“I Like Doing Hard Things”
Photo courtesy of Crossfit Fever.

“I Like Doing Hard Things”

Written by Emilie

Topics: Multipotentialite Patterns

I once met someone, a multipotentialite, who had had an intimidatingly impressive career. He had worked as a spy at an organization that is known by its 3-letter acronym, which I was asked not to repeat. He had an MBA and built huge businesses, he scuba dived. He was the kind of person I didn’t meet often, but he was kind and open, and the more he shared, the more curious I became.

During our conversation, he said something that stuck with me more than his specific accomplishments. He said: “I like doing hard things.”

People often assume that multipotentialites quit when something gets too hard. I’ve found that, in most cases, it’s the opposite. We quit when something is no longer challenging, when it becomes too easy.

This isn’t true of every multipotentialite, but it’s a pattern I’ve seen repeated in many. We crave challenge, and once we reach a level of mastery, we want to do something radically different, something that’s challenging in a new way.

This was partly what drew me to law school. It was hard, new, and rigorous. It’s part of why I loved preparing and delivering my TEDx talk — that was incredibly difficult. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Of course, a new area can’t just be difficult for us to want to pursue it. It also needs to fascinate in some way.

Maybe we’re just masochists. Or maybe we’re on to something.

Your Turn

Are you drawn to subjects or projects that are particularly difficult?

em_bioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist carpenter. Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. This is totally true, though not always. Sometimes I quit (actually, more like postpone) but I do actively seek new and difficult challenges.
    In a recent job interview they said “you come across as very ambitious, where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and I said “actually, my ambition stems from a need to be learning, and in order to do that you have to put yourself in situations that are uncomfortable and difficult, and this usually means progressing within a company instead of staying still – so although I come across as ambitious I’m not saying I want to be the CEO, I’m just saying I always want to be challenged so I can improve.”
    They seemed to like this – I got the job.

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Lauren,

      What a great answer. I love hearing stories like that, where multipods thrive in job interviews by being honest. Awesome!

    • James says:

      This would be a nifty way to answer that “what are your weaknesses” question that interviewers also like to answer.
      “Actually, if I knew the answer, I would work at least as hard in this area as I do with my strengths…”

    • Kristan says:

      Lauren, I LOVE that answer! You perfectly worded my exact philosophy. This is the same philosophy that makes my husband insane, I should add (we are polar opposites), and he just chalks these actions up to me starting stuff and never finishing them.

      It used to get me so down on myself, but in the last 6 months or so – and especially after finding Emilie and following her and HER followers – I’ve found that I’m not flaky at all! That I’m just not comfortable when things get static. I’ve gotta keep moving, keep learning, keep growing.

      I love your comment!!

    • Karen says:

      Yes, the need to keep learning seems to be key here.

      Once we’ve got our “nectar”, we move on to another flower – and, for all the multips I know, it focuses on the experience of learning.

      • Karen says:

        Oops. Hit Submit by mistake! But just to say that the moment of satiation seems to come when we’re not going to grow any more in that area at that point, no matter how much new info we’re getting. Regardless of the topic or context, it seems to me that there’s a point where we’ve absorbed all we can for the time being and need to step back; it all gets integrated, like a program running in the background, while the new area of growth is zoomed in on. When the right amount of new information’s taken on, the need for learning something new kicks in. It’s entirely unconscious, and I’ve no idea what the mechanism is, yet it seems to happen without fail.

  2. Gladys says:

    Quitting really got a bad connotation to those who are only looking at things on short-term basis. They see it as a sign of failure but this is something everyone has to know: Failure is only when you stop trying and not consider other things.

    Even those we regard as successful people has quit on something, then shift for something else. Why? Because they realized what they value most.

    -Some quit when their present situation becomes a comfort zone because they value gaining new skills and knowledge. They step out and move to higher and different level.

    -Some quit when things get too hard because they value their time and energy. They do other things they seemed more worthy.

    • Emilie says:

      Well said, Gladys.

      • Hi Gladys,

        I like this answer. I think there can be different reasons for moving on. Sometimes you see what is needed to achieve the ‘end game’ but it just looks too boring to get there, so you move on; but sometimes – even multipods have to admit(!) – achieving the end game can look incredibly, perhaps impossibly difficult, so we move on because the cost-benefit works against pursuing this thing to the end.

        These things are all so personal, but for me, a certain level of mastery of jazz piano falls into the first category whereas theoretical physics fell into the second category.

        Just discovered your blog, Emilie. Good stuff!


  3. Em says:

    I never thought about it that way but yes, I do get bored of a job that’s no longer challenging and it became too easy for me. I’m afraid, though, that at least for me the problem is ego. Partially I want to do it for myself, to get approval that I’m good in something. And largely I need to hear it from others. Possibly because I sucked so bad in many things as growing up?

    I’ve had many jobs (obviously, multipod talking, lol) and usually I found that I was better in it than many other people around me. Not perfect, and it wasn’t always (e.g. I completely sucked as an insurance seller) but when I do some manual work like housekeeping, cleaning, coffee/pizza making/whatever, I do get in it very quickly and I see others struggle where I shine. It’s boosting my ego, it feels really good but then suddenly I don’t want to do it anymore. I think I want to try something different to see if I am that good at that, too, and to hear new people say “wow, you learn fast”.

    But if I have any dream of my ideal life, I’d wish for me to become less about ego, less about myself and pleasing it. So I’m not very happy to think about it this way :P :)

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Em,

      That’s a really good point. It’s hard to pull out wanting to finish in order to be proud of your accomplishment from the external praise that you get. Ego is such a tough one, and I struggle with it, too. I think we need to find a way to accept the ego without letting us lead it, because trying to shut it down completely seems like an impossible task.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Nela says:

    I do like a good challenge.

    I’ve been hopping from one creative technique to the next, and it always happened just when I felt like I’ve “mastered” a technique. (Not THE master-mastered it, but I got pretty good, and less experienced people started asking me how I do it.)

    After I completed a couple of projects with that technique, I got bored with it and went to look for a new growth opportunity.

    • Emilie says:

      Yup. I am exactly the same way. :)

    • James says:

      I belonged to a theater company where I largely contributed to our performance methods and aesthetic. Once it stood on its own, I was ready to move on. Better for my skills as an actor and better communication with future directors if I was not synonymous with a single technique.

  5. David says:

    I taught myself to juggle BECAUSE it was hard and I learned the skill acquisition process. After all those balls dropped, everything else is clockwork

  6. jimothi says:

    I find that I have a maybe a ten to fifteen year cycle with really tough new things. I love being at that newbie phase, where there is this daunting mountain of incomprehension in front of me, but I also love being at that five year phase, when I have some real foundational skills, and I can really start to see how giant the mountain of skills and knowledge is.

    When I was much younger, I used to think that I would master some things in a year or two, which have in fact required decades (music, for instance). As I get older, I realize that I will only master so many things within this life, and that I should pick and choose the ones that bring me great peace and pleasure, and that are worth doing for their own sake.

    But I have still frequently chosen paths because they are the most difficult ones available. (making a living as a performer, and an artist; a degree in maths; owning a restaurant; living between genders; playing the banjo on a unicycle; renovating run-down house … )

  7. Emilie says:

    Hey jimothi, could I possibly interview you for my book? It sounds like you’ve amassed a great deal of wisdom about your multipotentiality, and have been involved in some amazing projects. If you’d be up for a Skype call, please shoot me an email at emilie@puttylike.com.


  8. Hafeez says:

    I hate slow progress. Anyone does?

  9. Robert says:

    All the growth, recognition and rewards are on the edge – where tackling and overcoming the ‘hard things’ is a result of finally realising that staying in your comfort zone is a trap. Like being the lobster in the slowly warming pot…

  10. Job says:

    “I like doing hard things.” Now that struck a chord for sure! And I totally agree with Laurens’ comments. Putting yourself in situations that are uncomfortable and difficult on order to learn is often regarded by the outside world as being a fearless daredevil though. Nothing could be further away from the truth, I am often feared to death stepping into the unknown. But exhilarated at the same time to have a go at discovering and developing yet another unknown personal territory.

  11. Lucía says:

    Hello! at 18, when I left school , I chose the career Software Engineering because , I now realize , it was a challenge to my intelligence. I was offered teaching jobs and I was good , so I did the teaching career. My major project was to form a beautiful family , while I working in develop software, but in a while I have so much interest in psychology that next year I want to start this race in college. I paint and want to do an exhibition. I play guitar and sing and I love to do things linking art and psychology . Friends and family do not understand why if I had 48, I do not keep quiet . You are helping me clarify my answer : I can not imagine life without learning , and become passionate in doing so goes like me is my way of being in the world . I am MultiPod , how could they understand ?

  12. Taelor says:

    I’m not gonna lie, I love doing hard things. I just finished a three year career in the Oil Field where I learned about working on Diesel engines, pumps, electric motors and hydraulic systems. I also eventually landed my target job where I worked on a drilling rig as a floorhand. On my days off I would go to the mountains and learn bushcraft and survival. I even took an alligator wrestling class! Then, after that first year on the rig, I got called to double as the new hire trainer on my days off. I had a bright future ahead of me. Sadly, as you said in your post/e-mail, I lost interest because it became monotonous. Now I am in the second day of a two year nursing program and its all I can think about!

    All of these things; the drilling rigs, training, alligator wrestling, mountain survival, nursing, are incredibly difficult. They demand long hard hours, literal uphill battles, stamina, and determination. They take challenege, the only thing that keeps me interested and moving forward.

  13. Emilie:
    As a musician I find the hardest thing to do is produce my own shows. The renting of a venue, hiring other players to support me, writing the arrangements, financing (ugh). I often avoid doing more than one a year.

    But because there are so many aspects to the job it oddly appeals to the multipotentialite in me. Because of your article on challenging oneself I’m inspired to begin booking more shows as challenges to my talents and professional growth.

    Thank you


  14. Cheryl says:

    Doing hard things can lift you out of hard times. When my multipod husband died suddenly, I decided to go back to school after 20 yrs and study the Great Books, and got an MA. As I was finishing, I found myself pregnant, at 41, after having been told for years I was infertile. So, as a single mother, I decided to pack up my toddler and move to Scotland to do another MA, this time in Shakespeare. I finished, came back, found a college teaching job I love, developing courses in English and humanities, much of it online as I trained in instructional design and technology. Last year, six weeks after I got married to this multipod husband, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and melanoma. I went through surgeries, chemo, radiation without stopping working. Then, when treatment ended, I was offered a one year Hewlett grant-funded position to implement a project in VA which will reduce textbook costs by millions for students for years to come, as part of the OER movement: http://www.hewlett.org/programs/education/open-educational-resources. I’m working for an ed-tech start up in Portland, very exciting and adventurous, as this has never been done and there is no map to where we are going! These were all hard things, but the choices I made lifted me up out of the difficulty and led me to even better adventures. So, keep doing hard things!

  15. 4gun6 says:

    Some said that something is easy because it is easy. To me, something is easy because I passionate on it. No matter how hard it is. And the result isn’t always ‘a result’, it is a joy and pleasure of doing it.

  16. Walter says:

    As a software engineer, I cannot tell you how many times I walked into my boss’ office and said: “I’m done with X, I need something more challenging” This has disturbed quite a bit of them but I could not understand why you’d want to stick with something once you’ve learned what there is to learn in an area.

    I am known as a generalist, but I also get picked to carry out assignments of extreme importance because of my broad knowledge. So, in the end I think we all gain from it.

    I once also quit completely and started a company doing water damage restoration because I’ve always had a knack for working with my hands. Talk about a sharp learning curve! That was fun… for a while, but it got boring too, so I switched back to an office setting and I still surprise my boss with my “I need a new challenge” line. So far, 3 new challenges in 2 years, so it’s not bad!

    My philosophy is: “Keep learning and have fun. If one of those is missing, it’s time for a change”

  17. Susanna says:

    Yep. I love things that are complicated – but not too complicated, I have to feel like I could actually accomplish it :)

    Multipotentialites are incredibly interesting. We’re so full of life and enthusiasm and have such a willinglness to explore and create. And we’re not afraid, at least most of the time.

    The only thing that holds us back is societies idea of the best type of person to be. And that is someone who focuses. There is nothing more terrifying to me than having to say “this is what i’m going to do forever … or even the next 5 years”. I might do it for that long, but to say I will, omg, I couldn’t.

  18. Caroline says:

    I wouldn’t say I think of it as hard, but I do like to set big goals that I know are going to take a lot of time. I am so exhilarated by crossing something off my list that I thought I would never do. I was always the worst in gym class, but ran a half marathon last year. I signed up for Nanowrimo the day before it started six years ago and finished. Now I am picking languages I want to achieve fluency in. I suppose some people would look at this as “hard” but I tend to look for goals I feel are “juicy.” If I feel a little squirmy and uncertain if I can do something- that’s the goal I want. It’s no fun if I know I can do it from the beginning. I suppose that’s why I don’t tend to repeat goals.

  19. Emily says:

    I completely identify with this. I like doing things that are challenging and often times scary because I learn so much in these situations. As soon as I don’t feel like I can learn anymore, like I’ve maxed out the learning in the field I am in to a certain extent, I don’t want to stay in it. That’s why I left teaching. And its interesting – my boyfriend just graduated from medical school and I found myself/still find myself very drawn to medicine because it is challenging and you learn to see the world in such a different way. And one of the reasons is because it is so difficult, but you are right, it also has to be fascinating. But I do think there are some careers, and I feel like medicine is included in this, where the work has the potential to require you to continue to grow or you can easily find ways to keep growing – research, doctor’s without borders, specialization, adding your voice about public health, becoming a professor, etc. Whereas, some jobs seem to actively block growth and others just don’t seem to think about growth.

  20. Sheryl says:

    I love solving problems, resolving roadblocks, and streamlining processes. The more complex the situation, the more excited I get to jump into the middle of it. I use my multipotentiality as my toolbox in my work.

    So, yeah, a situation can present as a software problem, but it’s WAY fun when there are people problems, industrial engineering problems and other unknown issues mucking it up. Give me a tough problem that needs assessing from 100 angles, and I’m in heaven!

  21. Margaux says:

    For me, none of what I do has anything to do with difficulty or challenges, only interests. By coincidence I could be into something difficult that I’m trying to understand better — such as differential calculus or quantum wave theory — but that’s not the raison d’être for going there.

    I only want to understand something better. Once I “get” it, I’m ready to move on, unless there’s some other aspect I want to understand right now. I don’t find mastery to be something I aspire to. Mastery takes too long and that’s not the point for me. I also don’t feel I need to commit to learning all of every part of it all at once. I usually circle back to things later.

    I wouldn’t say I get bored of work once I get it, only that it stops having useful meaning for me. I can still do “boring” work, as I can still challenge myself in other ways by doing it faster or more precisely or more efficiently and so on, to keep me partly interested, but mentally, I’d prefer to try something new and unknown instead.

    So, no, I’m not one of these kinds of multipods that is only interested in challenging things. Alas, that makes me even more underachieving than the average multipod! I so do admire those of you who pull it together to follow through on 5-10 year projects, like law school! :)

    • I really connect with your comment. That is exactly how I function too. BUT I do like doing hard things IF it has a purpose in my life at that moment. The boring work can be a tool for growth and personal evolution.
      ONe of the hardest things I have ever done is being a full time homeschooling parent. It never gets easier. When the children are babies you wait for them to grow up so life will be smoother. Then they hit their middle school age and they are their own persona that you have to learn to relate to as they develop their own personalities and discover the world and their potentials. BUT I love this place I am at. I cry, I have hard days, I don’t know all the answers, I am always grasping for air and desperately learning, learning at all times. I love what I am doing now.
      And I still find time to pursue other interests like cooking, gardening, learning languages, reading biographies, becoming a health coach, a marathonist. Life is such a great adventure.
      I remember a conversation that was catalytic in my life. I was finishing high school and didn’t know which career I wanted to pursue. When I voiced my concerns to my Dad, “there’s so much I want to do. How can I choose? I want to do everything.” My Dad answered, “YOu can do everything. YOu can be anything and everything you desire. You don’t have to pick just one field of interest.” And that did it! When I went into college I knew that my life course was not set in stone.
      Emilie, I’m so glad I found your blog. I will be sharing it with my 12 y.o. daughter who is also a multipotentialite!!!

  22. Sara says:

    I like hard things too. But I’ve gotten used to not getting the chance to do hard things. I hope I get back to it!

  23. Mark says:

    I would not say any topic I choose to pick up is difficult for me. I always believed that liking something removes the difficulty that others may find associated with it. Spending time with something I find fascinating and enjoyable until the knowledge or skill level is reached where there is no longer nothing new there does not seem like work. So the definition of “difficult” may only pertain to the context of who is doing what and who is doing the looking.

  24. Wendy says:

    I think you are right about multipotentialites enjoying challenge – I’ve certainly left several jobs when the level of desirable/enjoyable challenge dropped below satisfying levels.
    But on the other hand, I think it’s possible to invest even simple “been-there, done-that” interests with new levels of challenge. For example, I’ve been pretty confident about public speaking for years and regularly take corporate workshops for 4 hours or so. But I recently joined Toastmasters and am enjoying the totally different challenge of presenting a 6 minute speech with a very specific focus such as my use of body language or alliteration.
    I sure many of us have experienced this – learning one new skill or technique can suddenly revitalise an interest that had gone off the boil a while back.

  25. Sharon says:

    Wow – your post described me to a “T”. I’ve only just (in the last couple of months) realised I am a multipotentialite. I love the word and I love the intersection of meanings that it brings. Its like the word beautifully describes the potentials that exist in the quantum field that is me :)

    I’ve also only just realised that I rarely do “easy” and most stuff is hard. I used to think that I was not very clever but now I see that most stuff (that I do) is not that easy. I’m loving the potentials in me so much I’ve just found that its OK to let go for a while too. I’m learning to relax at the moment and that’s turning out to be one of the harder things I’ve set my mind to!

    Love your work. Thanks for sharing with me.

    S :)

  26. JoAnne says:

    This rings true for me; on the one hand, I think back, even to trying to earn girl scout badges, and remember that I looked for the ones with
    “easy” requirements, and passed over the ones that took more effort. (And were somehow out of my comfort zone)

    But, I now realize that it wasn’t so much about what was easy, it was about honing in on the ones that came easily to me BECAUSE they were comprised of things I felt confident in, and really enjoyed. (Probably creative, and/or cerebral, and NOT physical)

    Today I think about how this applies, and I notice as I take on a challenge to create a stream of revenue from my art/creativity, I get really excited, inspired, and generally on fire…when I come up with that “next great idea.” But the follow-through is so difficult, because once I’ve come up with
    the “correct formula”, implementing it, practicing it, applying it….. seems a bit boring to me.

    Of course, that is a problem because if I never really complete the concept and implement it…..well, where IS that stream of revenue?

    I am in the middle of this type of situation right now, and I have to really push myself to just focus on the one project before I jump into the
    next one.

    So, in answer to your question, YES, I like “hard things” because they offer the exciting challenges. But, it has to be something that really resonates with me, not just any kind of challenge that might come my way.

  27. Linda says:

    Yup, absolutely. I do things that are hard and challenging and outside of my comfort zone. I love learning new things. I will deliberately “jump in the deep end” because its the best way to “learn how to swim”! Once I have mastered something I lose interest.

  28. Painter says:

    I love new and hard challenges. I often find that in my pursuit of wanting to learn as much as I can, I love pushing the boundaries of what I think I am capable of just to see how far I can go. Once things get to easy I often get bored and lose interest.

  29. Q says:

    I used to be fulltime/Active Duty Army with 1 tour to Afghanistan. My job was challenging. It made a difference; was important. I wanted to transfer out of the Army to challenge myself on the civilian side and to see where opportunities would take me. Two weeks out of the Army I met my significant other and that was 1.5 years ago. While I’m trying to make it work in the state we live in, I am not challenged. I’m a barista who has mastered a mocha, a latte, and all of the other interesting drinks people order. My boyfriend is a farmer and I’m a female veteran trying to fit in-

    Thanks for posting. Now I know that I’m not job hopping because of not being dependable, it’s because these jobs lack purpose (for me) and a challenge.


  30. Carol says:

    It doesn’t always need to be hard, but it does need to be either something very new or something I was forced to move away from before getting bored with it. (Usually because of the need for money).

  31. Marineh says:

    Finally, I learned to make light of the quizzie looks people give me sometimes when I make a suggestion. I respond by saying, “You know me. Why do it the easy way, when you can do the hard way?” Then we laugh.

  32. Jules Bartow says:

    Electrical engineer; software developer; climbing arborist (aerial acrobat with a chain saw); truck driver (hazmat tanker semis & big snowplows in winter); alarm, surveillance, audio visual and Cisco certified network technician. I graduated high school early and traveled solo to the Arctic Circle. Unable to get into college as a white person (caucasion) I reapplied as a minority and got a full ROTC scholarship. I’ve worked on submarine command & control systems, torpedos, an aircraft carrier, the F-35 Lightning II, in Russia on nuclear missiles, in Iraq prisons doing computer and cell phone forensics to link insurgents, launched NSA satellites, microwaved tumors in cancer patients, sold weapons to Israel, occasionally drive an ambulance, amateur radio licensed, and swift water rescue certified with the volunteer fire & rescue squad. Whether it’s electronic, pneumatic, hydraulic, chemical, or biological I find opportunities to learn from the best. I’ve made the toughest street thug knees buckle taking them up in an 80-foot bucket truck to install cameras over the freeway, been ordered by the CIA to quit trespassing and accidentally disconnected the U.S. Attorney’s fiber optic connection and shut down a Walmart Super Center. I take care of 6-chickens, 4-horses, 3-ducks, 2-dogs and a cat. My girlfriend rescues vultures.

    The MacGiver attitude to solve seemingly intractable problems appears to many with unconceived perspectives as BFM (Black F’n Magic). I’m born again 7-times because it drives Christian women (mostly single) to maul me in the church parking lot afterwards. It’s a rough life keeping all those women happy, but faith in Mother Mary and little baby Jesus in a manger as my savior keeps me going. I get out of tickets by offering a hug and kiss to the meter maid –totally unexpected and appreciated. Works great for getting free refills on ice cream cones too, so long as you don’t forget and eat the cone. The local correctional facility had me get certified in prison rape detection and prevention because I’m a frequent visitor fixing the system that lets inmates download music to their prison approved iPods –fundamentally, don’t drop the soap in the shower.

    My routine is… anything but routine.

  33. Mon says:

    Hi Guys!

    Oh Emilie.. A truer word never spoken.

    At 52 years young, I have never spent more than five years in one job. Why? I get bored, stale and have no further to progress. I’ve learnt the systems and created new ones. At times I feel perhaps those above feel threatened by my desire to make a difference and purposely ensure that I am unable to progress in the company.

    I love job interviews so once I get to stale mate the thrill of getting the new job takes over my every thought and I’m done.
    I have spent years pursuing many creative pursuits, crocheting, web design, ecommerce, fabric painting, am a qualified optician, nail technician and am now going to be studying a Bachelor of Business degree part time to satisfy my need for learning.

    Am I a multipotentialite?


  34. James says:

    I have worked in countless environments, that there were too many ‘Office Hippos’ in one room that they couldn’t see the Elephants in the mirror.

    What do you do when the top people don’t see the situation as you see it.

    What do you do when you know you can’t move up because you have been targeted for pointing out the problems.

    What do you do when you are ‘too valuable’ in your position.

    When I go into my old environments, I see the same problems that existed 10 years ago.

    Maybe I should be a consultant.

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