If you’ve been following my little expedition into the world of Renaissance souls (or multiple potentialites or gifted adults or whatever), you’ve already recognized whether you are one of the lucky folks that can be happy doing one or two things your whole life or one of the tortured souls who struggle with legions of interests and a finite lifespan.
Barbara Sher has authored numerous books as variations on this theme. I explored two of her volumes, Refuse To Choose! and It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now. I’ve already stated that I don’t care for her frequent references to a mid-life crisis when what we are talking about are gifted adults. And I absolutely hate her term “scanners” for people who collect a variety of interests. It implies that we are simply scanning the horizon for new experiences (true) but that we can’t settle on anything; scanning is merely observing, and discounts the dedication and joy involved with this lifestyle. Seeing the word on the page stumbled my reading every. single. time.
BUT, she has some great points and personal anecdotes that were really helpful. For those who want to delve deep into the psychology of the subject, Sher has a lot to offer. She breaks down what I call Gifted Specialist and Gifted Generalist into at least ten sub-categories, which may be helpful if you are trying to identify yourself and your learning method. I thought some of these overlapped. For instance, according to Sher, I would be a Serial Specialist, A Serial Master, and a Jack-Of-All-Trades. But the way she breaks down the motivations for each of these and provides possible career paths is really helpful.
Here’s a few sections I highlighted as especially good:
I didn’t get a job with my education, and I never did anything practical with the other things I loved, either. I didn’t write about or teach what I had learned. I never earned a nickel from any of it…I’ve come to believe you don’t always have to use things you love, and it’s not always so practical to be so practical…Our society frowns on this apparent self-indulgence. Of course, it’s not self-indulgence at all; it’s the way [we] are designed, and there’s nothing they can or should do about it. – Barbara Sher
There is no academic path to train you in the best use of your irrepressible curiosity or to direct your fast mind into a multidirectional specialty. In business, no career tracks or job titles exist for the multitalented, can-do-anything [person]. – Barbara Sher
When it comes to passion, I think we’d all agree that a bee seems very dedicated to its task – but it’s not passionate about any one flower; it’s passionate about gathering nectar. If you missed that point, you’d really misunderstand a honeybee…as a culture, we’re not in the habit of thinking about people the same way. We simply assume he has a problem if he doesn’t stay at one interest as long as we believe he should stay – usually for his whole adult lifetime… –Barbara Sher
A house painter leaves when he’s through painting the house; he doesn’t move in and live there…When you lose interest in something, you must always consider the possibility that you’ve gotten what you came for; you have completed your mission. – Barbara Sher
And this is my very favorite passage, because I think it is how we should be teaching our gifted children and supporting our gifted adults:
By definition, no one has as many interests…This makes their comings and goings very noticeable to the eyes of others. But the main reason they are different from others, and the reason they get noticed for not sticking to anything, is because they learn faster than almost anybody…she has a big hungry brain and her favorite food is learning. [They] love learning more than anything else. And learning is what they’re most talented at. – Barbara Sher
The parting shot from Sher, for me, is to not be too busy. Don’t make yourself so taken up with busy work that you fail to accomplish the real work of your life. She warns against the danger because “You lose your memory of the luxury of doing less than your full capacity.”
This is a huge reminder for those who grew up hearing how they had to live up to their potential. How it was a waste to not use their gifts to the fullest. We don’t have to run at full capacity all the time. We can listen to the radio on the way to work, instead of returning phone calls or making a grocery list. We can hire other people to do mundane tasks so we can devote our energy to what we do best. Learning. And being ourselves.
Let me know if this has touched a chord with you. I want to hear from you!