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Back to those Renaissance Men and Women. Today I’m going to talk about multipotentiality, a very long word that describes the ability to do many things well. You hear about it a lot in gifted education, but I don’t think it’s limited to the gifted. However, the truth is that it can either be a great gift—or a curse.

Leonardo da Vinci was able to use his great abilities in so many diverse areas and gave back incredible gifts to the rest of us. Too many of us approach our own multipotentiality like deer in headlights, though. Either we don’t start because we can’t choose or we scatter shot start many things, but never continue with them. Or maybe we just let others tell us that jacks/jills of all trades can’t be masters of any.

The world today hasn’t been very friendly toward multipotentiality. Now, I’m going to sound like an old geezer, but back in my day, kids weren’t expected to dedicate themselves to one activity. They were supposed to act like the kids they were and try out multiple things. Even in high school we had many three (or four) sport athletes. Each year I used to have to rotate taking band, orchestra, and choir because, as my counselor Prudence Poland (I am not making that name up!) told me, “This is not a music conservatory.”

I may have been juggling too many activities and studying too many different subjects, but I was able to use my various abilities and try to figure out what I liked most at a time when I didn’t need to be the best. I could run at a cross country meet on a Saturday because the marching band only performed on Friday night. Somehow I could attend both track practices and rehearsals for the musical because the coaches and directors knew they had to share their students.

People who want to specialize should. But not every soccer player needs to play competitive soccer all year long. And not every student needs to focus on only math and science or humanities and the arts.

And back to writing, not every writer needs to focus on just one area—even if branding is important and some people just aren’t going to understand that some of us can do more than one thing.

Once when I applied for a business writing project, the contact person asked how he could know I could do it since I didn’t have any experience writing about business. I don’t know, my experience working in business and the MBA probably don’t count, right?

I could have tried to explain why I could do the work, but previously I had once managed to convince another businessperson that an English major could understand financial reports. Unfortunately, I found it was really hard for me to work with a person who did not celebrate multipotentiality and who would rather I be a specialist. Never mind that my non-traditional mind could discover discrepancies others didn’t, maybe because I read annual reports with the analytical skills of literature major.

I’ll leave the specialists to their straight paths and outlines, but as for me, I prefer the roads less traveled and visual thinking tools (see such as cluster grouping. That’s because that’s how I operate to the best of my potential—even if sometimes I can’t choose right away which way to turn.

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