On being a chronically curious, multi-passionate do-it-all

Ever feel like you’re compulsively interested in just about everything? Unable to focus on just one thing, being drawn to many different paths and wishing you could have three simultaneous careers?

There's a word for that. 

I got the biggest revelation of my life when I stumbled over an article online called "Are you a scanner?", by writer Barbara Sher. The article began by lining up a series of questions:

"I can never stick to anything."
"I keep changing my mind about what I want to do and end up doing nothing."
"I won't choose a career path because it might be the wrong one."

Then she wrote:

"If you've ever said these things to yourself, chances are good that you're a Scanner, a very special kind of thinker. You are the owner of a remarkable, multi talented brain trying to do its work in a world that doesn't understand who you are and doesn't know why you behave as you do."

And somewhere around that is where I started weeping like a child. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn't a schizophrenic, undisciplined, confused loser. I was a scanner. 

The feeling was probably similar to the relief that people with ADD or autism experience when they get their diagnosis. You have a word for your condition. You're not alone. 

Being multi-passionate, or the newly coined term "multipotentialite", is a lot more common than you'd think. And it can be painful, because the world does not get you, and doesn't know what to do with you. 

What the world prefers are specialists. The ones who pick their passion early on in life, pursue it relentlessly and become an expert at it.

But the moment you wanna quit college or switch careers, you're in for a hard time. Because a lot of half-finished degrees, odd jobs and short employments does not look good. A multipotentialite's resume practically screams "lazy and unambitious".

While in reality, the opposite is true.

 

"Tell us a little bit about yourself"

When I get this question, I always feel like sucking in air like Ace Ventura and just vomit it all out:

All the professions I've tried, all the skills I've acquired, all the interests I've dabbled in, all the projects I'm juggling, and all of my weird affinities and grand plans for the future.

How I do everything from rap music to acting to acrylic painting to professional poker to programming to hardcore gaming to yoga and so on and so forth. 

Name anything and I've had a phase of it.

Me, on the set of a web series, a few years ago.

Me, on the set of a web series, a few years ago.

I mean, I know what they really want to hear. They want a short and memorable bio so that they can put a stamp on me and neatly tuck me away in their brain. It would would a lot easier if I could just be straightforward and categorizable. 

And I really wish I could answer something like "I'm an attorney", or something else that people can wrap their heads around and admire. A lot of my childhood friends wanted to become doctors. Today, they're doctors. Simple as that. Compared to my 12+ years of running around, changing direction in life as often as other people change hairstyle or car tires.

I always hated myself for it.

I got this sad feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I discovered something new and fascinating, because I knew it was just a matter of time until my interest would fade in favor of something else.

And I felt guilty every time I told my mother or my boyfriend about an exciting new project or goal. "I've been thinking this through, and this is what I'm meant to do, I just know it! This time it's for real! I'm gonna be an actor!"

Three weeks later I'm posting my college application papers to go study game development.

Aaaaand cut. 

 

Chronically curious about... kind of everything

A scanner is a person who, rather than deep diving into one thing, prefers to stay on the surface, scanning the horizon for other interesting stuff. 

Their whole personality is geared towards this tendency, which makes them excellent book worms, inventors, lifelong university students or serial entrepreneurs. 

Being a scanner (or multipotentialite, or polymath), is being chronically fascinated by almost everything. You're easily inspired. Your curiosity knows no boundaries. You'll completely devour a topic and as soon as you feel like you get it, you move on to the next thing. 

You'll fiddle a little here and a little there with your forty three simultaneous hobby projects.

You'll start your fifth novel and leave it half written. 

You'll watch a documentary on elephant keepers or private detectives and seriously re-consider your career choice. 

You'll get seduced by the wonders of marine biology and get totally carried away, but at the same time uneasy, because how long before you abandon it for a course in macrobiotic cooking?

You can't trust yourself in a library or in front of the Discovery Channel. 

You're dying of boredom at work or school, but don't know what you want to escape to. 

You realize that you have an incomprehensible mishmash of information, skills and experiences, but no fancy diploma or impressive CV to prove your worth. 

And you curl up in your bed and cry yourself to sleep, mourning all of the things you'll never be able to know, see or do in life. 

Something like that.

At least for me, until I read that that article I mentioned.  

From when i self-studied like an obsessed for one month and got a job as a web developer. Which I held for four months.

From when i self-studied like an obsessed for one month and got a job as a web developer. Which I held for four months.

Today, however, I am wiser. Now I know how we scanners work, and why. If the world is a giant buffet, we’d be those people who flock around it and can’t decide what we wanna eat, so we grope around and stick a finger here and a finger there and grab way to many servings and stuff ourselves and leave half of it on our plates and feel really embarrassed in front of everyone else.

But there is a method to our madness...

 

The joy of being a do-it-all

From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes a lot of sense for some tribe members to be curious and swiss-army-knife-like in nature.

If everyone stuck to what they knew best and nobody ever went outside of their comfort zone and tried new things, where would humanity be today? It’s part of our adaptability as humans to have both experts and multi-talented generalists amongst us.

The best analogy for a scanner personality is a honey bee. A bee flies from flower to flower, collecting nectar. Nobody would accuse a bee of being scattered or unfocused or getting bored too easily. They’re bees, it’s what they do! A honey bee isn’t passionate about any particular flower, they’re passionate about the process of collecting nectar. Switching flowers is part of the plan.

Just like it's now part of my plan to pursue several different careers at once, shamelessly switching between them every other year or so.

Because a multi-passionate person is like several people in one. They're the swiss army knives of mankind, ready to jump in both here and there and be of use. They are of great value to society thanks to their unique combination of knowledge and experiences. 

But most importantly: It's freakishly fun to be a multipotentialite! You have permission to indulge in all that life has to offer, and to dedicate yourself to everything that you love. 

Stop beating yourself up about being a Jack of all Trades. Make the best of your many talents and use your personality to your advantage. Be proud of all the stuff you've tried and accomplished.

And instead of feeling like you need to choose, know that you can choose everything. That's totally cool.