School lied to you.
You learn a lot in school, it’s true. But school hides the truth about learning—and ignores one of the key strengths of the multipotentialite.
In school, your classes are split up neatly into subjects, and the subjects don’t interact. The Pythagorean theorem isn’t going to help you on that English essay or history test.
In life, everything informs everything. The knowledge you gained in one subject will help you in every other subject—if you let it.
Obviously, the actual facts you learn will rarely translate. The Pythagorean theorem is still useless when you’re trying to master the ukelele.
But the way you learned to think crosses effortlessly between different subjects. You can apply the analytical thinking of an engineer to find new patterns to explore in your art. You can use metaphors from literature to help you understand your business practices. The possibilities really are endless.
I learned this ten years ago, when I embarked on the biggest learning experience of my life.
I have something called Asperger’s syndrome. In a nutshell, Asperger’s means that I’m not wired to learn social skills in the way that other people naturally do. But when I was diagnosed in 2002, I decided my diagnosis wasn’t going to define me. If I couldn’t learn social skills the same way as other people, I was going to find another way to learn them.
So I did.
I learned how to understand social cues, communicate well, connect with others. I built several intimate friendships, dated two wonderful girls, and I even started a website—Improve Your Social Skills—to share my knowledge with others.
Learning made easy
How did I do it?
Simple. I used the skills I had already learned—no matter how diverse—to help me learn social skills. I used my speed-reading ability to devour libraries full of social skills books. I used my analytical mind to sort social skills concepts into rational categories. Heck, I even used my skills in video games, since both video games and social skills involve recognizing what’s going on and reacting accordingly.
And you know what? Not only did I get good at social skills, but I was able to get so much better than I would have if I had gone about it in a straightforward way. Because I was able to look at social skills from so many different angles, I gained a truly deep understanding of how people interact and how relationships develop. I could never have written Improve Your Social Skills if I’d learned social skills the “normal” way, because it was the roundabout route that taught me the full understanding I need to teach others.
The multipotentialite advantage
That, in a nutshell, is why it is so exciting to be a multipotentialite.
While most people pick only a small handful of interests to pursue, we jump effortlessly through genres. At first glance, that seems to put as at a disadvantage—how can we expect to compete with the people who spend all their time mastering one thing?
But we bring all of our knowledge to any new area of interest. Our art is better because of our interest in quantum mechanics. Our writing is better because of our experimentation with dance. Our relationships are deeper because of what we’ve learned from our favorite novels.
And that allows us to contribute in a way that is truly unique.
It’s important to have people who stick with one thing and master it. When I travel, I’m glad the pilot is a master of keeping the airplane aloft.
But I believe it is far more exciting to be the one who brings fresh insight and a new perspective. And as a multipotentialite, you are the best person to do that. You have a wealth of different knowledge and experiences, which you can draw from every time you are presented with something new.
All of your skills and experiences—even the ones you no longer practice—are making you better at everything new that you attempt. Your eclectic interests are not a waste of time or evidence of a character flaw, but rather the foundation upon which you will make your incredible contribution to the world.
So keep learning, my friends. Follow your passions wherever they lead, because what you learn today will be with you for a lifetime.
How has being a multipotentialite impacted your learning?
Daniel Wendler is the Austin-based author of Improve Your Social Skills, a comprehensive online guide to social skills. He also does improv theater, creative writing and blues dancing, he works in search engine marketing, speaks Spanish and…well, he’s a multipotentialite. You get the idea. Follow him at ImproveYourSocialSkills.com or DanielWendler.com.