Excelling At Many Things
The first trait connected to long-term success is multi-potentiality. My pal Tamara Fisher writes explains:
Multipotentiality is the state of having many exceptional talents, any one or more of which could make for a great career for that person. [Gifted children’s] advanced intellectual abilities and their intense curiosity make them prime candidates for excelling in multiple areas.
I’m sure you can think of students who excel in math, science, and writing, plus music, drama, art, and/or a sport. These people are called Polymaths (Greek for “having learned much”).
A common adult worry is that such children lack focus. As they age, we expect them to leave childish interests behind to pursue their one true path. After all, engineers don’t need to play guitar, write poetry, or sing!
But polymaths have a different path ahead of them.
Emily excels in math, science, and engineering. But she’s also an impressive artist and musician. And she writes some of the best stories in class. Plus, she’s popular with peers and adults.
The most impressive thing about Emily is not her number of skills, but that each skill improves the others. She’ll see an engineering problem through an artist’s eye. She writes poetry that draws from mathematics. And she relates to her audience through her interpersonal skills.
Her many talents don’t compete, they enhance! They build on each other, becoming greater than the sum of their parts.
Students with multi-potentiality are our future Da Vincis, Benjamin Franklins, and Galileos.
School Separates, Polymaths Combine
But school isn’t set up for cross-disciplinary interests. Subjects separate as kids move from elementary to secondary school. And when a polymath picks a college major, they feel like they’re closing the door on many interests.
So here are some tips to integrate awareness and support of multi-potentiality into your classroom:
- Talk about it! Tell students it’s okay to have many interests and talents. Emphasize how each talent builds on the others.
- Study real life polymaths. Franklin, Da Vinci, and Galileo are obvious. But what about writer, actor, singer, dancer, businessman Justin Timberlake? Or Elon Musk? Or Beyonce? Here’s a list of potentials.
- Use the “across the disciplines” thinking tool to connect subjects in lessons.
- Explore Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Which intelligences do students see in themselves?
- Be aware of the rise of micro-companies: artists, musicians, and programmers who handle all elements of their career. Here’s a few examples: writer Jason Kottke, musicians Pomplamoose, Jonathan Blow’s incredible game Braid, and, of course, Minecraft.
Most importantly, don’t ask kids to focus on one thing or give up any of their skills. Believe it or not, their many talents can feel like a burden! In the Eight Great Gripes study, kids commonly complained that they felt “overwhelmed by the number of things they can do.”
A Great Time For Polymaths
There has never been a better time for people to combine their talents and create completely new jobs.
Byrdseed itself is an example: I’ve combined writing, programming, video production, audio editing, public speaking, and many personal interests into the perfect career for me! I’ll bet many of your students will go on to do the same.
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