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Challenges of being Multi-talented

~ by Mary Rocamora. M.A. ~

Multi-potentiality or multi-talentedness is a largely unexplored aspect of giftedness, especially in terms of developing strategies for lifetime fulfillment.  While it's not uncommon for parents to encourage a wide array of interests and abilities in their multi-potentialed children, for the ones who are truly, persistently multi-talented, there are no clear options for turning childhood exploration into a viable career path.  Our educational system is set up so that one talent is encouraged to be dominant, and the established pathways that are offered may or may not incorporate the particular array of talents of any given individual.

Certain talent careers have more mainstream acceptance than others: you can be a star athlete and coach, an actor and director, or concert pianist and piano teacher, and people will think, well, that makes sense.  But it is startling when you discover that your intuitive mechanic is opening a gourmet lunch cafe is where customers can dine while waiting for their cars.     Inventing careers with and for the multi-talented is a creative endeavor in itself, especially for those who excel in things that are not socially valued or well-remunerated financially.

In general, our culture does not encourage the gifted to lead lives that are congruent with their inner creative or visionary drives.  Instead, they are expected to focus on making a living and be "gifted on their own time."  A conventional life is reluctantly accepted and creativity is sacrificed on the altar of adult responsibility.  This is how many gifted young people disappear into the mainstream, primarily out of economic necessity.  In addition, those who were never identified or mirrored growing up tend to look at the prospect of starting a creative profession as too daunting and financially unsurvivable.  They assume that they don't have the chops for such an ambition.

For the multi-talented, the prospects for a creative career sink further if there is no focused inner work to assess those talents and render them viable in the world.  This kind of inner work is not within the purview of therapy; it is inner work that is focused on the specific requisites for self-actualization of the gifted.  And for every multi-talented person, the career path is not only unique, it's contagious.  It resonates with others in a way that often puts them in touch with needs that they didn't even know they had until they witnessed this career unfold: the need for expanding hobbies into potential businesses, the need for long stretches of undistracted time, the need to be involved with like-minded people, the need to legitimize solitary and unconventional pursuits.

Inventing a creative career involves the parallel issue of assembling the components of a supportive life.  A lifestyle that serves the breadth of multi-talented giftedness tends to be divergent from the norm and is inevitably accompanied by an insistent, courageous authenticity that radically diminishes one's responsiveness to the "shoulds" that glue society together.  Personal values that prioritize inner fulfillment and worldly achievement gradually displace slavishness to being a "good person."

Embracing multi-talentedness as a life path comes in three steps: recognition, mastery and management.

Recognition.  How do we counselors assess for multi-potentiality or multi-talentedness in adult life after people have become overtaken by the "shoulds" of adult life?  Beyond taking the Self-Tests, which will help you recognize traits in you that researchers associate with giftedness, consider these questions:

  1. What talents comprise your multi-talentedness?  Include things you are exceptionally good at that "don't go together."
  2. What talents pull at you and make you feel conflicted about the amount of attention you pay to their development?
  3. What things do you do as a hobby that are really more than that?
  4.  What ability do you have that is disowned?  Perhaps it is the purview of someone else in your family, or there are judgments people have about it that you don't want to have to deal with, or you see it as valueless.

                  Why is important to recognize all your talents if you are multi-talented?  At the beginning of self-actualization, some people feel anxious or depressed because they are not admitting, much less addressing, the talents within.  Some are simply feeling scattered and unfocused because they cannot find an obvious synthesis for so many interests and abilities.  In order to see the big picture, it is helpful to put all of one's interests and abilities on the table and embrace them with the curiosity that is natural to the free state of awareness.  Then what to do with all these sometimes seemingly disparate abilities can be explored.

Mastery.  When you have sorted through all your abilities, you will not only have to master each talent individually but see how they are to be lived out, whether separately or in a working whole.  Deciding how to proceed takes you to the final step: how to make a living this way.

In the process, you will discover what is really here to be lived, cultivated, experienced, expressed, and remunerated.  Being willing to be  fully congruent with your inner aspirations requires an ever deepening understanding of authenticity.  With it there emerges a constant need to inform others how to understand, support, get out of the way of and otherwise cope with your multi-talented life. Here are some suggestions about creating an original career if you are multi-talented. Create a career from a gestalt of your most compatible talents. If your abilities fall into a broad category, you could create a career that synthesizes them.  For example, a woodworker makes a living from selling his signed wood pens in galleries and art shows, and still has time to sculpt and do custom woodworking projects for people's houses.  A successful actor begins performing his own songs at open mikes wearing a cowboy shirt he made himself, eventually landing him a job as a commercial spokesperson.  A voice-over artist takes operatic training and creates a hilarious, elegant one-woman show about the travails of opera heroines, which showcases some of opera's most exquisite arias and plays for years in some of the most prestigious theaters in the country.

Weave seemingly incongruous talents into a career.

If you make a list of everything that tugs at you that you have some measure of skill or confidence in, it may appear at first that everything is not a logical fit.  However, looked at through the lens of divergent thinking, there might just be a career in there after all.  Being a chef/restaurateur and a mechanic can work together, as in our previous example.  I know a professional artist who makes part of her living from her shows in galleries and part from ghostwriting self-help books.  Another client is taking all of her divergent interests and using them as the foundation for a talk and talent show.

Focus on developing your talents in tandem over your lifetime.

For some multi-talented people, it is important to plan the expression of their many talents so that they are distributed over their lifetime.  Many professional athletes take on high-intensity sports when they are younger, and as they age, move on to less physically demanding sports.  Therapists, performers, researchers and educators often become speakers or writers later on in life when their expertise ripens and they have developed a unique personal style of expression.  Singing and acting coaches sing and act professionally to stay in the game throughout their lives.  Artists sometimes work or show in phases that are age-related to some degree -- I know of a muralist who felt she was getting too old to spend her day high up on a scaffold and retired to studio work in her late 50's.

Find ways to integrate your creativity with everyday life.

The word "hobby" sounds demeaning to a lot of gifted people, but that is a word that may be evoked when we take a second look at what is meant by living a multi-talented life.  Everything we do can be creatively enhanced, from making a little drawing on the envelope of the doctor's bill, singing to your dog, skipping instead of walking or leaving entertaining messages on answering machines.  You could also start giving away all those afghans you keep crocheting and start making them with specific people in mind.

Manage:

How to fully experience, develop and express so many talents is a time management challenge.  It has been my experience that multi-talented people take up a lot of space, and therefore those closest to them have to learn how to best tolerate proximity to their process.  The more you and those closest to you understand about your process, the better able all of you will be to accommodate each other's needs.  It is a real challenge for loved ones to  support the multi-talented person's aspirations without losing their own sense of purpose or getting overwhelmed by the intensity and expansiveness of the multi-talentedness evolving in the environment.

For the multi-talented who want to maintain intimate relationships with others, there are some important issues to consider.  Many gifted people are primarily nurtured by their creativity and its inspiring effects on those around them, such that "personal needs" are minimized.  This is not as true for those who are emotionally closest who may not have such voluminous inner resources themselves.  The gifted person often needs to be reminded that their loved ones have emotional needs that deserve personal time and attention.  I could cite many highly gifted clients whose marriages failed because of emotional neglect.

Enhanced communication skills are a requisite of good talent management and actualization.  This has been a glaring inadequacy in many of my gifted clients over the years, not only being emotionally out of touch within themselves, but communicating from the assumption that everyone else is like, or should be like, them.  Awareness training is life saving and life giving to give everyone access to a deeper understanding of giftedness, interpersonal relationships, and career fulfillment.

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