3 Things I Learned About Learning (When Learning Social Skills)
Photo courtesy of Adrea Allen.

3 Things I Learned About Learning (When Learning Social Skills)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Education

Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by Daniel Wendler.

School lied to you.

You learn a lot in school, it’s true. But school hides the truth about learning–and ignores one of the key strengths of the multipotentialite.

In school, your classes are split up neatly into subjects, and the subjects don’t interact. The Pythagorean theorem isn’t going to help you on that English essay or history test.

In life, everything informs everything. The knowledge you gained in one subject will help you in every other subject–if you let it.

Obviously, the actual facts you learn will rarely translate. The Pythagorean theorem is still useless when you’re trying to master the ukelele.

But the way you learned to think crosses effortlessly between different subjects. You can apply the analytical thinking of an engineer to find new patterns to explore in your art. You can use metaphors from literature to help you understand your business practices. The possibilities really are endless.

I learned this ten years ago, when I embarked on the biggest learning experience of my life.

I have something called Asperger’s syndrome. In a nutshell, Asperger’s means that I’m not wired to learn social skills in the way that other people naturally do. But when I was diagnosed in 2002, I decided my diagnosis wasn’t going to define me. If I couldn’t learn social skills the same way as other people, I was going to find another way to learn them.

So I did.

I learned how to understand social cues, communicate well, connect with others. I built several intimate friendships, dated two wonderful girls, and I even started a website — Improve Your Social Skills – to share my knowledge with others.

Learning Made Easy

How did I do it?

Simple. I used the skills I had already learned—no matter how diverse—-to help me learn social skills. I used my speed-reading ability to devour libraries full of social skills books. I used my analytical mind to sort social skills concepts into rational categories. Heck, I even used my skills in video games, since both video games and social skills involve recognizing what’s going on and reacting accordingly.

And you know what? Not only did I get good at social skills, but I was able to get so much better than I would have if I had gone about it in a straightforward way. Because I was able to look at social skills from so many different angles, I gained a truly deep understanding of how people interact and how relationships develop. I could never have written Improve Your Social Skills if I’d learned social skills the “normal” way, because it was the roundabout route that taught me the full understanding I need to teach others.

The Multipotentialite Advantage

That, in a nutshell, is why it is so exciting to be a  multipotentialite.

While most people pick only a small handful of interests to pursue, we jump effortlessly through genres. At first glance, that seems to put as at a disadvantage—how can we expect to compete with the people who spend all their time mastering one thing?

But we bring all of our knowledge to any new area of interest. Our art is better because of our interest in quantum mechanics. Our writing is better because of our experimentation with dance. Our relationships are deeper because of what we’ve learned from our favorite novels.

And that allows us to contribute in a way that is truly unique.

It’s important to have people who stick with one thing and master it. When I travel, I’m glad the pilot is a master of keeping the airplane aloft.

But I believe it is far more exciting to be the one who brings fresh insight and a new perspective. And as a multipotentialite, you are the best person to do that. You have a wealth of different knowledge and experiences, which you can draw from every time you are presented with something new.

All of your skills and experiences—even the ones you no longer practice—are making you better at everything new that you attempt. Your eclectic interests are  not a waste of time or evidence of a character flaw, but rather the foundation upon which you will make your incredible contribution to the world.

So keep learning, my friends. Follow your passions wherever they lead, because what you learn today will be with you for a lifetime.

Your Turn

How has being a multipotentialite impacted your learning?

Daniel Wendler is the Austin-based author of Improve Your Social Skills, a comprehensive online guide to social skills. He also does improv theater, creative writing and blues dancing, he works in search engine marketing, speaks Spanish and…well, he’s a multipotentialite. You get the idea. Follow him at ImproveYourSocialSkills.com or DanielWendler.com.

10 Comments

  1. Morgan says:

    You’re absolutely right that one learning experience impacts the other. Time and time again I take the knowledge from something else and apply it to another. I don’t think we could really survive in this world without being diverse like that. We all pull from our experiences and knowledge so that we can improve other experiences and knowledge.

    They even cross over quite a bit, in the sense that one piece of knowledge will be able to coexist and be taught together at the same time.

    Pretty cool to think about!

    Thanks for the post. :)

    • Dan says:

      Thanks Morgan! I think that’s a very good point that different pieces of knowledge are able to be taught at the same time. It’s not just that your old knowledge informs your new knowledge, but your new knowledge also informs your old knowledge.

      I might be a better artist today because I studied dance yesterday, but when I go dance again tomorrow I’ll use the new knowledge I learned about art to inform my dance. So everything keeps interacting forever, and your knowledge just keeps growing and growing :)

  2. Selena Delesie says:

    Daniel – Great post! I can really relate.

    Asperger’s runs in my family (cousin, nephew, and a few people who are suspected to but are undiagnosed), and I’ve only really begun to understand it in the last few years. My 8 year old son strongly exhibits as Asperger’s so I’ve been researching it extensively the last few years.

    I was surprised to discover that I too have strong characteristics – I just thought I was an eclectic person. Social skills were challenging for me from a very young age (as they are for my son), so I learned to mimic other people in order to fit in a little. In my mid-20’s I put a lot of effort into absorbing everything I could to learn how to interact socially more successfully and it has paid off! I still need to run a mental check to make sure I’m doing certain things – listen, make eye contact, smile, don’t stare too long, slow down, ask questions, modulate tone of voice, etc. Now, I’m working on helping my son gain these skills from a younger age – challenging, to say the least. :)

    AND I completely agree with your take on learning and how it rocks for us multipotentialites. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks Selena! I’m glad to hear that you’ve also had success in overcoming the challenges of Asperger’s. It is tough, and you never get “cured”, but (as you and I experienced), it really is possible to train yourself in the social skills that others learn naturally.

      And once folks with Asperger’s learn to relate with others, then other people get to experience the wonderful uniqueness of the Aspie personality. My Asperger’s has given me a lot of challenges, it’s true. But I have many strengths stemming from it as well, and I think a lot of what is unique and beautiful about me stems from the unique influence of Asperger’s as well. I wouldn’t be “normal” if I could be.

      And it’s that acceptance of identity that’s so cool about what I do with Improve Your Social Skills. Sure, I’m really excited to help people get better on their social skills, and make more friends, and maybe even find a date.

      But I really hope to help people get to the point where they can accept and celebrate the unique differences that make them who they are. If you struggle socially as a result of Asperger’s, or as a result of being a deep thinker, or being shy, or looking at life in a different way, then it’s easy to start thinking that those parts of you are bad. But if you can overcome the social difficulties, then you can really cherish the positive parts of those differences.

      With your son, I hope that he learns to socialize well, and that he has lots of friends and etc. But I really, really hope that he accepts and appreciates the quirky beauty that Asperger’s gives him, because that is real and that is worth celebrating :)

  3. Sarah says:

    Love this post :)

    I was told I was dyslexic at a very young age. I’d always had difficulty reading and writing (although I adored both equally), but being told I was dyslexic freed me. I learnt what being dyslexic meant (and developed a fascination with etymology in the process), which gave me the tools I needed to learn what I wanted to know. Using patterns to remember how to spell words was the biggest joy! (I still use Big Elephants Can Add Up Sums Easily to spell because).

  4. Stuart says:

    It’s so funny that you mention the big lie of school. I went to school to become a teacher and that was ultimately what stopped me from becoming one. I loved interacting with the students and the subject I was going to teach (German). But I had such a hard time trying to get reactions from the students during my internship (and mind you this is with a foreign language, one of the easiest to mix with other subjects) the problem was that each subject required a specific vocabulary that only a small amount of the students had an interest in learning and then had little practical use outside of that niche in the language. Also I didn’t like the idea of only having my summers to pursue my multitude of interests.

  5. Dan says:

    Wonderful :) It’s so funny how often times a diagnosis doesn’t lock you into your challenges–it frees you from them. Congratulations on your success!

  6. Some good points indeed. However, I would take issue with the Pythagorean Theorem not aiding your ukelele skills or mastering your exams. What the Pythagorean Theorem teaches us is not so much about mathematics or geometry (though those are essential to the architect and engineer), but about relationships and understanding form. These two elements are essential when approaching every aspect of life and learning.

    I am sure that I am perceived as a multipotentialite because I engage in a smorgasbord of endeavors. But I see them all as the same thing. Whether I am becoming a master gardener, an artisan bread baker, a fiber artist or painter or remodeling my house…it’s all the same. What I bring to them is the unifying factor. I bring my set of problem solving skills. I see relationships and form and try to order chaos into something elegant and understandable… an esthetic experience. Leonardo was a true multipotentialite but instead was called a Renaissance Man. He approached everything with the same goal… to explore, to understand and to enlighten. His mind was in a constant state of wonder. His approach was not untethered self-expression, but disciplined play. Truly a model for us all.

  7. Jay Johnson says:

    Sweet! Yes, making inter-disciplinary connections between seemingly random information is so much fun.

  8. Reyna says:

    I am at 36 years old female and I struggle with social skills. My son was diagnosed with ADHD and is when I found out that we don’t have social skills. Now I am looking to improve my social skills; as you mention they don’t teach them at school and it is really hard. I am glad I found this site and see that I am not the only one (as you can see I even struggle writing).

    Thank you,

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