How to Explore a Curiosity Before Going All In
Image courtesy of Brigitta Falkner.

How to Explore a Curiosity Before Going All In

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 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.

Interview Someone

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.

Your Turn

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.

neil_2017_2Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, NBC News, and Glamour magazine. She’s the author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford. Kristin is a writer, but she’s also an amateur photographer, speaker, podcaster, and recovering workaholic. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @thewildwong.

22 Comments

  1. Liz says:

    Wow, I’m shocked that your teacher would tell you you’re a quitter. I was always called that by my parents when I was younger.. now I guess they’ve gotten used to it. I don’t see anything wrong with finding more and more interests in life that make you happy. Do what you want! Great article

    • Kristin says:

      Thanks! Yeah, I think he was just trying to motivate a student in his own way. But even as a kid, I had a feeling that wasn’t a very productive thing to say. Thanks for reading!

    • Maggie says:

      Me too! It is an awful put-down.
      I’ve had the same experience from friends, family, teachers, you name it.
      That is until I had my ‘umbrella’ word for me and my work, now I’m still doing all those things but under the one, very broad, label and guess what, now they’re all happy!

      Some people will never understand, a good thing to keep in mind and stop trying to convince them like I used to do.

  2. Brandy says:

    Thanks for the great article. I feel encouraged. I completely relate to the feeling of not wanting to become Bob, or like Cosmo Kramer “an aimless transient of interests who never really gets anywhere because she’s constantly pulled in so many opposing directions” The hard part is, I kind of already became that. As a multipod in my mid 40’s who didn’t have the advantage of a community like this one, or being raised with the self-love to shield myself from the judge-y haters I’ve had to work hard to extract their voices from inside my soul. I’ve had some success, but I currently find myself in a very broke place because of all this. I’m not giving up, and I will find my way back to not being broke. Just want to say that your words really lifted me up up today. keep on writing good stuff.

    • Kristin Wong says:

      Oh Brandy, I’m so sorry you feel broken because of that. If it’s any consolation, I feel like the “bobs” of the world are the ones who really have it figured out – breaking the mold even when you don’t feel supported to do so. I have a feeling we could all learn a lot from you. Thanks for the kind words :)

  3. Andrea Freeman says:

    I enjoyed this article very much. For me, owning my identity as a multipotentialite and perpetual student gave me the freedom to express my interests, without caring about judgement from others. I stopped trying to find the one perfect hobby, but relaxed into the realization that I am interested in many creative avenues… and I’m okay with that. Thanks again for sharing!

    • Kristin Wong says:

      Thanks for reading! Yeah, this is why I’m so glad this community exists. Realizing that multipotentiality is “a thing” changed everything for me. It makes it so much easier to let go of what other people might think and just lean into all of the cool stuff I want to do.

  4. Tashai says:

    I recently decided that I was ok with being me and having lots of interests, that’s when I found out about multipotentialites. Helpful article. I especially liked the “stop trying to monetize everything. “ Guilty. Lol.

    • Kristin Wong says:

      Haha, I am also VERY guilty of this. Ironically, I feel like it’s easier to monetize an interest when you’re truly interested in it, and sometimes that means postponing monetization so you can just enjoy the dang thing.

  5. Doug says:

    Kristin, I have an Uncle Bob! And I developed exactly the same internalized-multipotentialite-phobia as a result!

    My resolution of this conflict has been to not be like Bob–telling everyone what I’m going to do and proceeding to fail or quit. Instead, I work on my various projects with a focus on results. When I have a finished product I can show someone, then they will see it. Until then, mums the word!

    • Kristin says:

      Haha maybe it’s the same Uncle Bob. That’s what I typically do, too! I don’t like talking about what I’m working toward until I get there. But do you ever feel like you’re losing something in that process? Like, sometimes I wonder if talking about projects in the works more openly would make it easier to work on them – if someone can offer help, feedback, etc. But maybe it’s just about being selective about who you talk with about what you’re working on.

  6. Camilo says:

    Hi, new around here.

    I was thinking exactly in the line of Doug. How much of becoming a “Bob” has to do with the level of success achieved (or not achieved) before moving to a new interest (or quitting to use the drama teacher words)?

  7. Brenda says:

    I do something similar to your 40 minutes advice. I’ve wanted to learn to draw & paint for DECADES but haven’t for many reasons–lack of time, sometimes lack of resources, & always self-criticism. Not to mention the 40 other interests that are not visual arts. 8-) But I finally reached a point where I said “Enough” to putting it off.

    So starting last month, I chose 4 focus points. 2 of the 4 are creativity related–drawing and a writing project. My objective is to spend at least 5 minutes a day on each of those 4 focus points. While it is painfully slow going, the best thing about it is seeing a very slow progression as I simply draw 5 minutes a day and see how I improve, or how the lightbulb seems to come on when I’ve been trying to solve a particular drawing problem.

    And I feel better knowing that even if it IS painfully slow, I’m making forward progress.

  8. Anurag says:

    Hi Kristin,

    The fear not becoming the Uncle Bob to stop me from starting new projects, because completion is not always the goal of something small I start. Not telling people about something new and exciting I start is not always easy. You want them to know how this new thing is exciting.

    Thanks for your blog.

  9. joe says:

    Thank you for not using my real name! Yes life is all about chasing the dream. After spending my life making other people millionaires, I found that life is better spent finding friendship instead of that one thing that they tell you to find in high school, college,and at the employment office. Life is too short to settle for one pursuit. We have the ability to as the song said so eloquently,: “Climb every mountain, sail every sea” The fact is as long as we run in the rain we will be chasing rainbows,falling in puddles and making mud pies that turn into pots of gold. never settle for less and you will always be free to find your dreams.
    Uncle Joe, Uncle Bob, and Aunt Barbie

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Hello, interesting read. I don’t have the problem of caring about what other people think but I do have the problem of my own self esteem. Like most people here I have a trillion ideas (also the problem of exaggerating) and I start and progress with a lot of them. But I end up with a lot of knowledge and experience but never a final tangible result. All the interests and projects are still born. My latest project is to create a web site called GraninaVan. About trials travels and tribulations along the road. It has finally dawned on me this is the only way to pull everything together and share. Am not yet a member of the Puttytribe because am worried it will be another distraction. What do you think?

  11. Dagny says:

    I used to know a Bob and he really annoyed me because with every new thing he’d try, he’d declare “I’ve finally found what I really want to do!” He liked to regale you with all the details of how fabulous his great new life and successful career as a [fill-in-the-blank] were going to be. I think back on him now and I realize he did not have multiple interests; he really was just a dilettante.

    • Emilie says:

      I bet if your Bob had kept his mouth shut or had simply expressed his enthusiasm about a new interest without declaring it his “Calling,” he would have been far less annoying. It’s unfortunate that declaring we’ve discovered our destiny is what society tells us to do (because it somehow gives that path legitimacy?), and that we aren’t encouraged to just explore and let things be whatever they are. I bet Bob had a pretty rough time and felt, on some level, that he lacked purpose in his life.

  12. Thank you! I felt like I was the only one who came up with enterprising business ideas within minutes of discovering a new interest! It’s often sparked by some kind of synergy with the skills I’ve already learnt. I’m currently taking an interest in water polo and have found a local team who might be able to show me the ropes, within minutes I’d begun to ponder whether there was also a market for sports photography especially for water polo teams. I often have to be firm with myself, sometimes a hobby should be just a hobby!

  13. Sienna says:

    Whew! As someone who’s struggling a lot right now with prioritizing skills and crafts and hobbies, trying to balance them alongside my hobby-jobs, trying to balance THOSE alongside my 9-to-5, this was a treasure trove of helpful advice. I’m going to try folding together more of my interests to get more punch out of the few hours I can eke out of my day for hobbies/play.

    Thank you for reminding us that it’s okay to just enjoy something for the sake of it, rather than monetizing it immediately! <3

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