Why It’s Hard to Pick One Thing and Stick with It

One of the greatest gifts I have that supports me as an entrepreneur is being multipotentialed. It’s also one of my greatest challenges – one I’ve wrestled with for decades.

Being multipotentialed is a neurological trait woven into the texture of who I am and how I move in the world; but for the longest time not only didn’t I have a name for this way of being, it also felt like I lived with a giant neon “weirdo” sign blinking over my head.

Ever since I can remember I’ve felt like I’m doing life wrong because I see every day as a new experiment, every thought as a new thing to be curious about. I just can’t settle on any one thing to explore exclusively. It feels like I’m missing out if I do.

I’ve always been – and still am – endlessly curious about nearly everything. What does it do? Why is it here? How does it work? What’s it look like inside? People, plants, objects, it doesn’t matter – I just have to explore.

What the weird kid did….

Once, when I was about eight years old, I carried home a broken old transistor radio I pulled out of someone’s trash. The other kids thought I was weird. Mom was baffled. “Are you interested in radios?” “Not really.” “Electronics?” “Nope.” “Why do you want to take it apart, then?” “I just have to see its insides.”
Ten years later, here’s how picking a college major went…

“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I’m good at writing and history and biology and geology and geography and languages and…..”
“Well, what are you interested in?”
“History and art and journalism and museums and archaeology and quantum physics and poetry and music and ….”
“Well, you have to be practical. You have to pick one thing and stick with it so you can get a college degree and then a job.”
(Quietly panicking.) “Um…but…how?”

I picked journalism because I loved to write. Because it wasn’t a field most women chose (at that time). Because it seemed to fit with feeling like an outsider. Because the deadline was looming and I had to. Because I felt so guilty about the worry in my parents’ eyes.

I felt like I had to pick one thing and sound like I would stick with it because that’s what the adults needed me to do. For me, I kept hoping if I picked one thing and convinced myself I was committed to it then maybe I would stop feeling so alone and like an outsider in my own life.

Heading to college a few months later, I was miserable and terrified inside and all confidence and bluster on the outside. I made it through my first semester before I switched majors to Art History. I didn’t realize it at the time, but choosing a multidisciplinary degree gave me enough breathing room so I didn’t feel trapped. I could legitimately explore several related side topics and still be sticking with my major.

It was when I graduated and tried to find work that the walls closed in, again. Jobs seemed to want people who could be happy – or at least content – specializing in one thing.

Why can’t I pick one thing and stick with it?

I spent the next thirty years trying to pick one thing and become its barnacle so I could fit in, ease the ache in my heart and see myself as worthwhile.

Selling alternator and starter parts to automotive re-builders? Hell yes! I can make that my thing! Executive Assistant to the President at a personnel agency? Of course! Marketing Specialist for an auto parts company? I’m your girl.

No matter how hard I ignored it, or how many stern lectures my inner critic spat, eventually boredom and intense anxiety always popped my little barnacle self off the hull of whatever the current job was.

Then I’d be adrift, again – even more convinced that there was something wrong with me. I worried about what my parents and friends would think and about worrying them. I worried I would never find “the thing” I could dutifully stick to forever.

I’m a what now?

In those years, I didn’t understand how my brain worked; only that it seemed to work differently and that seemed to translate to me being weird – or broken.

Then a counselor friend suggested I read the book “The Renaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Life” by Margaret Lobenstein. (If any of what I’ve said here resonates, read this book!) Later I found the writings of Barbara Sher and Emilie Wapnick and TA-DA! I finally made sense to myself. Feeling different made sense. My boredom made sense. My endless curiosity made sense.

There were words for people like me: Renaissance Soul, Multipotentialite, Scanner. These were gloriously inclusive, curiosity-satisfying words to use – to hug to myself, to inscribe in giant neon letters blinking over my head, to replace my former words: weird, outsider, misfit and broken.

For me, I now see strengths and useful capacities in traits that felt like failings. These traits make me a better business owner. They are things like curiosity, making connections between seemingly unrelated topics or bits of information, an ability to learn nearly anything well enough to apply it successfully, and an intimate understanding of what it feels like to be multipotentialed in a specialist world.

There was, and is, nothing wrong with me, or you if this article speaks to you. We simply see the world through the multi-focal lenses of multipotentialism. Go forth and be your beautiful, complex, fascinating multipotentialed self!

Tracie Nichols writes poetry and facilitates group writing experiences from under the wide reach of two old Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is the co-founder of the Embodied Writers writing group and a Transformative Language Artist helping women write themselves home. You can find Tracie on her website.

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