I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and she started telling me about her newly sparked interest in interior design. As she spoke, something interesting happen: her voice become timid, revealing what almost sounded like shame…
It was as if she was afraid that I was judging her, simply for exploring something new.
Of course, being the outspoken (yet introverted) multipotentialite that I am, I had the complete opposite reaction. I immediately got excited for her and wanted to hear more about her new passion. She began telling me about lighting, “room themes,” and the relationship between interior design and mental health.
As she went on about all the nuances and intricacies of interior design, her hesitancy not only disappeared, but she literally came alive.
She was a multipotentialite in love.
Later I asked why she’d seemed so worried about sharing her new interest with me. She told me that she’s actually stopped sharing her pursuits with a lot of people in her life because they often don’t take her seriously. So many people just roll their eyes and smile condescendingly, as if to say, “Yeah yeah, sure. What’ll it be tomorrow?”
I used to feel this way a lot. I remember one extremely painful experience, when I ran into an old teacher from high school. She asked me what I was up to and I excitedly shared my latest project. She responded by saying, “I thought you were going to be a filmmaker.”
Internalizing the shame
This experience hurt a lot at the time, but instead of thinking that there was something very wrong with my teacher’s reaction, I thought that it was me with the problem. I felt ashamed, broken.
Of course, now I find the entire exchange incredibly offensive. I mean, just take my friend. Conversations like these have made her afraid to share the things she’s most excited about in her life. She had internalized the shame of being a “quitter” to such an extent, that even with me, she was afraid to be herself.
Yes, there is a huge problem with society’s refusal to recognize and value multipotentialites. However, we need to stop applying specialist standards to ourselves. It’s hurting us.
What finishing means to a specialist
Here’s the thing, specialists define finishing differently than multipotentialites. To a specialist, finishing means hitting an external end point, like obtaining a degree, or even devoting your life to one path. It means 10,000 hours or some shit (that’s right, I said it).
Anything short of mastery is seen as a failure—as giving up. But even being pretty good at something can have actual practical application in the world.
What finishing means to a multipotentialite
To a multipotentialite, however, finishing looks very different. As Barbara Sher discusses in her amazing book, Refuse to Choose, finishing simply means that you got what you came for.
“What you came for” could be the completion of a project (multipods tend to be more project-oriented, which allows us to hit an end point faster, so that we can get the experience and move on), but it could also be something more internal, like developing new skills, exploring, creating, teaching, problem solving, etc.
For example, I had a student who loves understanding the “syntax” behind her various interests (that’s how she explained it). She loves diving in, really cracking the code, and understanding how something works– the hidden pattern, language and scripts that are at play. But once she understands that syntax, she becomes bored and loses interest.
We all have driving forces that move us from interest to interest. Once that driving force is satisfied, there’s no longer any reason to stick around.
Barbara Sher uses the analogy of a bee. You wouldn’t judge a bee for leaving the flower, after it gets the nectar, would you? Of course not. It got what it came for, why on earth would it stick around?
What did you come for?
As someone who loves psychology and personal development, I often try to pinpoint my goals before embarking on a new project. Sometimes it’s the completion of a project, other times it’s a particular skill or quality that I’m trying to cultivate (becoming more creative, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, developing my public speaking skills, etc).
It helps to know what your goals are before embarking down a new path. That way you’ll know for yourself when you’ve hit your end point, and you won’t inadvertently start applying someone else’s definition of finished, and continue past the point of boredom. Boredom is your body’s way of telling you that it’s time to move on.
Not knowing your end point is okay as long as you listen to yourself (and not the specialist bully inside)
Although having a “Why” can go a long way towards motivating productivity, I don’t actually believe that you must know your exact end point before beginning. A lot of the time we don’t know how the dots will connect, or what we’ll truly get out of an experience, until reflecting back years later.
In these circumstances (well, in all circumstances really), it’s important to listen to yourself and trust your intuition. This means really paying attention and appreciating the little voice inside that screams: I want to study interior design!
The voice may be very faint at first, especially when compared to the booming specialist bully inside who’s been yelling at you for years to “grow up and choose.” But the more you listen to the little voice and give your multipotentialite interests an outlet, the easier it will get, and the quieter that bully will become.
Similarly, when your body is telling you that it’s time to move on, listen to it. (Of course make sure that it’s not Resistance trying to trick you into stopping prematurely.)
The advice to “finish what you start” is everywhere!
The message to “finish what you start” is ubiquitous. You hear it from practically every freaking “productivity expert” on the planet. I’m sorry, but this advice simply doesn’t cut it for us multipotentialites.
So I say, DON’T finish what you start. Or if you do, then you’d better redefine what finishing means to you.
How do you know when you’re finished with a project or pursuit?
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