How to Find Your Intersections (Or, What’s Your Super-Horse?)
Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives.

How to Find Your Intersections (Or, What’s Your Super-Horse?)

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Innovation

We multipotentialites can appear weak when we judge at our talents in isolation from one another.

Oh, I’m not as good a musician as he is.

I haven’t put in as many hours as her. How could I ever compete?

Viewing interests one at a time is a perfectly valid way to look at the world. Judging people’s abilities separately, in each distinct field, seems to be a natural way of doing things. (The tendency has nothing to do with nature, but we won’t go into that…)

But multipotentialites are strong when our passions intersect. And we’re strongest when we create new intersections by bringing together previously unrelated interests.

Fig. 1: How one multipotentialite accidentally invented the “Super-Horse”

Specialization for multipods

A multipotentialite is as capable as anyone else of become a highly skilled expert in a narrow subject. Perhaps your only desire is to become the greatest violinist in the world. So you put in your 10,000+ hours, become a violin specialist, and express your multipotentiality elsewhere in your life. Perfect.

But let’s just say you’re also passionate about circus skills and speaking French. One day, multipotentialite inspiration suddenly strikes! You realize you’re the best multilingual circus musician anyone has ever seen. Your act stuns crowds and soon copycats are reciting French poetry while playing the violin and riding unicycles in every town on Earth.* In this case, your specialty is the intersection of your disparate passions.

* Okay, I share your doubts that this act would be especially successful, but a) success is relative and b) you get my point, right?

Feel stuck? Examine your intersections

Your strange intersections may be unexpected. They may be unwieldy at first. But the fact that they are authentically, totally you can help motivate you and make you stand out from the crowd.

A few years ago, I was coming out of a very anxious period. I started to write my story down, hoping it would help others who struggled with anxiety. But it didn’t feel right. Somehow it lacked the essence of me. It read as another dry tale of I was anxious and these things helped.

Then I thought about what other passions I had that might intersect with my mental health story. I thought of both my standup comedy experience and my degree in physics. I ended up using the math of non-Newtonian fluids to write a humorous book about my anxiety.

Now, when I tell people I wrote a comedy book about anxiety, their interest is immediately piqued. I found an unusual intersection—a unique crossroads that allowed me to play to my strengths. I’m not the best non-fiction writer in the world, but I just might be the best custard-and-physics-based humorous mental health writer.

How to find your intersections

Your brain is amazing at finding links between concepts. Seriously. Open up two books near you, pick a couple of words at random, and try to explain how they’re linked. You’ll find it’s relatively easy to come up with a link, no matter how ridiculous the pair of words is.

I just tried this and got distortion and umbrella. It’s almost too easy! The umbrella distorts the path of rain to keep me dry.

Let’s try it again: courage and fuel. I can think of all the things that fuel my courage. Or I could write a short story about someone finding courage to steal fuel and visit their family over Christmas. Or anything. The point is that our brains have incredible pattern-finding skills, which we can take advantage of in order to find our intersections.

Try this:

Scribble down some of your passions, interests, hobbies, and skills on a piece of paper. Don’t do it as a list; instead aim to randomly scatter them around the page. Put them all over the paper.

Then pick a couple (if you want to be truly random, drop a coin on the paper and choose the word it lands on, and then repeat) and think of links between them.

Stitching and chemistry… Maybe I could make elements-themed wall hangings to sell on Etsy.

Dancing and social media… I could post a different dance move on Vine every day!

History and making friends… What if I started a meet-up in my town to talk about a different period of history every week?

Your ideas will be better than mine. I’m just throwing out whatever my mind throws out!

Can you mix three interests together? Four?

Many ideas you come up with this way will be terrible. That’s fine. But a few will feel exciting. Maybe one will be exciting enough to get you unstuck and on to your next project. Maybe one will be your Super-Horse!

Your Turn

Have you ever combined diverse interests to create something new? What ideas have you always dreamed of putting together?

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

21 Comments

  1. J'aime says:

    Now I’m picturing a business card for you that proclaims “custard-and-physics-based humorous mental health writer” under your name.

    This exercise sounds fun, I’ll try it!

  2. Iraide says:

    Great! :D You’re addressing a core capacity of many multipotentialites: creativity and lateral thinking! Loved this article!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Exactly! I think when multipods flip their thinking like this they tap into their real strengths :) Really glad you liked it, thanks!

  3. Henry says:

    Great article, though you can’t post anything to Vine anymore, the platform has been taken down recently. :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Good point :( This article has been in the queue for a while. Still, the idea is sound even if the platform is not any longer :D Thanks for the correction.

  4. Ismail says:

    Pst!….the secret of my selling; “I’m an Intrests curator”

  5. Marianna says:

    I got Emilie’s e-book in august as I started my own business. Surprisingly, though it certainly helped, it took me a long while to figure out what I really wanted. I knew I wanted to do digital marketing and my skills and passion were in both analysis and social sciences.

    Then, I got a customer who was a coach. Then a second one. And a trainer. And another coach. It was crazy. So now I’m niching down: I’m the online marketing and website for coaches, therapists and trainers specialists. How cool is that? :D

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yay! I think it’s a real leap to realise that finding a narrow niche isn’t necessarily bad for multipotentialites – all the most unusual, interesting niches are by their nature very narrow! Really awesome that you found something that works for you so naturally.

  6. Felicia says:

    I love this article, it’s brilliant. I’ve actually always loved making unusual connections and, when studying cinema, I was SO fond of Enrico Ghezzi for his unique ability to make his film analysis so interesting by putting references from phylosophy, history, psychology, literature and any sorts of discipline into it. It was simply genius and I always got super excited because, thanks to my human studies, I could follow the intricate paths and maps he had created. It felt so good.
    I changed my mind, life path and career so many times they’re countless. Every time I feel it’s going to be forever, but now I know it’s not and it’s okay. I feel that knowledge it’s like an avalanche, it grows overtime and invest any new activity you get into. I love that!
    I’ve connected my crafting and IT skills to become a (future) expert of how crafters can run their business, and as having live across countries, I can make the most of two cultures and ways of practice. I’ve also joined my essential sewing skills (and lack of patience for intricate patterns) with my minimal design taste and experience of errand life, to start developing a collection of minimal pieces that are comfortable to wear, multifunctional, fold in no space and can be carried around while on the go in the city or travelling. They are also ethically produced due to my ecofriendly awareness, and aim to a more relaxed way of living, as I suffer from anxiety and love packing light but also have options of things to wear or accessories to organize my stuff, like tiny items or tickets/IDs and so on. :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thanks Felicia :) So happy it resonated. Everything you say is so correct, thanks for sharing your story! Sending you loads of good wishes for your clothing business.

  7. Nicky says:

    @felicia links! I’d love to see what you’re working on for minimalist travelable clothing. I made my own bags and luggage inserts for the same kind of reason.

  8. Lianna says:

    Neil, I always enjoy your articles because they simultaneously reassure me and make me laugh and then leave me feeling inspired. Whenever my anxiety kicks in that I’m trying to do too many things and therefore being a master of none, you make me feel charged up that I will be the best feminist garden writer there is! And for that, I deeply thank you.

    • Maryske says:

      Hear hear! Neil is my favourite writer on this blog as well, for the exact same reason :-)

  9. “We multipotentialites can appear weak when we judge at our talents in isolation from one another”.
    ABSOLUTELY!

    Like mr. genius Albert once wrote (according to Matthew Kelly´s book “The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose”):

    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.

  10. Aishwarya Pradhan says:

    Superb article Neil,

    Lesson learned: “Multipotentialites should never judge themselves based on a single stream.”

    Once again,
    Thank you so much for writing and clearing the mist of confusion and fear from our minds and make us feel healthy.

    Keep writing more :)

  11. Maryske says:

    Well, I’ve started writing down all my hobbies etc the other evening. Not sure I got them all yet… The fun thing is, that even without randomly dropping a derelict 50 öre coin on the paper, I already started making some interesting connections that I never really considered before.

    For example: there’s those standard resident language courses in all kinds of languages (EF etc). What if we could have a language course for a week or two (or longer) that is totally focused on preparing and doing a performance in the arts? A play, a musical, a choir concert. There’d be classes in the morning where the students focus on learning and pronouncing their lines and songs. And figuring out what exactly they’ll be saying on stage. And in the afternoon and/or evening, there’d be rehearsals, with a performance staged on the final night. (Not sure who we’d be performing for since friends and family are likely to be hundreds or thousands of miles away, but that part needs some further thought.) Or maybe we could make a film together, or so.
    Basically, they’d be learning the language purely by *using* it. And my job would exist of scriptwriting, song- and lyrics writing and translating, choir conductor, director, meeting lots of new people, even from very different cultures, work with people from many different linguistic backgrounds and picking bits and pieces from them as well, and by the side I could do the school’s rostering, and for example serve as their on location tourist information officer.
    In short: I’d be doing exactly what seems to be the direction in which I need to look for my overarching theme: helping people to get better at what they want to do, and to make people happy.
    I admit it doesn’t cover everything (not sure for example where rabbits would fit in here…), but it seems to cover quite a bit!

    So thanks for the tip – I’ll keep working on it!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      That’s such a fascinating idea, and I love how naturally it arose from you looking at all your interests and imagining how to combine them! (It got me excited reading it, too – what a cool way to learn a new language!)

      Thanks for sharing, and keep us all posted on how the idea (or other ideas!) develops :)

  12. Sienna says:

    Hilariously enough, violin, circus skills, and French are ALL on my priority list of interests/skills. Clearly this is a sign.

    Just now I’m working on a project combining my love of linguistics, philosophy, mythology, and comic book illustration! I’m working with a member of the Ojibwe community to illustrate a traditional story as my honours thesis for my degree. I get to use a skill I never thought would be relevant to academia, and I’m just starting to appreciate the new perspective it’s brought me re: the possibility of combining interests.

    I think the most important thing to do is just TRY making these interest-chimeras. If you do it once, even if it’s totally weird and not everyone gets it, you’ve shown your brain a new way of thinking, and that new way of thinking will pay dividends down the line.

    Thanks for another encouraging (and really funny) post! (PS I’m literally 40 pages away from finishing your book and, speaking as a reader, the whole custard-and-physics-based humorous mental health writer thing has definitely worked out successfully.)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, I love it! I wondered if my random examples would actually describe anybody, so happy they did :D

      That project sounds AMAZING – is it going to be public anywhere? Would love to read it when it’s done.

      Also, thanks so much for the kind words about my book. Smiling a lot to hear it :)

  13. Michael Cooke says:

    I loved this article. Sometimes what feels like an impossible task is facilitated by a simple (but powerful) model. It is also true that you never know who needs that exact mix of skills.