How to Get Over Multipotentialite Guilt and “Wasted Talent”
Photo courtesy of David Goehring.

How to Get Over Multipotentialite Guilt and “Wasted Talent”

Written by Joanna James-Lynn

Topics: Fear

Do you ever look at former colleagues and classmates with envy, because they’re heading down a path you’re no longer on? Have you ever wondered what an ex teacher or mentor would think if they could see what you’re up to now? Do you ever feel like you’ve let your parents down by not becoming a bestselling author, Olympic swimmer, or Nobel prize-winning scientist?

Giving up an interest or pursuit doesn’t just mean letting go of that particular project; it also means letting go of a future, perhaps even a dream, and an identity.

When you’ve spent years immersed in an activity and the world that goes along with it, and when you’ve been told repeatedly that you have a talent for that thing, you can end up feeling very guilty for not fulfilling your potential.

Do You Ever Feel like You’re Wasting Your Talent(s)?

A while back, a member of the Puttytribe posted in the forums, asking if any other multipotentialites felt guilty about “wasting their talents.”

Although the poster had found a way to combine her artistic talents with her other passions, through illustration, she couldn’t help feeling bad for not having become a “real artist.” She felt her old art teachers would be appalled to know she hadn’t become the big-time artist or designer they’d assumed she would be.

It turned out she wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Several of the other puttypeeps could relate:

For years after Emilie lost interest in music and songwriting, she couldn’t bring herself to touch her guitar because she felt guilty.

The voices in Olga’s head kept telling her that any job that didn’t require all of her talent, ten years of studying, and at least two degrees, was worthless. (Even though she was thoroughly enjoying her job as a video game tester.)

Maryske was overqualified for her job and, although she loved knowing she was making an impact, she couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling that she was wasting her talent.

Multipotentialite guilt, it would seem, is pretty common.

How to Deal with Multipotentialite Guilt

Guilt is a complex thing, tied up in identity, dreams, and a lifetime of expectations. No quick trick is going to rid you of it completely. But there are a few things you can do to begin to understand and chip away at it.

1) Understand yourself and your needs

Our characteristics and personalities shape our lives and determine what we do. If we can start to understand the different parts of ourselves, we can start to understand why we behave the way we do. We can see that, being the way we are, we were always going to behave this way.

For example, my personality type is INFP. If you look at the career recommendations for INFPs, you’ll find freelancing, blogging, and writing. Lots of INFPs work from home.

I have done all of these things and I do indeed work from home. So while I might have believed, when I was younger, that I’d end up working in an office one day, that was always unlikely because of my personality type.

If you’re super logical, you might be more likely to become a scientist than an actor. If you’re extroverted, you might be more likely to work in PR than in data analysis. And if you’re a multipotentialite, you’re probably more likely to explore many different fields than stick with just one.

If you can understand that other characteristics of yours determine, limit, and shape what you can do and enjoy, you can see that multipotentiality will do this too. If you’re a multipotentialite, it’s your nature to hop around and follow your curiosity. Try to accept that.

2) Do what makes you happy (at the moment)

Ultimately, it has to come back to happiness. Presumably at least part of you believes that using your talents would make you happy, either directly or indirectly (for example by making your parents proud).

But if you’re honest with yourself, you probably know that after a year, ten years, or twenty years – however long it would take you to reach your personal end point – you would be sick of your field. Getting yourself to show up every day and work on the same thing over and over again would make you miserable.

There’s no point using your talents if doing so will make you miserable. Do what will make you happy instead and use happiness as your measure of success.

3) Imagine what your life would be like

Following on from the previous point, if you want to really convince yourself that it’s OK not to have become an Olympic athlete or bestselling author, imagine the life you would have to have had to get there.

What does it take to be world class at something? Training every single day. Studying the craft or science behind your pursuit. Shutting out all other distractions. Dedicating yourself to your goal 100%.

Really imagine what your day-to-day life would like. Then imagine doing the same thing for a month or even a year or a lifetime. Doing this should help you to see this dream as much less appealing.

4) Understand your hierarchy of values

Going back to our discussion in the Puttytribe, Olga pointed out that everyone has a strict hierarchy of values in their heads, and that everyone’s hierarchy is different. While you might value fine art over illustration, your neighbor might value illustration over fine art.

You’re probably beating yourself up for not doing something you perceive to be better than the thing you are doing, but there is no objective “better” and “best.” Your hierarchy is made up and so is mine.

Fun, pleasure, and happiness, however, are more measurable. You can be happier living the life you’re living than you would have been if you’d taken a different path.

Rather than feeling guilty because what you’re doing isn’t high up in your made-up list of values, focus on becoming happier.

5) Accept that this feeling probably won’t ever go away 

Most of us have grown up hearing that we have so much potential and being told we have to strive to be the very best we can be. We live in a specialist’s world. Undoing a lifetime’s worth of messages is going to take a long time. Be patient.

Let Go of Your Guilt

Whenever you find yourself feeling guilty for not sticking with an interest, remind yourself of these points.

Instead of worrying, put your energy into doing whatever it is that would make you happiest right now, even if that thing won’t bring you success, fame, or fortune. Happiness is more important than success, right?

Thank you to the puttypeep for the advice they shared in this Puttytribe discussion.

Do you have a question you’re dying to ask your multipotentialite peers? Could you use some support as you build a life around your many interests? Check out the Puttytribe — our safe, supportive, magical community of multipotentialites.

jo_authorbioJoanna James-Lynn is a virtual assistant, podcaster, blogger, and writer. She’s fascinated by personality, identity, and self-awareness – themes she explores in her podcast, Introspectology, on her blog, and in the books she writes. Find out more about her projects at JoannaJamesLynn.com or follow her on Twitter @joannajameslynn.

40 Comments

  1. Denny says:

    Well articulate Joanna. Live the present moment and be at peace with self. Keep up the good work. Best, Denny

  2. victor says:

    I would like to develop the ability to be focused on a single goal for a long time, like playing the guitar for 8 hours in a row, and doing it everyday as a routine, to get some mastery in something, I feel I know a lot of things, but most of them are not really useful for me because I only know the surface, the concept, I would like to find a good way to push my self to be focused, avoid the uncomfortable feeling that walks my spine after some minutes doing the same thing. So I am trying with meditation, drawing and crafting something far away from the computer or cellphone to avoid distractions, but, damn… I don´t know why I can´t enjoy the air and the sun on my skin when meditating for a log time, 5 or 10 minutes feels like to much, I should stop feeling time to not get anxious, enjoying the instant; as philosophers say. I want to have a really extraordinary common skill, I know I got the potential, but I need the patience.

    Maybe if I reach my goal I will have some masteries, developing one at the time, feeling ok with my own for being extraordinarily good at something, I already have knowledge in a lot of things, I only need practice, a lot. To be an octopus that can fly as higher as the sun to return to earth with a reborn tentacle ready for something new. being powerful. ( working in the sketch )

    • Good luck! I guess persistence and patience are going to be key if you really want to achieve this. :)

    • Linda says:

      To do anything for a long time may require building up slowly. Once I was quite overweight and I had to mow the lawn myself. The first time I had to take 5 breaks, but by the end of the summer I could do it all without stopping. Consider stretching your comfort zone slowly. If you can only meditate for 2 minutes comfortably, do that comfortably 10 times a day. The same with the guitar, or anything else. Discover how long can you do it comfortably and just do it that long. Maybe you can focus only 15 min and then have to take a jog around the block, or do a crossword puzzle, or read a chapter in a book, or something else you love, then do another 15 minutes of focus. If you really desire to learn or improve a skill, you will find your comfortable time increasing… sometimes slowly, other times more quickly, and sometimes even making a big jump all at once. Perhaps that uncomfortable feeling in your spine is simply telling you that you have gone past your old limit… This is the point you decide how committed you are to your goal, are you willing to press through the discomfort, or give up and move on to something else, or consider simplifying and growing into your goal more slowly. Best wishes

  3. Linda says:

    I am touched by this and other content on this site. I have struggled over 20 years in a professional role that keeps getting more and more specialized as time goes on and my desperation heightens. As I peak out in frustration I find some way to get fired or end up quitting. I am so desperate to shuck this mantle but need a viable income source…
    And around all this are interests assumed and dropped, mostly for lack of time I thought. But I think I am a multi pod. I need to evolve a different life?

  4. Spot on!! Thank you so much for sharing, Joanna! I feel so at home, breathing free, happy, reading this!
    This is my story too. It is wonderfull not to be alone! <3

    <3 Bente, Denmark

  5. David Salahi says:

    Thanks for this article. Since I was child I’ve been told I’m an underachiever. Yet, I think I have been happier not focusing on any single endeavor to the exclusion of others. I particularly like your suggestion to “Imagine what your life would be like” if you had pursued some other goal to the exclusion of others. That thought exercise pretty well confirms it.

  6. Chelsey says:

    I feel like I really needed to read this article today, so thank you for the post! I love your work!

  7. Shelley says:

    I’m glad I read this today. I’ve felt guilty & useless for many years apparently wasting my talents even astrologers have always commented “why are you not famous, why does the world not know who you are, you should be a millionaress” that alone has caused such grief as I’m a middle aged single mum with no career prospects so you can imagine how I’ve felt most of my life. ..a failure & wishing i’do done things differently ? reading this today has helped me understand & come to terms more with the feelings of guilt & that I’m not alone. Thankyou

  8. Joan Higgs says:

    Thanks so much for this article; it couldn’t be more timely for me, in my present “crossroads” situation (going for a job interview today that has nothing to do with “following my bliss” but offers the financial stability and even, dare-I-say, comforting routine that I need right now).

  9. David says:

    Hi. I enjoyed your article. Enlightening. I’m nearly 70 and I’m still learning more of who I am. Keep up the good work!

  10. Luz says:

    Amazing article. Thanks a lot. But I have a question. What if instead of feeling ‘guilt’ by leaving old dreams behind you feel regret. I can’t stop wondering what would have happened if I never ceased studying performing arts. Where would I be today, maybe I’d be happier, and if is was the right thing to do or not.

    • Hm. That’s tricky. I think I possibly feel that with my writing and my solution is to go after writing now and try to make up for lost time as best I can. Maybe you could do something like that to see if it’s really something you wish you’d gone after?

  11. Julie Evans says:

    Thank you for this article, I try not to think about the tap shoes, guitar and amp, camera and many of the technological “things” I have left behind in the pursuit of new opportunities. I find there was guilt when my parents had paid for them. The truth is as others have commented, live in the present. Take the path less travelled for it can make all the difference.

    • I think it helps to realise that all of those things have made you who you are and contributed to your life in some way too. They’re not completely lost; they’ve brought you fun, experiences, friends, realisations, and all sorts.

  12. Mónica says:

    Hi Joanna! I enjoyed your article so much. It reminded me of the beauty of being Yourself, even in times of doubt and discomfort. And guilt, for us women, is kind of a cheap coin we were assessed with the very minute we were born…totally useless! Thanks for your great suggestions too. Kind regards, Mónica

  13. Marijke says:

    What a good timing!

    I’m good at drawing. As a kid, everyone always drooled over my drawings. I loved drawing and spent hours and hours at it (mainly fairies and other dreamy stuff). Now, I hardly ever draw.

    When I see those professional illustrators on Instagram with a million or more followers, I often think: that could have been me.

    But why do I not draw anymore?
    Because my person evolved.

    I always wanted to act, be on the stage, dress up, make music and dance. And I lived in my movie/book daydreams all the time. But I was shy and insecure, and never dared to shine. Drawing was my way of escaping reality and creating my own. If I didn’t dare to dance, I’d draw a dancing girl, for example.

    Now, after years of working on it, I feel confident and I dare to step in the footlight. I have taken acting classes, dance classes (which I still do), I am a school teacher, I lost weight, work out and I finally play the violin, a dream I’ve had for years. People who meet me don’t believe me when I tell I’m an introvert (INFJ), haha.

    Sometimes I regret not drawing anymore. But I got something better: confidence and living my dreams instead of drawing them. And I’ve never been happier!

  14. Rachel says:

    I was thinking about this just this week–it must have been the Olympics bringing it on! Accepting the guilt is definitely key.

  15. Josh says:

    I deal with that a lot. Not so much wasting my talents, but trying to figure out a way to monetize them. But I can try to be the best musician/photographer/webdesigner/logisticssupervisor/marketer/writer/seoguy/socialmediaguy/teacher/backpacker/cyclist I can be. :-)

  16. Aram says:

    Oy! Just when you were making me feel better about my guilt, you go and tell me that this feeling may never go away. Ughh! Yeah, I know,in the moment, hierarchy of values, let go of guilt, happiness instead of success, fame and fortune, blah, blah, blah.

    How bout you just give me the success fame and fortune without me having to endlessly practice and work for it?

    That would make me happy!

  17. Anne Molinas says:

    Hi Victor,

    When I was a little girl, and many years after, I wanted to be a ballet dancer because I liked the discipline. I dreamed of my life in the ballet butI never had the chance to find out if it was for me. After ballet I had other dreams, and for most of my life I thought I wanted to be single focused and go deep into something, but somehow couldn’t, or so I thought. I finally understood that I just like to know a lot of stuff and going in to deep bores me.

    And yet, it was also pointed out to me that I am disciplined and responsible. I just assumed that meant being single focused and intense. But we also learn over time. One thing that has been a constant in my life is language and literature, Spanish (my second language which I studied, taught, use, live) and English (my native tongue) both of which I have worked on in some way, over the past 40 years. Maybe not as intensely as I thought I should have but here I am.

    But mainly, I want to say, that the most important lesson I learned was to stop saying should. You are fine just the way you are. We all are. A while ago I started stopping myself every time I said should, about anything, and reminded myself, that, as my wonderful husband says, everything is as it should be.

    Another thing that helped me when I got that feeling of impatience and not being able to stick with something is this quote I read by Yogi Bhajan, “5 minutes of yoga is better than no yoga.” You’d be surprised how much 5 to 10 minutes here and there can add up, and allowing yourself to just be makes all the difference.

    Enjoy life, you’re doing fine.

  18. Fran Le Vaillant says:

    When Emilie’s newsletter came into my inbox with the link to this article, it really couldn’t have been at a better time. I immediately forwarded it to my husband and sister, as I do all of my agonised thoughts and fears on this exact topic. The article is beautifully written and immensely readable Joanna, and I am certain that I will return to it each time these feelings inevitably bubble to the surface again. Many, many thanks.

  19. Claire says:

    I would also highly recommend Brene Brown’s books for any personal work you do with guilt, shame, or overcoming scripts in your head (like the hierarchies Joanna described here). You could start with Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability if you want a sample of the kind of work she does. Her books are definitely not your standard cheesy self-help books. Instead, she presents years’ and years’ worth of research on how we can move through difficult emotions and become more whole people.

    So this is a great guide to a specific kind of guilt, and I really appreciate the multipotentialite focus. But if you’re ready to really understand what guilt, as a concept, is (and yes, even eventually make it go away)… can’t recommend her books enough. :)

  20. Karen says:

    It’s important to draw a distinction between guilt and shame.

    Guilt is a healthy and appropriate response to having done something wrong. It propels you to own and change your behaviour, experience genuine remorse, and make reparations wherever possible.

    Guilt is triggered by violation of healthy boundaries. It drives you to behave better in future and to connect more healthily with others, and so is good for the individual and for society as a whole.

    Shame paralyses you, preventing you from owning your behaviour or moving on in any way. It generates self-hatred, abusive self-talk, and keeps you locked in a cycle of emotional deprivation.

    Shame is attached to your identity, your very core being’s essential worth. It drives depriving yourself of healthy behaviours, doing things that nourish and replenish you, and can make you physically ill. It drives you to disconnect from people, healthy activities, hobbies, places, and work, and so is bad for the individual and for society.

    I’ve lived in the UK and US, where shame is endemic and often mistaken both for guilt and (more terrifyingly) for “being realistic”. Shame sets in very early, and stays deeply rooted for years – sometimes for life. It adversely affects people’s attitudes to their hobbies, their jobs, their relationships, and their very bodies.

    Brene Brown’s work on shame is incredibly helpful in untangling shame from healthy emotions. At 45, I’m getting there.