Struggling To Work Out Your Overarching Theme?
Photo courtesy of fla m.

Struggling To Work Out Your Overarching Theme?

Written by Bev Webb

Topics: Renaissance Business

Are you a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person? It’s the same glass of water for all of us, so it just depends on how we decide to interpret what we see.

It’s all a question of perspective.

It can be challenging to uncover what links together all the different strands of your interests into one unified overarching theme. This can be especially frustrating (and fantastic) when you’re continually discovering new interests, as your theme needs to keep evolving too.

How A Distraction Helped Me Hone My Overarching Theme

In a recent post I talked about how I’d gone off on what felt like a complete tangent, by starting some dressmaking when I’d planned to do some clay modelling.

When I’m trying to figure out the hows and whys, I find it’s easier to spill my thoughts out onto paper than to leave it all jumbled together in my head. I start by scribbling ideas down in boxes, before mapping out connecting lines between those boxes. This is what I doodled after my dressmaking tangent:

Overarching theme plan

To my amazement, the dressmaking just dropped right into place. I’ve even managed to get such seemingly different interests as shoemaking, architecture, and psychology to come together under a single theme – design interventions.

How To Figure Out Your Overarching Theme

If you’d like to gain a fresh perspective on your overarching theme, here’s a three-step exercise you might like to try:

1) Grab your list of interests

Every multipotentialite has far more interests and ideas than he or she can keep store in their head. Most of us have some kind of bucket list or system for keeping track of all those things that have captured our interest.

Now’s a good time to grab that list, or to start one if you don’t already have one! If you are starting your list afresh or thinking about revamping it, here are some ideas on creating a list and on curating your life.

2) Play around with groupings

You don’t have to get every single interest to link to each of your other interests (although sometimes this can happen). Instead of a spiderweb, you may find your interests form into clusters, circular chains, or ladders.

  • Clusters: Interests cluster into small groups. It’s the broader theme from each of these groups that links to the themes of the other clusters.
  • Chains: Each interest links to another one or two to create a circular chain. Interests on opposite sides of the circle may not relate directly to each other but they do relate to those either side of them.
  • Ladders: This is like the chains idea but the two ends don’t have to join up. Think about the idea of six degrees of separation, which suggests that everyone is six or fewer steps away from any other person in the world. By creating a series of “friend of a friend” connections, any two people can be shown as connected in a maximum of six steps.

3) Change your perspective

If you’re going to look for new ways to link your interests together, try shifting how you see things. Here are a few techniques you might like to test out:

  • Mindfulness: Try sitting back and observing rather than focusing on finding links. The subconscious mind has tends to come up with solutions when we’re not really trying to find them, just as crossword solutions often don’t come to mind until the day after we do the crossword.

Over to you!

What’s your overarching theme? How did you decide to group things to make sense of all your interests?

bevBev is an artist, creativity coach and founder of Kickass Creatives, a website offering practical support to frustrated creatives. She’s over 20 years of working in the arts: experimenting with everything from performing in a fire circus and managing a hiphop dance company, through to web consultancy and jewellery design. Bev is passionate about using her experience to enable others to fully develop (rather than hide) their multitude of talents too. Connect with her on Twitter @creativekickass.

If you’d like to learn more about turning all of your interests into one business, check out Renaissance Business.

17 Comments

  1. Lauren says:

    Thanks Bev! I’ve just written down the interests that spring to mind and it turns out my overarching theme is problem-solving. It was quite amazing to see this appear out of a seemingly eclectic mix of interests. Here’s the list and why problem-solving applies:
    Philosophy (questioning everything to get to the core of a problem)
    Psychology/neuroscience (why we do what we do and how it can go wrong)
    Medicine/Anatomy (problems arising in the body)
    Environment/Sustainability (finding solutions to resource/world problems)
    Business (discovering what works and what doesn’t)
    Puzzles/problems (self explanatory)
    Buddhism/Zen/Meditation (similar to philosophy and psychology)
    Clothes alterations (similar to sustainability)
    So I’ll definitely be looking out for it when my next interest comes along.

    • Margaux says:

      Lauren, when I look at your list, I see more than problem solving, which, truthfully is what most humans are doing no matter what their work involves if you piece it all the way down.

      Someone once told me (after I explained all the different areas I’m involved in) that what I do is problem solving but I balked at that because I think that doesn’t quite explain why I’ve chosen to solve some problems and not others. If problem solving is all it is, then I would want to solve every problem that comes along and I clearly don’t. I hate organising. That’s a problem I avoid solving any chance I get. Making an edible meal out of what’s left in the fridge is a fascinating and entertaining problem to solve for some people, but I have zero interest in solving that, too (my “solution” is to order takeout).

      So why some problems but not others?

      What I see in your list is that you want to know what’s at the root of human problems and how to fix them, whether emotional, physical, relationship to environment or other people or to self.

      If you were asking me, I’d say you’re driven to find out how to restore people’s harmony in all things. (For more Happiness? Stability? Tranquility? Or just Harmony? That’s for you to answer.)

      Now that is more than just problem solving and that is definitely not something that everyone else is doing when they’re solving problems. That’s not what I’m trying to do when I solve problems!

      Good luck working out your Overarching Theme, Lauren!

      • Lauren says:

        Wow, Margaux, thanks for such an insightful reply! I think you’re absolutely right. This will definitely change the way I see my hobbies and passions :)

        • Margaux says:

          I’m so happy to hear that, Lauren! That would be part of my theme: helping other people experience an “aha” moment that shifts their ability to do whatever they’re trying to do! :)

          Isn’t is funny how we can’t see our own special qualities until someone else tells us? It’s hard for us to see ourselves from the inside.

          BTW, I too am fascinated by Philosophy, Psychology (almost my major), Anatomy (was my major), puzzle games, and Buddhism. But not at all for the same reasons as you. That’s why I don’t think arching your subjects of interest is as easy as arching the underlying reasons for what makes you interested in the first place. The subjects will constantly change for a multipotentialite, but the reasons — barring head trauma — never will.

          Happy journeys!

  2. Bev Webb says:

    Hey Lauren!
    Yey! It’s great to see that link just appear – you never quite know what it is and then suddenly, the mists clear and it all falls into place.

    Overarching themes have a tendency to continue evolving, so it’s worth keeping a regular eye on where it’s taking you.

    You might also find that you can begin to hone it down even further into a specific type of problem solving or category of problem.

    Thanks for the great feedback! :)

  3. Christina says:

    I’ve definitely created numerous bucket lists, boxes of topics/projects, and just interest free journaling&map outs, etc… but I’ve jeer thought about that last point on connecting emotions, rather than content. I feel like I’m realizing more and more how my faith brings my interests together (from music [worship], to psych/teaching, speaking, planning events, etc). But I do want to redo my lists again :) Also, a technique I use is the acronym B.L.E.S.S:
    Body, Labor, Emotion,Social, Spirit. I try to separate my projects into goals based on health, income/finance, my own emotional state, my relationships with others/community, and my spiritual growth… the link as I said seems to be ministry in that I think everyone has a positive message to share/an idea that can positively help others (sort of like outreach). Great post!! thank you

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Christina
      Yeah, connecting ideas by emotion is such an unusual way to look at how stuff links together. It’s a real perspective changer and can shake things up a bit so you really can see them from another angle.

      I like how you align your goals to different areas of your life. It reminds me of the Wheel of Life technique used in coaching where you take a 360 degree view of your life, and see what is and isn’t working. Many thanks for the great feedback! :)

  4. Jay Johnson says:

    I’ve done something similar with sticky notes. One thing I consciously try to do was limit the amount of time I spent to 5min. The reason was not to come to a premature convergence, but to leave it open to further insights. The longer you spent doing it the more the initial patterns bias your connection and limit possible unexpected discoveries.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Jay
      Mmmm, I love sticky notes!

      I’m a complete believer in leaving things to brew in the back of your mind and letting your sub-conscious generate solutions. Thanks for a great tip! :)

  5. Nela Dunato says:

    Oooh I love when new ideas to share come out of visual journals! I’m totally going to try this approach :)

  6. Bev Webb says:

    Hey Nela
    Cool, let us know how you get on! :)

  7. Margaux says:

    I have tried this approach in the past, based on Emilie’s workbook and I found it was a very good starting point for delving. For me, though, it wasn’t quite enough. I realised that the thing that ties what I mainly love to do is simplifying complexity. Just saying that is very broad and I know many people can describe what they do in those terms too, but I know I’m not doing the same thing that those people are doing, despite it being reduced to the same two words.

    What I believe is that focusing on the interests is really missing the underlying passion. So instead, I examined the “Flow” moments I have in various activities and tried to identify the moments I felt completely in my zone, when everything felt energising, even if it wasn’t quite “working.”

    When I looked at those moments, I tried to describe what the challenge was, what skills or strengths I was using, and what the immediate rewards were for me in the middle of that moment.

    Then I took the main keywords from each of those flow moments and threw them together to see which were the most common, and whether some of those keywords were related to the others.

    In the end, there are 5 keywords (Ingenuity, Differentiation, Exploration, Agility, Shibumi, whose initials coincidentally spell out IDEAS) that describe my interest in any project. (I suspect many multipods would have Exploration as a keyword and probably even Agility. But I doubt there would be many multipod “twins” who would have the same exact 5 words in the same order.)

    So, my overarching theme has nothing to do with specific topics or activities or describes what I do exactly. My overarching theme is a description of what drives my interest (in anything) and what causes me to act. It also describes what I bring to a project that is unique from anyone else.

    I’ve been able to combine these keywords into a statement similar to an elevator pitch that gets to the heart of how I do anything in any given project or situation.

    In terms of using an overarching theme to create my own lifestyle business, I’m certain it would never work for me, which is why I’ve never tried it. But using an overarching theme like mine to get a lucrative job is much easier and much more satisfying — for me. I don’t have to worry about all the stuff I’m terrible at (like finishing things) when I’m surrounded by people who are fantastic at the stuff I can’t do and hate to do and refuse to do.

    BTW, Bev, I love your “design interventions” theme! A lot of what I do falls under design as well, but the reasons are different. My “why” is to help people experience delight and “aha” moments of insight by customising the solution for them. Yours has to do with the emotional responses of your audience to the design or space. Love it!

    • shreen says:

      Another one who loves simplifying complexity here too! :)

      Maybe it comes from being in a technical background, but I almost always try to distill complex situations down to their most critical component parts and create my own syntax for them.

      But other than that there doesn’t seem to be any overarching theme. I will keep searching though, because trying to distill all my interests down to one (or a few) basic themes is what I love doing the most. :D

      • Margaux says:

        Sounds like “distilling complex things into critical component parts and reprocessing it” is part of your theme. The other part is what you get out of that that makes it worth doing for you.

        If you can’t figure out the overarching theme, it’s probably because you’re thinking too much about the interest and activities themselves and not the moments when you’re super jazzed and in the “flow” of whatever you’re doing. Inside those moments is the answer to why.

        Underlying/overarching themes are more about the process and the rewards than they are about the field of interest. If you’re a multipotentialite, they are nothing to do with the fields of interest. So, try not to focus on the interests. Just focus on the hows and whys.

        • shreen says:

          I’m starting to think I’m totally blind to my theme. Finding it extremely difficult…

          My interests/hobbies:
          -helping people (activism, volunteering, writing help guides for mental health issues)
          -animals (bird watching, spending time in nature, training animals + my job which is partly with animals)
          -music (all types, learning the drums at the moment, making playlists for imaginary films)
          -art (I paint, draw and read about art history and cinematography, and am also creating my own graphic novel at the moment)
          -being silly and play (making people smile, silly voices, jokes, comedy, spending time with children – I also work with children in my job)
          -adventure and adrenaline (urban exploration, mountain biking, motorcycling, looking at maps, travelling)

          I’m trying to see the processes…I can see exploration of physical spaces, play, and spreading kindness there.

          Think I need to let this stew for a bit in my subconscious. If anyone can see a theme – do let me know! :)

  8. Amy says:

    My interests are far too varied for me to make sense of them….there is art (drawing, painting, comics), dress making, sustainable agriculture and permaculture, the world of wine (how terroir and wine making result in the incredible variety of wine aromas and flavours), languages (I speak 4 languages) and exploring different cultures, hiking, finding new music that uplifts me, the development of psychic skilss :), but also botany and phyisics ….ah, yes and reading!!! Maybe my overarching theme is “variety”?

    • Margaux says:

      Hey Amy,

      Believe it or not, we share a lot of interests. Many multipotentialites have interests that are vastly different, but that doesn’t mean (necessarily) that variety is the theme. There are reasons you get into certain topics and those reasons are often different even among multipods. One way to get at it is not to ask what all your topics of interest have in common, but to ask what knowing or doing any of these things allows you to do. What’s the benefit to you? Sometimes a benefit leads to benefits for other people, sometimes it’s just a selfish benefit. If you think about the value to you and/or others, you’ll get closer to uncovering the overarching theme(s).

      Sounds like one of your themes could be Exploration. Now, ask yourself what’s the reward while you’re in the middle of exploring any of these areas?

      Good luck!

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