When I was a kid, we had a family friend who jumped from interest to interest. We’ll call him Bob to protect his identity (and also because I can’t remember his name. It was a long time ago).
Bob was always onto something. Once, he went on a cruise and came back with an idea to start a travel agency. Another year, he found some mistletoe in his backyard and launched a side gig selling mistletoe. Bob even got into the Beanie Baby craze, albeit briefly.
Recently, I realized that the biggest mental obstacle holding me back as a multipotentialite is a fear of becoming Bob.
By trade, I am a writer. But throughout my life, I’ve been curious about all kinds of things: photography, teaching, needlepoint, debate. Like most multipods, the list goes on. My fear is that, by exploring these many interests, I will become some kind of Cosmo Kramer: an aimless transient of interests who never really gets anywhere because she’s constantly pulled in so many opposing directions. I want to lean into my multipotentiality, but I don’t want to be the kind of person who’s always touting some harebrained scheme or hobby.
This got me thinking: How can you sample a curiosity or interest before devoting all your time and energy to it? I’ve realized the first thing you may have to do is….
Stop caring about what other people think
There are two ways to think about Bob—the first being the way I saw him, as a flake. Or consider another story: Bob had a stable, good-enough, “Einstein” job and still made time to experience new things. Isn’t that what life is all about?
In order to live the life you want, you often have let go of someone else’s idea of what your life should look like. I first realized this in 10th grade. I was taking a drama class, but I wasn’t really into it. Plus, it was pretty clear I was not going to be the next Meryl Streep.
Meanwhile, our school’s newspaper editor told me she was looking for writers. I asked my drama teacher to sign a slip that would get me out of his class so I could pursue journalism. He signed it, gave it back to me and said, “I always knew you were a quitter.”
I’ll never forget those words.
I don’t know if my teacher was trying to have his own little Stand and Deliver moment or if he was just a genuine ass, but his reaction taught me something important: The world is full of judgmental jerks, and if you want to live life to the fullest, you can’t waste your time worrying what they think of you. Something tells me Bob had a profound understanding of this.
Give yourself 40 minutes
I can’t tell you how many times I said I’d like to get into photography before I actually decided to jump in and take a course on it. My problem was—who has the time?
This is why I love Emilie’s advice to spend 40 minutes a day doing something creative. Give yourself a time budget for exploration. It’s easy to get caught up with schedules, projects, priorities, and the many other expectations we impose on ourselves.
If you actually schedule this 40 minutes into your calendar every day, you’re more likely to prioritize this time. It’s right there on your calendar next to renewing your car insurance, so you know it’s important! Give yourself permission to take a daily break and read about gardening, learn a new language, or take a photography course. I know, I know: who has the time? But you might be surprised at how much time you have if you actually build it into your schedule.
Stop trying to monetize everything
Not everything has to be about money – and this is coming from someone who literally wrote a book about it. I can’t lie: I love money. I love making it. My pupils are actual dollar signs. But sometimes I forget that not everything I do has to involve quantifiable currency.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, so it can be hard for me to separate work from play. If I discover a new hobby or skill, the first thing I think is: how can I turn this into money? While it’s everyone’s dream to make money doing something they love, there are advantages to not monetizing a hobby. For example:
- There’s less pressure to be perfect. You’re not selling anything, so you give yourself freedom to explore the hobby on your own terms.
- You can enjoy the hobby in its purest form. When I’m taking photos, for instance, I’m not thinking about where to sell them or what kind of pictures are most marketable. I’m just enjoying the process!
- If you change your mind and lose interest in your hobby, it’s easier to leave it when you haven’t invested any time or money into it.
Even if you do end up monetizing the hobby, I think it’s important to explore it first and enjoy it without even thinking about money. Allow yourself to be mediocre at it, because if you ever want to be excellent at something, you’ll have to start with mediocre.
Fold new interests into current ones
Perhaps my favorite way to get my feet wet with a new interest is to fold it into things I’m already doing. For example, when I was a technical writer for an engineering company in Houston, I started getting interested in videography and video editing. I pitched my boss the idea of creating videos to accompany the tech manuals I wrote. She said yes, so I shot and edited some videos.
In other words, find a way to link seemingly unrelated ideas. This involves some creative thinking, but the three techniques Emilie discussed in this article have helped me.
You can get a feel for whether or not you want to devote more time and energy to a hobby by asking someone else about their experience with it. When I interviewed photographer Peggy Farren, she gave me some basic pointers that seemed doable for me—and fun! As a journalist, I may have an unfair advantage with this one. It’s my job to interview people for a living, and I interviewed Peggy for a story I pitched on photography. But this is totally something you can do, too.
Interested in painting? Talk to that cousin who’s been doing it for a while and ask her how to get started. Want to learn French? Reach out to that YouTuber who teaches it online and ask him how long it takes and how difficult it is. Curious writers often email me asking how to get started. Some of them decide to go all in; others realize it’s not for them.
Yes, people generally hate “pick your brain” requests because it suggests you’re going to take a lot of their time. (Plus it sounds really messy.) But if you reach out to a writer, photographer, artist—anyone who’s doing something you want to do—and ask just two quick questions, you’ll probably get a response. People like to help, and you’ll get a little insight into your hobby, which will help you decide if you’re up for a bigger commitment.
Enjoy the adventure
As multipods, we’re naturally distracted and pulled in different directions. But this is not a bug, it’s a feature. It’s something we can use to our advantage. We can synthesize our many pursuits and turn them into one big, beautiful creative thing. Or we can just enjoy an interest for what it is. (Beanie Babies were cool!) Some of our interests are fleeting and others will last for years. Either way, a little exploration is a fun part of the process.
How do you explore? How do you test drive your curiosities before devoting more time and energy to them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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