Gifted multipotentialites have so many interests, so many passions and so many questions about how to manage it all. In this article, inspired by an InterGifted Community Q+A, our InterGifted multipotentiality expert Marion Kee shares her wisdom on making choices, setting priorities, dealing with grief, reigniting suppressed multipotentiality, finding community, and getting support as a gifted multipotentialite.
by Marion Kee
WHAT QUESTION MATTERS MOST TO YOU?
In general, multipotentialites have an inner drive to pursue their many interests, and although they may pursue some to a far greater extent than others, the inner drive doesn’t go away when they gain familiarity or mastery in an area of endeavor. They aren’t happy unless they are working with, rather than against, that inner drive.
Gifted multipotentialites are likely to be quite good at a wide range of endeavors, and when their passion is sparked they frequently wish to pursue multiple paths in depth - and often at the same time. Most of my gifted mulitpotentialite clients ask, at some point in our work together, how they can “do it all” without burning out, or how they can choose between passions and interests that are all equally compelling and important to them.
There isn't any one answer to this question, which goes to the heart of multipotentiality. And most of the answers are also questions...
One potential answer is "you do them sequentially";
another potential answer is, "you question whether 'all-in' is what you really want";
another is, "you identify and rank your priorities and make hard choices";
another is, "you do as much as you can get away with while you're young, risk burning out and hope that before you become really crispy, you get more clarity on how to handle your situation";
another is, "which of them do you believe to be most sustainable for your well-being in the short-/mid-/long-term?";
another is, "which of them is most likely to maximize your unique ability to make a difference in the world for the better, and does that mean as much to you as you assume it does?";
another is, "which one is likely to bring you more material reward, and is that worth it?";
another is, "if you want to have a family, which of them best allows for that?";
another is, "where are you already most committed, and what is the likely impact on others of your shifting your focus away from x and more to y - is your presence in a particular endeavor actually mission-critical?";
another is, "what do you think you'll still want to show up for, ten years from now?";
...and so on. A lot of it comes down to what has the most meaning at this time in your life and what you think will hold the most meaning in your somewhat-foreseeable future. Also, what allows you to maintain your health and meet your other obligations, whatever they may be.
HOW ARE YOU SETTING YOUR PRIORITIES?
Setting priorities is a critical adult task, and self-responsibility demands that we do it. Here are some more questions that can help gifted multipotentialites sort through and commit to their own highest priorities:
- Where are you burning the candle at both ends? What motivates that?
- How much do the expectations you believe that others have of you, figure into your motivations?
- What are your expectations of yourself? And why do you hold them?
- What are you likely to regret in letting go of one choice or the other, and why?
- What are you getting out of your involvement with each of the options you have?
- What feeds you?
- Where are you fed most consistently, and why?
- Are there areas of involvement that you keep finding yourself coming back to, even after years of focusing on other things? Why?
- Do you see a rhythm or pattern in how you express your multipotentiality? What does considering this question show you about how your inner drive works? What are the implications for your choices?
DO YOU HAVE MULTIPOTENTIALITE GRIEF? IF SO, HOW ARE YOU HEALING IT?
Once choices are made (willingly, unwillingly, or by default), grief often follows. While in grief, we tend to focus on all the paths not taken, and we feel pain - which can be expressed mentally, emotionally, and/or physically. That grief, if not processed or contextualized fully, can be at best distracting and at worst all-consuming. This feeds into a negative feedback loop: the more unprocessed grief you feel, the less you can engage in your passions, and then you feel even more grief, and so on. It is one of the most common emotional issues that gifted multipotentialites face. When anger - at others, at life, at obstacles, for forcing constraints or unwanted choices - is added, it can be a powerful, and at the extreme toxic combination.
I'll make a suggestion that I end up making to many of my individual clients, and that is to acknowledge the reality of your emotional situation. Feeling like you haven't yet found a right niche for your whole self is depressing, and feeling like you don't come up to (your own) expectations on multiple fronts can be even more depressing. What I do as a coach is to encourage my client to seek gifted-savvy psychotherapy that supports them in addressing their emotional reality: identifying the beliefs and expectations that are pushing on them, assessing what they're getting out of harboring those, and incrementally changing beliefs that aren't serving them. Therapeutic support includes help with processing grief and anger.
Whether or not you feel you need therapeutic support, here are some lessons learned from my own life that I often share with my clients:
- Grieving is a process, and as you keep moving through you'll start to see things differently and probably more positively.
- There really is light at the end of the tunnel because you won't always be in the situation you're in right now. Change is guaranteed. That's how life works.
- Changes pose opportunities, and we can choose which opportunities to engage and what to let go of. Because life brings constant changes, there are always more opportunities.
- Don't close yourself off; tell yourself and the Universe that you are claiming the opportunities you need, and then be open to seeing them. Learn to consciously re-frame your losses. This is a habit of mind that you can entrain. Entraining grief and anger traps you; entraining positive re-framing frees you up.
- So if you are grieving the loss of an alternative that you know you could only have taken when you were young or when you didn’t have kids, or when you didn’t have financial responsibilities, that doesn't mean you can't have the good stuff that you believe you had to give up when you chose to do something else instead. What you gave up, was a particular kind of "package".
- In other words, just because you lost something that had been in your life in a certain "package," doesn't mean you can never have the functionality and joy that was actually IN that package. Losing doesn't have to mean not having!
- I have run into this issue most often when coaching multipotentialite parents, because what they have let go of in order to raise kids tends to be very present to them - although they all say their kids are worth it. Parenthood is a long haul but eventually, with a bit of luck, you run right off the end of the phase where your kids are living at home. Have a plan!
- This issue also tends to crop up as gifted multipotentialites enter mid-life and face changes that force them to revisit earlier choices. For instance they may realize that it’s time to move on from an established career that no longer fits, but be hesitant to face the grieving process of letting it go. Or they may finally get clear on how they could have turned a passionate interest into a career, just as circumstances seem to conspire to make that impossible. Flexibility and adaptability in how you approach such apparent losses are keys that allow you to keep moving.
- For retirement planning: even if you're convinced (for instance) that only a decently-funded retirement could bring you the chances to follow up on other interests, and you don't think you'll be able to afford to retire, and it appears that even if you do manage to retire, you'll be too old to do what you always wanted to do - those are beliefs, not your current reality. And beliefs are something you can change. If you allow beliefs that don’t serve you to limit your thinking, you become much less likely to see other possibilities and opportunities.
Yup, you're not getting younger. Yup, you had to make some tough choices and you miss the days when you could just stay up all night and do it all. Yup, you found out you had potential you didn't recognize until the opportunity to develop it had vanished. Yup, we're all in the soup with climate change and the longer you live, the more of it you get. Nope, that doesn't mean you have to be unhappy. Happiness is a choice you make.
Prioritize engaging with things that make you happy. Even when you're in the grieving process, make choices that are in the best interests of a happier future.
HOW ARE YOU REACTIVATING SUPRESSED MULTIPOTENTIALITY?
Along the lines of grief, gifted multipotentialites who have undergone childhood trauma often feel that their multipotentialite self is damaged, no longer accessible to them, or otherwise robbed of its vital powers. Here are some of the conditions that can stymie the full development and right use of our vital powers when we are young:
- inappropriate education that cannot meet gifted multipotentialite needs
- timid, clueless, conformist, mentally unstable, addicted and/or absent parent(s)
- inability to engage widely with activities outside the classroom; shortage or lack of such activities and opportunities
- lack of adult support, encouragement and advocacy
- bullying that severely punishes attempts to engage with new things
- the systemic disempowerment of children and youth to initiate and engage with activities of their own volition
- modeling of inappropriate-for-gifted-minds behavior by age peers and by adults
- pressure to be a model student, and also pressure not to show up others by developing and exercising one's full capabilities - which would exceed being a model student
- not having real challenges to work on - thus, no real success, no real failure
- getting rewarded only when both success and failure are avoided; pressure to meet external expectations and no more, no less
- lack of meaningful opportunities, for whatever reasons - where there is no meaning in an activity, it won't be engaged with
- labeled, disregarded and forced into limited pathways of action; misdiagnosis
- complete denial of giftedness
- the child realizes they are not being well-served by the situation they're stuck in, that meaningful opportunities will never be provided, sees no way out, and self-limits so as to minimize the rejection and pain
This list is strikingly similar to conditions that can create complex PTSD, and it’s certainly not a complete list! Complex PTSD is also called developmental trauma, and that means that it is trauma which affects your developing self in ways that cut off full access to your vital powers and authentic self-expression.
The same conditions that damage the ability to fully engage vital powers also (and thereby!) damage the development of self-confidence. Even when the gifted multipotentialite has an actual, real success, they may feel they can't be sure that it is truly a success (something they brought about by their own effort, something earned). When that becomes a belief pattern for a person, it constitutes imposter syndrome. It’s also possible to develop imposter syndrome as an adult, but if childhood factors are present, it’s important to be aware of them - especially if their damaging effects were discounted at the time.
I'd encourage a gifted multipotentialite who knows they were subjected to such factors and struggles with these issues, to get evaluated and treated for complex trauma by a therapist who understands gifted issues. InterGifted has a therapy-search support and advocacy service that can be helpful for this. Healing from trauma creates the reintegration of parts of ourselves that were blocked in the past - and this allows us to reclaim our full, authentic self and unfold our potential in ways we may have thought were lost.
In parallel with that, here are some specific suggestions I often give my clients who are struggling with complex PTSD:
- Find somebody who can have your back, who won't wipe out emotionally when they see you struggling and who cares about your best interests. Sometimes, that's a therapist or coach; it could be a partner, a trustworthy friend, somebody you've known for a while in a support forum, etc. Ask them to be there for you.
- Be persistent. Persistence can be a challenge when you’re struggling to connect to your own energy, but it is an area of recovery where somebody else can remind and encourage you. Also, it's a bit more amenable to willpower than some other factors that are hard to change. When you feel like persistence is not worth it, that actually shows that you have an opportunity in front of you to persist.
- Many of us didn’t learn to handle failure because of having been denied real challenges when we were younger. Since we know we have little experience of failure, we can be paralyzed by fear of it. But we can overcome that by engaging with failure in ways of our own choosing. If at first you don’t fail, try, try again! Same for success, of course, but to get to meaningful success, you have to risk failure. So getting experience with meaningful failure can be very helpful.
- Give yourself permission to try something outside the boundaries that were enforced on you when you were young. Make a minor mistake on purpose and watch the world go right on despite the mistake. Then make another purposeful mistake, and then another... You're retraining your brain. Neural re-wiring is how recovery proceeds in the brain.
- Try out new things - activities - even if you don't feel passion. You don't know what might ignite a spark that you didn't know you had.
- What do you find involving? What can you fall into for hours at time and enjoy being in that focus? If the answer is, "nothing", then chances are high you have underlying trauma and/or depression that is blocking your being able to enjoy being your full self. See the above information about getting therapy.
- If you find yourself getting angry when you reflect about how you ended up being robbed of so much of a meaningful life when you were younger, use the anger for motivation at first. But keep moving through it - this is a process, and anger is stressful and ultimately unhealthy. Understand that you won't need anger in order to engage with your life after it helps you get moving.
- Blaming yourself is anger. It's also inaccurate and unhelpful, but we can internalize the blaming and shaming we experienced from others for stepping outside the neurotypical-approved boundaries when we were growing up. Internalized shame is particularly unhealthy; it's stressful, it can be quite subtle, and it blocks us. Again, seek therapy, and I'd strongly recommend gifted therapy for this particular kind of block.
Although I don't believe we're doomed to be victims of limitations placed on us due to factors such as family issues, economic status, race, gender, etc., there's no question they can affect us and limit or even (temporarily) shut down our choices. Don't discount these issues - identify their effects on you, figure out and change underlying beliefs that you probably internalized, and deal with them. Again, therapy can be helpful, and again, there are therapists out there who actually specialize in supporting clients in these specific areas.
When working to change a belief of habit, you are re-wiring your brain. Your brain wants to take action via habituated pathways, and it will do that whether or not you even notice. If you don't give your brain a new pathway through repeated focus on something else, it will go back to the old pathway. Thus, to complete the process of changing a belief, you need to substitute a new belief that you consciously choose. To change a habit, do the same thing - substitute a new and better habit.
Getting out from under negative emotions and negative beliefs - your own - and out from under your own reactions to expectations you're harboring that aren't compatible with your needs, can make it easier to handle others' expectations. I know that can be particularly challenging when there are trauma considerations involved, but if you're going to have full access to, and be at peace with, your own multipotentiality, you have to address this stuff. I suggest doing so with the support of gifted therapy.
WHO ARE YOUR MULTIPOTENTIALITE FRIENDS & CO-CREATORS?
Meeting other gifted multipotentialites and weaving a supportive network of people who value your way of being and creating in the world is essential to multipotentialite thriving. Isolation is damaging, even for introverts. Here are some suggestions for connecting:
- Make a list of potential resources for places and meetings where it could be socially-appropriate to meet other people who are educated or might have an intellectual bent, or who are creatives, or who share interests or activities that you enjoy or want to learn more about.
- If you're a parent, shared kid activities can be a good way to meet other parents, for instance (although in some cultures it would be more appropriate for mothers than for fathers to meet in this way).
- What kind of library access do you have? Is there a physical library you can visit, that has resources for grownups? If so, does it sponsor any events or meetups?
- Can you get online access to a university library or other large library? There are some big libraries in the U.S. where you can obtain online access, paid or maybe free in some cases.
- What about the university or high school where you took a diploma? Do they have an online alumni presence? Do they have online library access if you join their alumni association?
- The Internet is vital to taking the edge off isolation (I definitely recommend researching the online presence of people you decide to get to know there, by the way), and InterGifted’s community, peer groups and workshops are great places to find other gifted multipotentialites!
- Food can bring people together. It's true that online you can't go out and meet a friend at a cafe. But once you get to know somebody online, you can try setting up a video meeting where each of you brings the kind of food and drink you might have together if you could meet in person, and see if that creates a stronger sense of being in the same place. I've participated in a number of online "potluck" meetings with up to a dozen people where each person brings their own meal.
- Geographic isolation is a tough one, and typically requires a greater reliance on online communication.
- It’s important to remember that some cultures are more open to meeting people you're not already connected with, and others are not. That's a set of challenges in and of itself, and sometimes takes a lot of creative thinking and experimenting to figure out the best formula for you.
- If you have a twice- or multi-exceptional profile that makes connecting with others particularly challenging, focus on connecting with others of your similar exceptionalities profile, to maximize your comfort in connecting. You can find online groups for most exceptionality profiles, and that may be a good place to reach out.
- If you struggle to feel safe in connecting with others due to developmental or relational trauma, that might be the place to start: finding a therapist who can help you in developing a sense of safety in relating to others, so that reaching out can feel good.
You may succeed in finding a feast of multiptotentialite friends, or you may find only one or a few. Whatever connection resources you find, be grateful for them and proactive in making the most of them.
Remember that the world is changing fast, and opportunities for connection are constantly opening up. Whatever your situation is today, it may improve as the world continues to evolve.
WHAT HAS SUPPORTIVE EFFECTS FOR YOU?
Creating sustainable wholeness and meaning, in a balanced life where you are consistently able to be yourself and the bills still get paid on time - that's kind of the Holy Grail of being a gifted multipotentialite.
For me, that means consistently making positive contributions while I'm able to. I currently have at least three careers and a number of other interests. In addition to my work as a coach, mentor and course facilitator for gifted people, I find that being a musician and singer balances and feeds me so much that I'm unwilling to go without it. Doing that seems to make it possible for me to continue with things that can earn money. And writing is another creative support, and one that has brought me a great many friends worth knowing. I can't do without friends. Personally I'm looking for the ideal gifted real-life community for my UN-retirement. It probably doesn't (yet) exist, but thinking about what it could be like if it did exist, is something that I find inspiring and even motivating.
What do you know of in your life that has supportive effects for you? Do you allow yourself to have it consistently, whatever it is?
Building one's multipotentialite life with conscious choice is indeed a process! Discussions in InterGifted’s community and peer groups can be a place to find inspiration and encouragement. Reading about the documented lives of other multipotentialites and polymaths can be inspiring, too.
Find what has supportive effects for you, engage in proactively supporting the process of your multipotentiality, and reach out for help if you ever feel you need a helping hand! I work with gifted multipotentialites in all corners of the globe, for all kinds of multipotentialite issues. Contact me to schedule a coaching session.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO JOIN MY COURSE FOR GIFTED MULTIPOTENTIALITES?
If gifted multipotentiality is something you’re exploring in your life and you’d like to do so with me and a group of five of your gifted multipotentialite peers, I’d love to have you join my upcoming online course! Major topics covered in the course include:
- gifted & multipotentialite needs
- thriving in your career/job/school/family
- managing relationships & communication
- finding balance in your life
- (we also add topics as requested by our participants).
Starting in June 2019, we'll meet once a month for six months (we meet on zoom.us). You will be provided with readings and will have written homework to share with the group. At least half of each session is devoted to participants' coach-facilitated interaction with each other, and the positive, bonded group dynamic lets you present a burning issue to the group for suggestions. I’ve found that interaction with fellow gifted multipotentialites speeds addressing issues and helps you make meaningful changes in your life.
Reach out to me to register, or to schedule an exploratory chat to find out if the course is right for you. You can also find more information and logistics on our course page. I look forward to supporting you on your gifted multipotentialite journey!
About Marion Kee
Marion is a profoundly gifted multipotentialite who has worked in a variety of fields throughout her professional life including research computer science and teaching philosophy in academia - always with writing and music having strong place in her life. As an InterGifted coach and mentor, she now supports other gifted youth and adults who are building or navigating their own creative careers and unique life mosaic. She is based in the US and works with clients all over the world.