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Multipotentiality: multiple talents, multiple challenges

Posted Aug 13 2010 9:30pm

One of the myths of highly talented people is they can choose whatever personal and career paths they want, and realize their abilities without hindrance. It doesn’t exactly work that easily.

In her Unwrapping the Gifted post “ Multipotentiality ,” K-12 gifted education specialist Tamara Fisher quotes Bryant (a pseudonym), a graduating senior who lists his possible future careers as “applied psychologist, scientific psychologist, college teacher, philosophy, mathematics, architect, engineer.”

He says, “I find it difficult to choose between careers because I fear how large the choice is. Having many options available is pleasant, but to determine what I will do for many years to come is scary.”

Fisher notes, “Multipotentiality is the state of having many exceptional talents, any one or more of which could make for a great career for that person.

“Gifted children often (though of course not always) have multipotentiality. Their advanced intellectual abilities and their intense curiosity make them prime candidates for excelling in multiple areas. This can be both a blessing and a curse.

“On the bright side, they have many realistic options for future careers. But on the downside, some of them will struggle mightily trying to decide which choice to make.”

She adds that having “so many great possible outcomes can be a source of debilitating stress.”

And that can be true for adults too. Of course many people are able to realize multiple talents.

In my Psych Central post Amber Benson on Writing: Creating is Kind of Intoxicating , I wrote about actor Amber Benson (Tara on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) who also has multiple credits as a novelist and screenwriter, director and producer.

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was often referred to as a renaissance man.

An obituary noted, “In addition to his photography, film work and poetry, he composed a symphony, sonatas, concertos, film scores, and wrote novels, instructional photography manuals, essays and three memoirs.” (From my post Being “scattered” and proud of it .)

But having advanced potential and exceptional capabilities in many talent areas also means, almost by definition, you are underachieving: you can’t do everything.

One of the pleasures of my life has been pursuing serial interests in often radically different fields: being a research assistant in genetics and later in left/right brain wave research; a visual effects camera operator, and multiple other jobs and pursuits.

But one of the ‘costs’ has been a life unmoored to any career, and many periods of anxiety and self-doubt.

Thankfully this series of sites I have created is not only creatively rewarding, but also of some value to other people.


The Too Many Aptitudes Problem , by Hank Pfeffer
“Most people have about four or five strong talents… Most jobs require about four or five. As many as 10% of the population has double that number of aptitudes… There is evidence that people with too many aptitudes (TMAs) are less likely to obtain advanced education and/or succeed in a career than those with an average number of talents.”

Adult underachievement – not living up to our high potential
In a very real sense, everyone may be called “underachieving” regardless of whether they are gifted or not. One short definition is “Performance below potential.”

Are you a scanner personality? Maybe all you need is a good enough job.
Barbara Sher writes about and leads retreats for Scanners – “also known as renaissance men and women, eclectic experts, happy amateurs and delighted dilettantes.”

realizing potential, personal growth development, self growth, adult underachievement, personal achievement

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