Why Mastery is a Freaking Snooze (for Multipotentialites)
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Why Mastery is a Freaking Snooze (for Multipotentialites)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Multipotentialite Patterns

A few days ago, I got an email from one of my favourite law professors, asking if I’d be willing to write a reference letter for her for an award she was nominated for. Of course I said yes.

As I reflected on my experiences in her classes, I found myself reading my term paper that she had supervised. It was a paper called: “The Legal Implications of MP3 Blogs”. (It was very pro-user/blogger’s rights). As I read, it really struck me just how damn good that paper was.

Jeez, I could get this published, I thought.

And then I thought,

I was really good at academia! I really had that whole system figured out.

Hm. Maybe I should go back to school…

I imagined it for a moment– writing more papers like this. They would be genius, I’m sure. I could reach the pinnacle of scholarly brilliance!

But Then it Happened.

My heart started speeding, I began to feel faint. Panicked.

Oh my god. That sounds terrible!!!

My reaction was so violent. It was almost visceral. All I could imagine was the profound boredom I would feel being back in that environment.

Before I go on, let me just state that I have nothing against academia (provided you’re doing it for the right reasons). I spent a whopping 21 years in school and truly enjoyed most of that time. But as I was nearing the end of my academic career, something happened: it became too easy.

I had the system figured out. Even law school I eventually figured out– at least as much as I needed to.

Do Multipotentialites Need a Challenge?

I’ve noticed that throughout my various pursuits, my end point often comes once I feel like I’ve got things “figured out.” The thought of going beyond that makes me feel ill.

I would get that “yeah, I got this” feeling inside. It’s a good feeling. But then almost instantly, the appeal of that interest — whatever it was that drew me to it — would vanish.

Sure, there would always be more that I could learn in any given field– more challenges, more nuances, new directions I could try within the field. And for some people (even some multipotentialites), those things provide enough variety to keep them interested.

But for the most part, once I’ve got the fundamentals covered and I’ve reached a certain level of proficiency, I’m done. I enjoy the process of being a beginner, getting good, and creating something awesome– usually a project of some sort. That’s when I usually lose interest.

Multipotentialites have a lot of drives, but one of mine is definitely Challenge. I’m wondering if this is a common motivation for multipotentialites. While specialists seem to enjoy being at the top of their field, to me being “the best” sounds freaking boring…

Your Turn

I’m curious how it is for you. Are you motivated by challenge? Do you get bored and need to move on once you’ve got something figured out?


p.s. Just wanted to remind you that we’re opening up the doors to the Puttytribe tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to meeting the 50 new Puttypeep. :)


  1. Lisa says:

    Hi Emilie!

    Am I motivated by challenge? Definitely.

    Do I get bored and need to move on once I’ve gotten something figured out?


    I spent my pre-motherhood working life Temping for that very reason. I couldn’t imagine staying in one job once the challenge went out of it. (Admin work paid the bills but it was soul-destroying. However, that’s a discussion for another day.)

    I’m so glad I found Puttylike, because a lot of what I’m reading here resonates with me.

    So, next stop – start my own business.

    I’ll be in contact soon. :)

  2. Juliana says:

    DEFINITELY motivated by challenge.

    The idea of what drives us is really interesting to me – Emilie, have you written more on that topic? The drives of mutipods?

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Juliana,

      I wrote about it a bit here: https://puttylike.com/why-you-shouldnt-finish-what-you-start/

      And I’ve written about it a little in my emails in the past. My theory about overarching themes is actually that they are closely linked to one of our “drives.” Like making the multipotentialite lifestyle work is definitely one of my drives (also my OT). And if you look at Chris Guillebeau, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s driven by non-conformity, etc.

      But yeah, super interesting topic that I’ll probably explore more in future posts.

  3. Shanna Mann says:

    Oh, man, I know! It would totally be the smart thing to stay in one place and rake in the kudos, but I just. can’t. do it.

    But sticking around for the recognition presupposes that recognition is what I’m there for. Once I realized that, it became a lot easier. :)

    • Emilie says:

      Very very interesting. I’ve experienced the same thing. Knowing that you’re continuing out of recognition allows you to move on, or you know, continue acting out of recognition, but more consciously. :)

  4. JocelynBrown says:

    I’d love to be ‘the best’ at something but you are right, I get way too bored after a certain point. That is why I chose a new career as a coach – I have to keep learning so that I have tons of resources for my clients! Every single one of them is different and since I like to skim a million different things, I can almost always point them in the right direction (and if not, guess what, more learning and research I can do to find it!!). I love learning!

    • Emilie says:

      Honestly, I don’t think being “the best” is even possible. There will always be someone who’s better. It’s kind of a silly notion all together, and one I wish society wouldn’t push on us so much.

      And I agree about coaching. For me, each student is different and “smooshing” their interests feels like a whole new challenge. Love it.

  5. Richard says:

    Thanks for the post Emilie. I have had this problem most of my working life. I have been involved in web design for much longer than most but am not as specialised and thus as ‘talented’ as many people much younger and less experienced than myself.

    I keep thinking, maybe if I just focus on one area and work real hard at that it will pay off. But you know what? I’m just not that way inclined. The thought of sticking to one area -whether design or development and becoming the best at that -even award winning, doesn’t excite me for more than a few seconds.

    I do get bored really easy and definitely need new challenges to keep me happy. I’m less inclined to think about mastering something which is becoming increasingly difficult anyhow in the technology field as changes happen at a faster and faster rate. I’m about getting as much knowledge as I need for the job in hand.

    However, It’s still important to assess each project afterwards to see if you can improve anything for next time though.

    • Margaux says:

      Me too! Full-time web designer for 12 years and not much visible proof of that. I loved web design in the beginning because it was always changing. You had to learn fast, adopt it, then learn about the next big thing.

      Unfortunately, it’s not the work so much as the company that has changed in my case. More people needed to be hired to get things done faster and with greater expertise, but that meant more specialising of roles. And just doing the design part is not enough for me.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Richard,

      It sounds like you are doing everything right. I bet that when you jump into new areas, you build off of past skills too. And you know what? Us multipods are stellar (and quick) learners because we love it so much. We’re also fountains of knowledge and skill.

      Thanks for sharing.

  6. Anna says:

    This definitely resonates with me. For a long time I couldn’t understand why I was voluntarily taking a pay break every time I took a new job. Why couldn’t I just work my way up at one job like everyone else? How come once I “got” something, and that learning curve flattened out, I started paying less attention and feeling claustrophobic?

    I’ve finally realized that it’s the puzzles and the learning that keep me motivated. But this can be so frustrating! Of course being a beginner all the time can make you feel, well, like a beginner! With all of the frustrations and insecurity that come along with it. It also means I’m never making that much money. But it also means that I’ve learned a bit about a bunch of different things, so people are often surprised at the varied skills I carry around in my head.

    • Emilie says:

      You phrased it perfectly: “claustrophobic”.

      That’s exactly it. You feel trapped.

      I would also add that I don’t think you need to make less money as a multipotentialite (actually I think multipods have the potential to be incredibly successful). It’s just about finding work or piecing something together that allows you to jump around as PART of that work. This might be the reason that a lot of us choose to be entrepreneurs. Lots of hats to wear, different products and services to create, etc.

      Awesome to hear you’re embracing your shape-shifting ways Anna. :)

  7. Katja says:

    Hi Emilie!

    I recently discovered your blog and with it the whole world of mulitpotentials. It has been quite the eye opener! Reading yor blog has really changed how I see my self and my struggles in the past to „finish“ something…. ;) A big thank you for that!!

    Challenges are definately motivating me. I never spent more than 2 ½ years at the same working place – mostly less. I`ve worked in a drugstore, a tailor shop, in a window factory, a pharmaceutical company, a home decor import company… you get the picture.
    One of my potentials is to streamline processes, so after a year or so I had reduced any full-time job I started into a half time job and got bored. At some point I had to go looking for another job or go crazy!

    Fortunately now I’m self-employed with three businesses (horse farm, tailor shop, music band), and can streamline to my hearts content… With those diverse occupations I do not see myself getting bored anytime soon :)

    Greetings from Germany

    • Emilie says:

      Wow! What fantastic concurrent businesses. I love the idea of having diverse revenue streams that each allow you to express a different side of your multipotentialite personality. For me, I’ve just smooshed everything together under the Puttylike umbrella. Heh. I bet if I wanted to open a farm, I could find a way to fit it in to this platform. :P

      Seriously though, I may have to interview you sometime.. Super cool.

  8. Josh says:

    I get that way with music. For a long time I was always having to learn a new instrument or style. But then you’re right, being a virtuoso guitarist and spending hours a day on scales or whatever does not sound fun for me, even though I did some of that for a time.

    As for mastery, what about the guys who learn many skills AND master them? They’re both multipotentialists and specialists. Some people are just too talented…

    • Margaux says:

      I have a friend who is a serial specialist multipotentialite and I’m envious of that. Of course, it looks better on paper when you have the documents to prove you finished something, and accolades from peers

      • Margaux says:

        [Whoops, got cut off!]

        …to prove recognition in your field. I don’t think she’s necessarily more talented than I would’ve been in those fields, though (ok, yes for ballet—my body was just not designed for it like hers was, but I was definitely a better gymnast). I just think she has more follow-through and discipline, which I would define as strengths, rather than talents. Is that nitpicky?

      • Josh says:

        I know what you mean. People look at degrees and credentials. Problem with music and a few different fields in the arts is credentials and academia aren’t always the best thing.

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Josh,

      I’m that way with music too. Violin got dull so I picked up rock guitar, moved to jazz, etc. The arts are cool like that. Lots of different media and styles to explore.

      As for mastering many skills, well I would still call those people multipotentialites. I guess it depends on how you define mastery.

  9. Shayna says:

    Do I get bored & move on? Depends on what it is. If it’s a complex activity that uses multiple skill sets (like entrepreneurship… Or capoeira, an african-brazilian dance/martial art/game/ritual that I’ve practiced for over 10 yrs), I don’t get bored, I just try to grow & move on up to the next level. But with laser-focused, narrow areas (like organic chemistry, which used to be my area of study), I get antsy for something “different.”

  10. Denise says:

    I need more like an ongoing challenge. One of the reasons I was a pastry chef for so long is because there was always advances being made in the industry, which constantly presented new challenges. New designs, new skills, and techniques to learn so you can stay ‘up to date’. I think that’s what kept me at it.

    But, yeah.. i know that ill feeling you mention when you feel like you’ve figured it out already.

  11. kelly p says:

    I am motivated by challenge up to a certain point – then it’s gone – and fast. The motivation doesn’t always leave when I get good at something sometimes it leaves when I alter another course.

    I was very interested in becoming a personal trainer just a few months ago -but the more I studied for the “test” – the direction of the information well started going against what I began to believe about fitness and well-being. I stopped studying and put that book away and never looked back.

    • Margaux says:

      Yes! I did personal training courses, too. But never became a trainer. Also took yoga teacher training but never became a yoga teacher. I didn’t disagree with the personal training information—just realised there was far more to health and fitness than teaching people how to squat safely, things that personal trainers usually have little influence on. But I couldn’t be a yoga teacher because I don’t agree with some fundamental yoga philosophies. I think there’s a lot there that is beneficial to the right kind of people, but I can’t be a role model of that, and it would be hypocritical of me to teach it to other people when I don’t fully practice, or even try to. I still practice the yoga asanas and some of the ideas, just not all of them.

      Anyway, that was more of a philosophical issue for me than an “I got bored” issue.

  12. Jenn says:

    Yep, yep and yep. I’m on board with the blog post and ALL the comments! The longest I’ve stayed at a job is 5 years, and even then I force myself to stay that long. At 42, I’m now on my 7th job since college graduation. And I love it! Just started my 7th job last week, and the new challenge has inspired me.

    With learning a new job, I’ve likened it to climbing a big hill, and when you get to the top and see downhill and the valley below, all you want to do is find another hill! For the valley looks terribly terribly mundane and boring.

    For myself I have noticed that I will actually get bad at a job if I stick around too long. So I like to leave on a high note, when my boss is still pleased and I have my confidence intact.

    It is a little disconcerting to start seeing people much younger than you are move up through the ranks and pass you by, but when I consider, Would I really want that? It is always a resounding no. I see the administrative duties and the rules upper management must follow and that life is not for me.

  13. Margaux says:

    I don’t have a problem with work insofar as always needing to move on, partially because my job (web design) has built-in challenges and constant learning, partially because I work in an entrepreneurial company that allows, even encourages, a great deal of latitude, cross-over, and job-creation among the staff. If you see a gap that no one else is filling, just step in and boom! new challenge.

    In terms of my multipotentials, I don’t move on because I’ve figured everything out and am ready to move on; I move on because someth— Squirrel! Suddenly what’s over there seems incredibly interesting. Not that what I’m doing isn’t still interesting, just, well, that other thing over there is shiny and sparkling and begging me to pick it up! What do you expect me to do?

    And finally, I can’t specialise in anything because whenever I see people who are well-regarded experts in their fields, I admire them on the one hand, but on the other, I think, “Boy, they really could use some fresh air/a vacation/juicy cheeseburger/walk on the wild side/wider range of literature…” Basically, their intense focus on their subject and sometimes narrow viewpoint scares me. I’m a moderate person who believes in moderation in all things, including moderation. Going deep means having to silence my inner critic that says “too far! this isn’t the only thing that life is made of.”

  14. Erin says:

    Yes and yes! Even though I’m only just now seeing it. My husband has his PhD in a field he plans to work in (happily) forever. Meanwhile, I’ve started four separate programs in four completely different fields after finishing my undergrad…which was in a fifth. I always felt like I hadn’t hit on just the right field for me, so I’d try another. I’m starting to see I may not have one right field I can joyfully pursue my entire life.

    • Margaux says:

      And isn’t it a shame how everyone is brainwashed into thinking being accomplished means being an expert in one field for their entire life? Maybe you can’t focus on one field, but you could have a job that allows you to dabble in all five (or more) fields. The best case is that you’re a writer, in which case you can write about anything that interests you.

  15. Michael says:

    Oh lordy yes! That’s funny, I found an old masters thesis whilst recycling a couple of bookcases the other day and thought, ‘hey, this is a damn good paper, I should do something with it…’;)

    I find my appetite for industries/fields runs out in a few years max, unless there’s a constant demand for learning. Even then, I need to shift the dimension the input is in as well as the volume.

    I’d rather chew my own leg off than stay in the same field long term. The fun parts for me are the initial mad dash, eiger-like campaign up the learning curve.

    That said, there are a few things related to personal growth that are perennial fascinations. Most things that are self-development oriented have been long term interests.

    Excellent site Emilie, nice to find some folks on the same wavelength!

  16. Jakob says:

    I totally related to this Emilie. So many times in my life I’ve stopped doing stuff because I was bored.

    I never figured out why, I just knew I was bored and moved on.

    Emilie, your post made me realize it was because I mastered the basics/fundamentals of the field I was conquering. I live to master the crux of a field. When I feel like I have, it falls by the wayside.

    I only enjoy doing something if I feel like I haven’t figured out how to go about doing it well.

    Thanks for the insight! ;)

  17. Anna says:

    I just came across this blog post by Penelope Trunk, and it reminded me of this thread: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2012/05/28/5-reasons-you-should-specialize-right-now/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BrazenCareerist+%28Penelope+Trunk%29

    The title is “5 reasons to specialize right now.” As soon as I saw it, I thought “well, this clearly isn’t for me.” But after reading it, I’m intrigued. Her definition of “specializing” sounds a lot like the way that you, Emilie, recommend taking one’s many interests and “smooshing” them together into one business. She gives the example of a woman “who specializes in counseling men in the geology and oil industries who are overwhelmed by anxiety from Peak oil” and she says that “the more specific the specialty the less you have to sell yourself as an expert.”

    Perhaps more importantly for folks like us, she also says: “This is why specializing makes life so interesting. It’s a solid home base for further personal growth.” Basically, once you’ve narrowed down one specialty that few others have, which gives you some stability, you can use that same focus and curiosity to experiment in other areas.

    Anyway, thought this might be of interest to folks here. To me it’s a new perspective on specializing… in a very multipotentialite way. Read it and see what you think.

    • Jen says:

      There’s always serial specializing–like serial monogamy ;)

      That sounds a bit more appealing than a lifetime specialty.

  18. Jessica says:

    You know, that’s so funny because I have always beaten myself up for that. Whenever I get close to being “the best of the best” of whatever I’m doing, it becomes INSANELY boring. My recent career is a perfect example – I started out in print design and when I got good, moved to web – and when I got good, moved to social media. Now, I know social media changes a lot and because of that it’s interesting, but rather than continue to “master” it all, I’m going to write a book instead. Because I never have before, and writing and being published is the next challenge. Thank goodness I’m not the only one! Thank you for asking this question. Yay!

  19. Jen says:

    Sigh. So many times I’ve just gotten to the stage in a job or course etc. where I’m about to “make it big” i.e. earn big bucks, get a promotions, whatever, and dip out. It’s partly not wanting to feel trapped and partly boredom due to having mastered whatever it is.

    It’s as though I just couldn’t stand doing whatever it is for even another minute.

    What you have described sounds very similar Emilie. And so many of the commenters seem to be saying something similar.

    Now I’m starting my own business and that feels much better–I can take it any direction I want to, and there’s lots of variety!

  20. It has been my life story. I dip in to try something new and to learn something. It doesn’t even have to be fun….just engaging. When there is nothing more to be learned I move on. But I have figured out that for me it is the journey and NOT the destination that matters and that tests me. Just because you start here doesn’t mean you have to end here. As a wise woman (whose name escapes me) once said “when I get to the end of my life I want to know that I have lived the width as well as the length”. I think the big challenge, whether starting a business, or being married, or whatever, is to find ways to stay challenged, engaged and invested. It’s like the dog who runs closer circles around you (when he knows you are tired) just to keep the game going a little longer. It’s still the same game. Surely Grendel will teach you much in this regard.

  21. mary says:

    Laughing as i read this post.

    I call it being i over my head. I consistently jump in over my head…figure ut out…then its time to move on.

    ps have too much fun

  22. This is kind of funny because all my life I’ve been telling myself and repeating that I don’t like challenges, hence I avoid them.

    However, recently I realised that it’s not true. In fact, I go from one challenge to another. I do it subconsciously, that’s why it took me around 30 years to notice.

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