As a multipotentialite, coming into adulthood faced with a sea of choices about jobs, schools, or where to live can be stressful. Being the parent of a multipotentialite kid can be like a big Stress-zilla, making lots of waves and even taking out your power grid.
If you’re the parent of a child who is frequently diving into new experiences and having difficulty making choices about their career or life, then read on.
First, you may find some relief in knowing that you’re not alone. Many of the parents I know have wrestled with this at one time or are dealing with it now. My wife and I have certainly experienced our share of anxious discussions with (and about) our kids. When scientists invent a brain implant that makes parenting effortless, sign me up.
How we approach learning
First, a little background. We are parents of three kids, ages 13, 23 and 25. All were (are) homeschooled, or more specifically, “unschooled.” We practice interest-directed learning, which sounds like the kids just eat peanut butter out of a jar and watch SpongeBob SquarePants all day. Actually, parental direction is still important to prevent the days from devolving into a Lord of the Flies-style nightmare. For the most part, kids are naturally curious about the world and they love to get involved in projects that teach them something new—even if it’s accidental (shhh, don’t tell them they’re learning). And yes, we’ve even managed to wrap SpongeBob into project-oriented lessons about marine biology.
Have we ever second-guessed our decision to live this dreamy, utopic, cartoon sponge-filled, unschooling fantasy? We’ve third- and fourth-guessed it.
Since we are multipotentialite unschooling parents who left the door wide open for just about any type of career path, you might think our kids would feel free and easy about their choices. We’re still waiting for that to happen. Isn’t that exactly the experience of being a parent? No matter how many books you read about child development, or how much advice you get, you just don’t know what you’ll do until you get there. It’s the ultimate fake-it-til-you-make-it situation.
Too many options can clog your brain
We ask ourselves all the time: Did we leave the door too wide open? Is that possible? Sometimes, I think maybe it is.
It sounds contradictory, but for many multipotentialites I’ve talked with, having an ocean of choices in front of you can actually be paralyzing. Have you ever looked at a restaurant menu where you could order anything from chicken tetrazzini to blueberry pancakes? The world is literally your oyster—or pancake! It makes it hard to choose. What if you get the spaghetti but your friend orders the crab cakes and Oh no, that looks good, too? It can be challenging to eat in a restaurant like that. It’s just as challenging to live in a world where you have so many paths and they all look really tasty. What if you choose…wrong?
For example, our daughter is interested in music, drawing, anthropology, filmmaking, and the works of Shakespeare. Rather than having an easier go because of the variety, she has a Hamlet-sized portion of anxiety over which path to take. What if she chooses anthropology and—after working in that field—loses her love for it? Which things are better for her to pursue just for her own pleasure and which things should be part of a career path?
It’s a common problem. One of the themes we’ve repeated in our home is that if you choose something and—even years later—decide that you don’t want to do it for money (or at all), that’s okay. It’s more important to acknowledge that you changed and move on than to wallow in guilt and discontentment as you stick with your One True Choice.
It’s different now, but it’s the same
The global economy has gone through massive change over the last twenty years, especially during the pandemic. It’s harder than ever to make a start in life, even if you’re pretty sure of what you want to do.
One thing that will never change, no matter how much Bitcoin rises and falls, is the ability to separate what we like to do from the things we need to do to keep a roof over our head. I think I can safely say that most people dream of making a living doing the thing(s) they love. A smaller percentage actually achieve it. It’s not easy putting food on the table by watching SpongeBob SquarePants all day, you know what I’m sayin’?
Maybe we should use a more realistic example. While someone may love to make animated cartoons, it could take a few years to earn a living at it. In the meantime, they’d have to do other things, like work as a receptionist or in a bank call center, until they make that love-work-dream happen. Then, when they finally realize that dream, they might decide that it’s not what they want anymore. They might just have to move on. And that is totally okay—and totally realistic, because it’s part of my own personal story.
It seems like these days they start putting pressure on kids to decide their career path in preschool. But even if they’re undecided or seemingly aimless by 11th grade, our kids still have plenty of time—their whole lives, in fact. They might change their path at 30, and once again at 55. Ask anyone in the Puttyverse community about that, and I imagine you’ll hear plenty of shared experiences.
I’ve tried to counsel my own daughter to just choose something and run with it for a while. Sometimes my counseling works, and sometimes I am just a Parent-zilla who won’t stop talking. Mostly, I think her anxiety comes up when she feels she’s stuck on one path for life. She worries that one day she’ll wake up and realize that she should’ve ordered the crab cakes instead. The thing is, the restaurant of life is always open, and she can go back for another meal any time she wants.
What advice would you give young multipotentialites? What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were younger? Let’s get a discussion going in the comments below!