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Tips for Students: Choosing ALL Your Passions: The Life of a Multipotentialite

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article expands on highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents. 


Some of us fit neatly into boxes. We dream of becoming surgeons, mathematicians, or sports stars. But it can be hard for those who don’t seem to fit into a single box to find their path. This talk is all about exploring possibilities and discovering what a life of embracing multiple passions can look like. 

A “multipotentialite” is someone who doesn’t want to be “just one thing.” This is a modern take on an old idea: for centuries people who appreciate breadth as well as depth have been known as polymaths, renaissance people, generalists, scanners or multipassionates. 

There are as many ways to express multipotentiality as there are multipotentialites. Some people run multiple businesses simultaneously. Others may have a series of very different careers throughout their lifetime. And others again may create single jobs or businesses which encompass many of their passions at once. 

By looking at these examples we can begin to paint our own picture of what our ideal life may look like. Spending time getting to know our own skills, talents, passions and interests helps us to identify overlaps and may suggest new and surprising combinations. Combining seemingly-disparate topics together can be fruitful for creativity and problem solving. 

It’s important to continually reflect on the life we want and how we can get there. It helps to periodically reaffirm our destination, and to set goals to meet along the way. Those goals must be turned into concrete, actionable steps: every day moving a little closer to a goal is progress. 

Top Tips 

How do you help a gifted multipotentialite set a goal that is realistic and achievable? 

Many people use the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to think about their goals, and multipotentialites don’t have to be any different in this regard. SMART stands for small, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. But how can you set goals like that when there is so much in the world needing your attention? 

For younger gifted children, you can use their wise array of interests to help them explore the world. For some of our younger kids, reading is the fastest way for them to learn new things. For other families, they gain a lot of new experiences of the world through travel or frequent moves. Helping them to cultivate a continued openness to new experiences and modeling the skills they need in order to seek out new experiences on their own can be of great benefit to young multipotentialites. Focusing on getting a wide array of new experiences (breadth) can help your child to figure out some things that they take interest to with more depth. 

Any family looking for more breadth should absolutely seek out free or low-cost resources when possible. It can put a lot of pressure on someone to really invest at the get-go. One of the biggest resources that families have is their public library. Libraries don’t only house books and magazines anymore, many libraries have makers spaces, tools, sewing machines, 3D printers, and other equipment that can either be rented and taken home or reserved to use in the building. If your city/town has a university, there are frequently “public cards” or “family cards” where you pay a yearly membership and get access to some of the university tools and facilities as well. Some cities/towns also have art collectives or makerspaces where families can become members, take classes, learn skills, and try out things that may be a larger investment before diving in head-first. One of the benefits of joining a makerspace, art collective, or renting things from the library is that they frequently have procedures in place to make sure people know how to safely handle and use the tools. For example, they may have a rule that before you can book a sewing machine for an hour of independent use, you may have to take an hour-long introductory sewing class to get you on the same page about the machine and expectations on a basic level.  

Older children and teenagers may feel the pressure to decide what they want to be when they grow up, while many adults realize that someone’s path in life usually isn’t linear. The saying, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans,” is a cliché for a reason. Teenagers can make big plans for college, moving out, and joining the workforce but those are just plans. Life always throws curveballs, college transforms people, and being a young adult can be challenging. Encouraging your teen to follow their passions during these years may lead them down some unexpected paths! During their high school and college years, clubs and groups become more available to multipotentialites than ever before. 

One of the benefits of living in the 21st century is the connected access that social media can allow. Now, it’s important to start by saying that everything you see on social media isn’t real life. But there are a lot of people authentically sharing their skills, paths, and strengths online, and we can all benefit from that. For example, if your young multipotentialite suddenly wants to take up cosplay (which is costume making for characters of movies, TV, and video games), there are countless blogs, YouTube channels, and Twitch channels dedicated to helping people get into/level up their cosplays. Many organizations have opportunities to volunteer virtually, and/or have options for local involvement in national projects. The Library of Congress’s By the People program allows public volunteers to help transcribe historical documents, pieces of music, and more. Citizen science projects allow the public to gather data for various scientific endeavors in the fields of astronomy, ecology, sometimes wildlife biology, and more. 

There are many connections to be made between the skills and interests of multipotentialites, even if they seem disparate at first. If your multipotentialite is a cosplayer, like previously mentioned, but they also are considering a degree in engineering, perhaps they could investigate the cleaning and care of their sewing machine, or there are people who refurbish their family’s antique sewing machines and get them working again with time and care. If your multipotentialite is an avid fantasy writer and a vegetarian, perhaps they could try their hand at papermaking with recycled materials, or even bookbinding. 

Many of the skills borne out of following a multipotentialite rabbit hole can lead to paid work, but that’s not the only benefit. Learning a skill or trade that combines many of a multipotentialite’s interests can lead them to communities of people who show up in the world in similar ways. Carrying on with the cosplay example, people spend their time making or buying costumes to attend meetups or conventions (cons) with other likeminded fans. Joining art collectives, art collectives, or getting involved in citizen science projects can lead young multipotentialites to mentors and interest-based communities of friends, which can more easily lead to deeper relationships than the age-based interest communities they experienced in traditional school. 

For multipotentialites entering college, there are ways to tailor the college experience to be less focused on one major. For example, some schools have interdisciplinary programs, where students learn from multiple areas of academia to inform their work from multiple perspectives. For example: 

  • New York University has their Global Liberal Arts degree program which combines at least one year of learning and living abroad with interdisciplinary study. 
  • Lehigh University has several integrated degree programs that combine engineering with business, the arts, or other programs. 
  • One of the University of the Redland’s honors programs, the Proudian Interdisciplinary Honors Program, selects 18 students to participate in interdisciplinary seminars and the opportunity to complete an interdisciplinary senior thesis. 

Other universities allow students to build their own majors, choosing requirements from a myriad of interesting options. For example: 

For those looking to earn their degree and move on to a career focus, there are college programs that have few or no general education requirements, so your student can get to studying their interests quickly. Brown University, Grinnell College, and Amherst College are three such colleges that have open curriculums. 

No matter your multipotentialite’s age, it can be helpful to stop once and a while and reassess if they are happy with what their life looks like now. That can be a difficult question, and it can come with a lot of pressure. But taking stock with your multipotentialite of what they are good at, what lights them up, and how they are actually using their time can help them prioritize and set manageable goals. After all, it’s harder to know what you want forever. It’s easier to just decide what you want right now.  


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