It took me into my 30s to really accept my multipod nature. After a lifetime of lashing myself for my “inability” to stick with one thing only, I finally embraced the fact that I’m wired to be happiest and function best when I’m pursuing multiple passions at the same time.
I’m a Renaissance woman, I realized. A multipotentialite. Or, as I like to call myself, a passion pluralite.
What a relief it was to finally give myself full permission to follow my various callings!
But learning to accept my passion pluralism was only a partial solution.
I didn’t feel guilty anymore about the hodgepodge of activities that was my life (jazz singing, Argentine Tango, calligraphy, sewing, guitar… and gee, Taiko drumming looks fun…).
This was a good thing.
The problem was, none of my many pursuits was getting the level of attention I wanted to give it. And worse, by trying to do it all I was burning myself out!
I remember the day when the overload got to me, something snapped, and I finally realized the truth that has become my #1 Rule of Happiness for Passion Pluralites:
I get to do everything, just not all at the same time!
It sounds obvious, but at the time it was a major revelation. For the sake of sanity, I needed to narrow my focus and think in terms of pursuing my passions sequentially, rather than trying to do all of them all at once.
I knew I’d never be happy limiting myself to just one passion at a time, so I determined then and there to pick two things to focus on for now.
No matter how painful it felt, I told myself, I’d simply have to prioritize, and my other passions would have to wait.
My jazz singing classes were definitely in—I had a big goal of performing as a singer. And I’d just bought a new sewing machine, so that was in, too.
But what about the West Coast Swing dance lessons? And Argentine Tango? If singing and sewing made the cut, when would I work on mastering those?
And how did my art & calligraphy business fit into the scheme? What about the art I wanted to create for the joy of it, as opposed to the art I did on commission for clients? And I so wanted to be able to accompany myself when I sang—where were guitar lessons going to fit in?
Two focus areas, it seemed, were simply not enough. Maybe I could make it three… Or…
Over the next few weeks, I experimented with the idea of limiting my active areas of devotion, and this evolved into what I like to call my Stovetop Model of Life Design, because the magic number that felt right to me was four, the same number of burners on your typical stovetop (your results may vary).
The metaphor worked for me immediately. We already talk about putting something “on the back burner,” and when I think about how I actually cook, it’s remarkably in alignment with the way I juggle my various passions.
The stovetop model
There’s a reason your typical stove has four burners: that’s about the maximum number of pots that most people can keep track of at any given time.
Imagine a stove with, say, 100 pots cooking away. There’s no way one person could handle it! Even six or eight feels kinda overwhelming. But four? That’s manageable.
In addition, though there may be up to four pots on the stove at a time, you can really only give your full attention to one pot in any given moment.
The stove in my kitchen has one “hi-speed” burner, at the front right, which burns hotter than the other three. I can be boiling pasta, simmering soup and heating water for tea on the other three burners, while I attend closely to a vegetable stir-fry on the front burner.
On my metaphorical stovetop, I can put time into making art, making music, writing and growing my business every day, but only one will be cooking on high speed, while the rest are set to simmer.
If I have a gig coming up (yep, I reached that goal of becoming a performing singer), my music will be on the front-right burner.
If I’m in the middle of a product launch or a website overhaul, my business pot rotates to that spot.
If I’m working on a big art project or towards a show, my art pot takes the front-right burner, and everything else rotates to the back.
The beauty of my stovetop metaphor is it frees me up to rotate my pots at will. (I find my areas of devotion naturally want to shift every three to nine months. Your mileage may vary.)
Plus there’s this: although my stove only has four burners, the metaphor allows me to keep many more than four passions in play: I imagine the interests of mine that aren’t currently cooking on the stove as Tupperware® containers in the fridge, or ingredients in cupboards, waiting to be combined into a tasty new dish when the time is right.
Is my stovetop model for everyone? Probably not. If you’re a truly sequential multipod (what Barbar Sher, in her book Refuse to Choose, calls a Serial Specialist), you may not feel the need to cook with four pots all at the same time.
Or maybe your optimal number of focus areas/burners is three, or five, rather than four. That’s fine—as with cooking, life design is an art, and the best cooks experiment and adapt at will.
Season to taste, and have fun!
How does this stovetop model resonate for you? What pots are cooking on your stove right now?
Melissa Dinwiddie is on a mission to empower people to follow their creative callings. On the front-right burner of her stovetop right now is her business, Living A Creative Life, where she cooks up creativity retreats and workshops, one-on-one and group coaching, consulting, and a growing range of products and programs for fellow creatives. Other pots currently on rotation are writing, calligraphic art, and original jazz-inspired (usually sardonic) songs, which she plays on her ukulele.