Many of us feel relieved when we first come across the term “multipotentialite.” We’re so excited to find out we’re not alone and that there’s nothing wrong with us.
At this point, many of us keep digging, perhaps reading through several years’ worth of Puttylike articles. Eventually we come across the concept of an overarching theme. And we feel hopeful. This is it! We just need to figure out our overarching theme, build a business or career around it, and we’ll never grow bored of our work again!
And for some people that is all it takes. They work through Renaissance Business, identify their overarching theme, and get to work creating the business of their dreams. But what if you can’t figure out what your overarching theme is?
The Evolution of My Overarching Theme
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to start a business, so I booked a coaching call with Emilie. Before our call, I sent her a list of all my interests, projects, and business ideas, both past and present. I mentioned running LGBT campaigns, doing a masters in the use of sexuality labels like “queer” in German and Slovenian, and how I loved to create little cartoon versions of my friends.
At the time, I was planning to start working as a freelance e-book designer and editor. To be honest, I think I was probably looking for confirmation that this was a good idea more than anything else.
The Seed of an Idea
So when Emilie announced that my overarching theme appeared to be “identity.” I was a bit surprised. That wasn’t what I was looking for. I could tell that she was onto something, but I wasn’t ready to hear it.
I put Emilie’s thoughts to the side for a while and carried on with my freelancing plans. Along the way I started blogging about lifestyle design for young people. Through my blogging, I noticed that I enjoyed writing about confidence.
Soon I had a realization. I wanted to be a confidence coach for shy girls! I was so excited about this idea and I was sure this was it. I couldn’t wait to get to know these young girls, help them see what made them special, and help them become more confident versions of themselves.
Hmm… This idea seemed to fit under Emilie’s umbrella of “identity.”
To start working towards my new dream, I created a confidence blog for shy girls. I remember how nervous I was on launch day. This was a big deal. It was going to be my thing and I wanted to do it right.
But about six months later, I started to get bored. I loved blogging but I resented having to write about confidence all the time. So I gave myself permission to turn my blog into a personal blog and to write about whatever I wanted. I ended up writing about self-awareness, confidence, identity, and myself. Hm… Emilie was definitely onto something.
As I finally started to accept that identity seemed to be a theme in my life, I began noticing more and more obsessions in my life that fit it. I’ve always loved making personalized cards. As an aspiring author, I’ve always loved dreaming up characters for novels. The stories I come up with are usually coming of age books.
I started to see that I was having a bit of a Steve Jobs moment:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” – Steve Jobs
Refining the Idea
Around this time, a blogger I followed shared her wedding video. I was planning my wedding and was suddenly desperate to have a video like hers. Why? Because, I realized, I wanted the chance to see myself through someone else’s eyes.
Not long after that, I was listening to a business podcast when someone said the words “character study.” Suddenly I had the words to describe so many of my projects, including that wedding video. What I loved was documenting and analyzing the identities of individuals – creating character studies.
A Work in Progress
My theme isn’t 100% defined yet. “Identity” might cover it. Maybe “character study” is closer. But it doesn’t matter. For me, it’s all about the individual, their identity, personality, and being aware of who you are. I haven’t brought it all together into one perfect sentence yet, but that’s OK.
Having a sense of what my theme is has given me a context in which to understand my passions. It explains why I suddenly felt the need to start a podcast about introspection. It explains why the same-sex weddings book I’m writing isn’t a how-to guide but a collection of personal stories. Knowing what my theme is helps me to understand and organize my interests. It brings order to the chaos.
What You Can Take from My Story
I’ve learned a few lessons about overarching themes that I hope might bring you some comfort as you try to figure out what yours is.
1) You don’t have to figure out your theme straight away
I wanted to figure out my exact theme years ago, so that I could start the project that would be the answer to all of my problems. Each time I started something new, I thought it would be my thing. Nothing so far has been “the thing” and that’s been perfectly OK. I’ve had a great time. Figuring out your theme isn’t the be all and end all.
2) Your theme might be obvious to other people
We tend to know ourselves so well that we can’t step back and see the bigger picture. It may be that your mom or your best friend could figure out your theme quicker than you could. If you want to figure out your theme, ask those around you. Even better, ask someone who’s great at spotting patterns.
3) You’ll get closer to your theme over time
I feel like my theme has gradually been coming into focus. Emilie identified it all those years ago, but I wasn’t ready to see it. But her naming it was probably what I needed to start spotting the clues. As I’ve gone along, I’ve seen more and more evidence that this was what it is.
It’s become more precise too. “Identity” became “character study.” Who knows what it’ll be in another five years’ time?
4) The best way to find your overarching theme is by following your interests
Writing a blog about lifestyle design made me realize I was interested in confidence. Writing a blog about confidence made me realize confidence wasn’t all I was interested in. Writing a blog about anything I wanted made me realize I was interested in self-awareness. Listening to a podcast about business gave me the phrase “character study.”
I wouldn’t have such a good understanding of my overarching theme now if I hadn’t started all those projects. Each one has enabled me to explore my interests and to get to know myself better. And each one has been fun and taught me a load of skills too.
Don’t sit and wait for a eureka moment. Don’t wait for “the perfect idea.” Because that idea is probably not going to come up and tap you on the shoulder while you’re moping around. Instead it’ll probably be an iteration of idea you had that didn’t work out while you were trying to teach yourself a random skill you discovered through your last project. Or something.
Author Joanna Penn often talks about “filling herself up” through travel. She finds that if she puts lots of things into her head (places, experiences, people), eventually those things come back out in the form of great story ideas. She keeps traveling to make sure there are plenty of ideas percolating that she can use in her novels years from now.
I bet that if you keep following your interests, you’ll have more ideas and get closer to your theme too.
So don’t worry if you don’t know what your overarching theme is. If you’ve done loads of introspection and journaling, and you’re not getting any closer to figuring it out, put your pen down. Stop analyzing and start living. Follow your interests, even if you don’t think any of them will be “the one.” Trust that they’ll bring you closer to your overarching theme and enjoy the journey.
What clues have you come across that hint at what your overarching theme might be? Has following your interests brought you closer to an understanding of what it is?
Joanna 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 and on her blog. She’s also a linguist and a runner, and she’s currently writing a book about same-sex weddings. Find out more about her projects at JoannaJamesLynn.com or follow her on Twitter @joannajameslynn.