Are you repeatedly chasing new passions, whilst others rain on your parade? “You and your hobbies, how long will this one last?” “It’s just another waste of money.” “What about the last hobby you had, what was wrong with that?”
After spending much of my life believing I was someone who ricocheted from one superficial interest to another I saw a TED talk by Emilie Wapnick. I discovered I’m a ‘multipotentialite’ (coined by Wapnick), a polymath, or to use my favourite – and most pretentious term – a ‘renaissance-man’.
From a young age we’re told to stick to what we’re good at; to concentrate on one lifelong passion. It’s the done thing to become skilled at something early on, build on one’s skills, and pursue a lifestyle that sits comfortably within a slender avenue of expertise. This convention never sat well with me. As a child I got bored far too quickly. Having one interest seemed rather restrictive. My school report noted “Tom delivers highly creative and original work, but it’s often not what I asked him to do.” I took that as a compliment. I’d find the set question rather dull, so I’d go ‘off-piste’ find an aspect of the topic that interested me more.
I rarely had ‘normal’ hobbies. Whilst other kids played sports, I was dismantling broken appliances to see how many pieces went into such devices. I simply had burning questions that needed answering. Where were the components made? How was the tape pulled from the videocassette and wrapped around the mechanics? I simply enjoyed unravelling the mystery of what was inside the box.
Eventually, I’d satisfied my thirst to understand electronics. I committed to memory my motor-skills with a watch-maker’s screwdriver, my analysis of reverse-engineering, my ability to trace a fault back to its source – and then I moved on. I then developed an interest in candle-making, or was it painting with watercolours? All this whilst learning to edit and mix audio on four-track quarter-inch tape. Like I said, I never had ‘mainstream’ hobbies.
Every hobby was pursued with great enthusiasm, then taken to the point of all-consuming obsession until my interest was burnt-out. However, the accumulated abilities learnt from ‘hobby x’ were then added to my mental toolbox, safe for another day. I was often told “You’ll never stick with this, it’s just another one of your fads.” From an outsider’s perspective I guess it appeared I was skittish and noncommittal; but that would be missing the point entirely. I enjoyed the thrill of the chase. I loved discovering new skills to practice; I didn’t need to have a final objective in mind, or to commit to a lifelong course of action. If something had run its course and I’d had my fun, I’d let go of it – no regrets.
A few weeks ago I was seriously considering becoming a water polo player (and I still might). I Googled, read the rules of the game, and found a local team. I’ve tried to kill the habit of hesitation, if it appeals – I just want to get started right away. The prerequisite for joining the club was to be a good swimmer. I’m a very good swimmer. This new hobby was already shaping-up to be an ideal fit; and for a couple of days I was very excited by the prospect of playing on a water polo team. Then, through my letterbox landed a flyer from a local martial arts club, ‘Come along for a taster session. Free uniform and t-shirt when you enrol.’* A quiver of excitement. Two new hobbies added to my roster in a single day – yet only enough time to pursue one of them! I guess the screenplay I’m working on is just going to have to go on the back-burner for now? C’mon, I’ve got to sleep at some point!
*I took up the offer of the taster session. Kuk Sool Won is good fun – but for now I’ve placed it on the ‘maybe in future’ list!
This is the multipotentialite mindset: learn, enjoy, link, jump, learn, enjoy, link, jump. Over time we accumulate a breadth of knowledge in so many fields that we can wear many hats. Because of our obsessive manner of learning we can very often claim to be solidly competent in many of our abilities. If my business card encompassed all of the multiple roles I can (and do) perform on a daily basis it wouldn’t fit in my wallet. Multipotentialism – or whatever you choose to label it – is a wonderful yet misunderstood trait. We enjoy testing the speed at which we can process new knowledge. We sample so many interests that we become skilled in the process of learning. Our wide pool of interests can help us form creative connections that others just can’t see.