Photo by Nina Haghighi
Multipotentiality is a fancy way of saying “good at many things.” It’s a defining trait of gifted kids, and you’ve probably seen it in action. A student writes beautifully, masters a musical instrument, excels in math, and gets picked first in PE.
A Bad Thing?
But, surprisingly, Judy Galbraith found that this seemingly wonderful trait is a top complaint of gifted students:
7) We feel overwhelmed by the number of things we can do in life. Judy Galbraith, The Eight Great Gripes Of Gifted Kids
How could it possibly be bad to be good at so many things?
What Do You Want To Be?
Multipotentiality pulls kids in opposing directions. Do they take advantage of their academic abilities, and select the most rigorous scholastic options? Or do they nurture the talents that may not lead down such a conventional path?
For someone with an especially wide range of talents, choosing a path is less about pursuing that thing you love, and more about saying no to many passions.
Any Choice Means Saying No
For a talented, passionate musician who struggles academically, a music career seems like an obvious, even safe, choice. But what about the student who could easily head to medical school, law school, or art school, but also excels in music? Any path seems like a waste of the other three talents.
Any path seems like a waste of the other three talents.
I think the true gift of multipotentiality is not in having many options, but rather in the unique combination of those options. Students with diverse talents will find unexpected solutions and forge new paths.
What can a musically-inclined medical student who understands law see that we will miss? What doors open when an engineer also writes and paints? What about the programmer who loves to perform magic for crowds?
Grown Up Gifted Kids
In September, I attended the XOXO Festival in Portland. Pitched as a conference “celebrating independently produced art and technology,” I quickly realized that this was a gathering of grown-up gifted kids, and multipotentiality was on full display. It seemed like every presenter and attendee was crafting a unique career centered around their particular set of skills.
I saw the future for so many of our highly talented kids who simply struggle to find their place in school.
Farming Drones, Homemade Games, and Brewing Bots
Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine gave the keynote. He explained how he left Wired to co-found an experimental drone company without a clear commercial application. Those drones went on to revolutionize farming (of all things!). Staying at Wired would have been the sensible choice, yet his strange passion solved problems that people didn’t even know existed.
Glenn Fleishman conducted an interview of the editors of BoingBoing onstage. Fleishman graduated from Yale with a degree in art, worked at Amazon, became a journalist (writing for The Economist, The New York Times, and Popular Science), appeared on Jeopardy! (and won twice), and now runs an iPad magazine called The Magazine.
Each person I met was blending their skills into a career especially suited for them.
I also spoke with Chris McClelland, a computer programmer (with a PhD in music) whose company is building an iPhone-controlled robot that brews beer.
Each person I met was blending their skills into a career especially suited for them, and I couldn’t help but wonder how we can help students develop equally rewarding paths. Their potential goes far beyond just being good at a job, but they need our encouragement to take the leap and build something new.
Your Support is Essential
Students need to know it’s okay to say no to some talents while pursuing others that may seem strange. Their multipotentiality shouldn’t be a “great gripe,” in fact it’s the combination of their many tools that is their true gift.