tend to become adults that jump between interests and passions. They often are misunderstood and judged as flaky, immature, or indecisive because they have multiple interests and do not focus or specialize in one. Problems arise if they don’t master at least one of their interests or skills. And, having so many possibilities to choose from can be a great source of stress.
There are some ways to help gifted youth understand their multipotentiality and cope with it. They need to be reassured that they do not need to pick just one career choice. They can have multiple degrees and careers. I know many people who have both music and engineering degrees. It is possible to pursue multiple areas at the same time. Multipotential youth need to be encouraged to develop a hobby or use a leisure activity to continue to work on an ability, interest, or passion that is separate from the career they are pursuing. It is possible to continue to do art or music or sports while doing an academically focussed career. They need to see adults doing this and they need to realize they don’t have to stop one activity just because they get a job. Many inventors tinker at home after their day job. We have friends who use their musical and artistic talents as their form of stress relief from their day job.
Another aspect to helping multipotential youth is to help them explore broad categories of life satisfaction. Career counseling and career exploration are great ways to learn more about job pursuits and levels of job happiness. But, youth also need to learn about other ways of judging life satisfaction such as determining happiness for them, making a difference, helping others, creating, varying personality features, their own family values, and life experiences. Having other multipotential youth discussing these issues can help them realize that they are not alone with their concerns or worries. Having a discussion with other adults that are not related to them can also help.
Some will say “it is the generalist that often runs the company versus the specialist.” Thus, it is important to not minimize the difficulties in career and life planning of multipotential youth. They need help in finding the positives and in finding a way to balance multiple interests. They really do not need to specialize in just one area. More importantly, they need to come to their own terms with a dying or fading interest and understanding that there will always be something new to do or learn. Multipotential youth can develop into adults with a broad range of transferable skills. There is no reason to force them to pick one area to specialize.
Additional readings on multipotentiality:
- “Good at Too Many Things” by Byrdseed
- “Multipotentiality Among the Intellectually Gifted: “It Was Never There and Already It’s Vanishing“” by Achter, Lubinski, and Benbow
- “Multipotentiality” by Tamara Fisher
- “What’s the Difference Between ADD and Multipotentiality?” by Brenda Scott
- “When I Grow Up: Multipotentiality And Gifted Youth” by Zadra Rose Ibanez
- “Multipotentiality: When High Ability Leads to Too Many Options” by Lisa Rivero
- “Multipotentiality: multiple talents, multiple challenges, and rewards” by Douglas Eby
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on “Multipotentiality.” I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see the other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants, or cut and paste this URL into your browser: