Multipotentiality is not the problem.

In a world where specializations are revered, multipotentiality can be perceived as much a burden as a gift. This paradox is reflected in the old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none…” that has dodged many a multipotentialite.  Apparently the full version includes a second part “…is sometimes better than one” which only reinforces the mixed blessing of having many talents.  One would think that having many venues/opportunities through which to experience life would be optimum, so what stands in the way?


“She wants to do everything,” a mother tells me, “but now that she’s in the higher grades there just isn’t enough time for her to do everything the way she wants to do it.” This is a worry that has been shared with me more than once by concerned parents. Fitting it all into a busy schedule can be a source of considerable stress. As a teacher I’ve been able to support students with this by helping them learn how to be creative in a smaller space with the use of clear expectations and parameters. “Show me you understand this concept by only using…” rather than leaving it so open-ended that they feel compelled to show you everything they know on the topic. I have also had to meet with other teachers to coordinate assignments and homework so as to not overburden a student who has  extra-curricular obligations that are important to them.


It begins in junior high. If you take music or French you have fewer options because they are full year courses. If you take both, you don’t get to take any other options. Once you get to high school, there are only so many spots in your schedule and if you want to go on to university you need to make sure you’ve focused on your academic courses. “Why not let them explore Foods and Computer Sciences and Drama?” I asked one parent. “Who said that you have to finish high school in three years?” Or a student might need to take fewer high school courses each year so they can continue to perform/compete in music or sports. They don’t have to cut things out…they might just need more time. Having a chance to explore all your options while still in high school only makes sense.


Many believe that pursuing excellence requires our undivided attention. Whether it’s the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell speaks of in his book Outliers or the number of pages you have in your CV, there is no doubt that commitment plays an instrumental role in achieving excellence. “I feel that as I am committing myself to a particular field of studies, I am losing other parts of myself,” one former student shared with me, worried that diving into a specialized science program would preclude her from fully participating in her passion for politics, social justice and the arts. But is this truly the case? If we dive deep enough, with our eyes open, eventually we see that all things are connected. Excellence in a particular area gives us a unique lens with which to observe and interact with other aspects of the world and can sometimes serve up unexpected opportunities. The path you’re on can change and will likely change and if you keep your eyes open things can get REALLY interesting.


“But if he pursues the arts, he’ll always be poor and I know what that’s like and I don’t want that for him,” one parent tells me, “he’s got so many other talents.”  My parents had the same worry for me. “Have something to fall back on,” they said, and for many years I wondered how my life would have been different if I had thrown caution to the wind. Money can govern many of our choices whether it be “What can I afford to study?” or “How much money will I make when I am done?” or “I’ve got the marks to apply this scholarship…” I sometimes wonder if our focus with our students and children was on who they want to be as people versus what they want to do, how that would influence their choices.  When education focuses on how the system can serve the economy, our multipotentialites can lose their greatest gift, insight into the importance of all talents and the importance of valuing them all.

For more insights into multipotentiality check out Hoagies’ Blog Hop by following the link below.



6 responses to “Multipotentiality is not the problem.

  1. Great post. In my blog for the month, I started going on about so many things that I ended up trying to streamline and cut a lot that I figured I’d save for future posts (there’s just so much to say on the subject!), but your post really gets to the heart of it. TIME is a huge problem in my life, followed by MONEY, of which I have enough, but only because I give up the time, and because I HAD TO CHOOSE something that just can’t be enough, even though I have to give it 40 hours per week. And I struggle to EXCEL at it, because I get burnt out by it. I know what it means to excel, and I know I can do it if I have the freedom to juggle what I need to juggle. It’s not “want.” It’s “need.”

    Anyway. I’m so glad you highlighted those four things. Those really are the keys!

    • Thanks for the feedback Jessie. I wasn’t sure where to begin until a conversation with a parent made me reflect on the many conversations that I have had with parents and students over the years and see if there were some common themes.

  2. I really like that idea that if you specialize but go deep enough, everything is connected, so you aren’t really giving up something. I’ll have to think more on that. Thanks!

    • This idea was first shared with me by a mathematician and has resurfaced many times with other individuals. In my own life I have been surprised to find that when I flounder in one area of “specialization” I am rescued by another part of myself that I thought wasn’t connected.

  3. Thank you! Not every artist starves. Some of the most successful are the ones that are able to use other talents like networking and business acumen to thrive.

  4. Thanks Jen. We do have a very limited idea of what it means to be an artist, even as we begin to see the importance of arts in forwarding ideas and creativity…STEM now evolving to STEAM…

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