Multipotentiality

I listen to books or podcasts while I’m getting ready in the morning to keep myself from thinking too much and getting wound up about all the “what might happens” each day.  Some parts of the year are rougher than others, and the days leading into holiday breaks are often more difficult than others.  Lately, I’ve been re-listening to Brené Brown’s new book, Daring to Lead.  It’s my fifth or sixth time listening, and I still hear nuggets that get me thinking that are different from the nuggets that made me think the first time.

Something she said this morning was about honoring the strengths of the people you work with, creating opportunities for them to showcase their strengths.  I had a momentary self-thought, “Clearly, I have lots of strengths otherwise I wouldn’t be involved in so many damn projects…”  (Overwhelm this time of year is real, folks.)  And this got me thinking about the idea of multipotentiality in our gifted kids.

Multipotentiality is essentially having many strengths which lead to many options.  It’s great to have options, right? For our gifted kids, though, having a multitude of options available to them, particularly when they’re in high school or college and beginning to think about what careers they want to have, makes it very difficult to decide.

I’m a pretty good artist; maybe I could go into graphic design.

I’m a good writer; maybe journalism is the right way to go.

I’m good at math and I enjoy it; perhaps engineering might be a better choice…

I could also go into medicine; I enjoy research, biology, and chemistry.  I would really be able to make a difference someday.

My heart is in the theater though…what about pursuing acting? Or music…I play four instruments well…perhaps an orchestra?

I love to learn too; maybe I should go for a graduate degree instead before I decide.  But what should be my focus?

Hrm…I’m enjoying learning about politics and being active in my community; maybe I should spend a year or two working with a campaign to learn more.

I was named player of the year in soccer this year though, and I’ve grown a lot.  I could look into playing for a college and then maybe coaching…I’d get to be with kids and help them learn to love the sport that I enjoy so much.

Gifted kids struggle with this earlier and earlier, as the pressure mounts for them to make decisions about their future at earlier and earlier ages.  Parents see potential in their kids, and want what’s best, and so they arrange for summer camps around their passions or strength areas and fix opportunities for their children to work with those doing the work their kids are interested in at the college level or professionally.

I remember asking one of my girls one year what she wanted to be when she grew up.  She rattled off a list of 20 careers, all of which she’d surely excel in, each honoring a piece of who she is and the difference she wanted to be in the world.  I loved that she wanted to do so many things with her life, so many of them were selfless and for the benefit of others which was a testament to her beautiful heart.

She’ll go off to high school soon, and asked for advice about which high school she should choose.

I remember a time when your parents made that decision for you.  You didn’t get a say.  It was the big building down the street where all the neighborhood kids went or your mother or father’s alma mater or preference if private school was affordable.  And it wasn’t anything like choosing a college…it was a place for you to go to finish your basic education before you determined where you would go to focus on career creation.  I observed families and kids during our high school night this past week, interviewing schools for what they have to offer our gifted kids, and noted that parents were overwhelmed (how are they old enough to be going to high school??) and kids were either ambivalent or excited at the prospect of getting to choose their high school, taking it seriously–who will meet my needs?

There’s a pressure there these days that hasn’t always been so prominent.  Adults expect children to decide early what they want to do with their lives so that they can get on the right track to that career and be successful. Many gifted kids, however, rebel against this, drifting between majors and minors, spending eons in college trying to determine what they’ll feel fulfilled by doing.  After graduation they drift from job to job, searching for something that meets the needs of both their own intellect and areas of passion as well as the societal requirement that they be gainfully employed, having chosen a spot and stayed there.  In the past, most were looking for a job after college, not necessarily a career…many of those happened by accident because you stayed in one job for a long time.

I look through my to-do list every day, multiple times, and the myriad categories it holds, finding myself switching hats minute to minute to ensure that everything gets done.  I don’t have a day to do X, another for tasks related to Y, and third for those that are for the benefit of Z…they all run together, overlapping, confusing things because there’s no clear delineation between which master they serve.  Multipotentiality can be stressful…and the need for a larger hat rack is real.

Our kids are entering a world where they will hold jobs that haven’t even been imagined yet.  How do we support them when their strengths and passions can go in so many varied directions, while still honoring that each one is a piece of the whole they are?

 

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