Career Grow Up

I’m Still Not Sure What To Be When I Grow Up

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Do you have so many different interests and passions that the concept of settling into one career always felt awful to you?

Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m not sure what to be when I grow up?”

You are…

  • Afraid you’ll either have to settle into a career and stick with it for life (boring!). Or, pursue your many, unrelated passions that will leave you penniless and unable to support your family.
  • Well beyond your college years but still clueless about what you want to be when you grow up. You feel like something is wrong with you.
  • Often described as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. You are quickly excited about many, completely unrelated topics, but you may lose interest just as quickly.
  • Someone with a zest for life and a love of new experiences and learning for the sake of learning.
  • Very successful in your field, but bored to death and looking to change directions – again. To the horror and disbelief of those around you.

If this sounds like you, chances are, you are frustrated. Or worse, you are desperate because you can’t seem to “get it together.” It’s even possible that, in your attempt to keep your options open in order to satisfy all your different interests, you make no choices at all. You know you have all this potential but lots of it is going unused.

If you’ve ever felt as if something was wrong with you for your inability to stick with a passion, a hobby, an interest, or job, or even a career, take heart. You are completely normal! So, what’s going on?

Genetically Wired To Pursue Many Unrelated Interests

You’re part of a group of people genetically wired to be interested in – and pursue – many completely unrelated topics. Barbara Sher calls us “scanners” in her book, Refuse to Choose and Margaret Lobenstine wrote Renaissance Souls about us. Whatever the name, we are multi-talented people trying to fit a million passions into one lifetime.

If you recognize yourself in this personality type and this is the first time you hear about this concept, I’m sure you’ve got all sorts of thoughts and feelings running through you right now.

It’s not uncommon for someone with this trait to go through life unaware of it, feeling misplaced in society and trying hard to fit in.

The good news is it IS possible to live a life that integrates all of your passions – whether it pertains to careers or hobbies, or both.

And it’s definitely a wonderful trait! It makes you a very versatile, flexible, and interesting person.

The Multi-Talented Personality’s Place In Society

Even though our culture hasn’t heralded these “renaissance personalities” during the past six decades or so, there are many famous people throughout history who were.

Probably the best-known example is Ben Franklin. If you’re not familiar with his multi-faceted life, just look him up online and you’ll be astounded. And no one in his time would have the audacity to call him a jack-of-all-trades, master of none!

But times are changing again, and I believe we’re entering an era where this personality type is highly valuable. Think globalization and the need for workers to function across disciplines and cultures. Especially in downtimes when resources are scarcer.

3 Main Characteristics Of The Multi-Talented

Adapted from Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul, these are the three main characteristics of this multi-talented personality type:

  1. A preference for variety over a single-minded focus. This has nothing to do with the ability or inability to focus on what you’re doing at that moment. As you’ll see later on, it’s not ADHD in disguise. Variety comes in many forms: Some people may pursue many interests simultaneously, others on a rotating basis, or they do it one at a time, then move on.
  2. The multi-talented enjoy a work style that doesn’t follow a linear, predictable process. Their emphasis is on growth and evolution instead of rigid adherence to a plan. This is also why the traditional time management systems typically don’t work for them. What they need is flexible plans. With emphasis on flexible!
  3. A sense of success defined by challenges mastered instead of how far up the ladder they’ve climbed. Multi-talented people love the steep learning curve a new challenge or skill presents. Once they’ve mastered this or solved a problem, they’re done. This is why their definition of success and completion is very different from other people.

Signs You Probably Don’t Fit This Personality Type

Do you truly fit this personality type? Let’s double check. If you fit the following criteria, the answer is probably “no:”

You have ADHD or you suffer from depression.

Both conditions mimic certain traits of a multi-talented person, but aren’t really. Of course, both those conditions and being multi-talented are not mutually exclusive. However, having ADHD or being depressed can easily make you believe you fit the multi-talented personality type. This is because depression creates a fragmented consciousness.

You are very happy to be absorbed in one career or field.

In other words: you’re a specialist. Professions that typically lend themselves to this category are musicians, doctors, scientists, athletes, financiers, and mathematicians. Sure, you relax with a hobby, but you’re not really passionate about anything but your own field.

You’re not choosing a direction because you are afraid to be mediocre or even fail when you commit to something.

But deep down you know what you want to do.

You like to job hop because you keep finding better offers.

However, you’re staying in the same field. Therefore, you do not qualify as a multi-talented personality.

It’s important to have clarity about this so you can either get to the root of what’s bothering or driving you.

For the truly multi-talented personality: Know that not only society is changing, but that you can make changes in your life as well.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Ilona Vanderwoude

Ilona Vanderwoude, founder of CareerBranches, is a career designer who helps her clients fit a million passions into one lifetime while providing the tactical support to actually make it happen.

16 comments

  1. I keep a smile on my face as I read line by line. This described me to the tee. I do everything from natural soap making, styling, hair, make-up ( I work for MAC make-up) I do accessories, I cook, I interior design, I can fix just about anything, I can see a picture of anything and duplicate it (current project high heel stiletto chair) I built my daughter a queen sized loft bed complete with a no boys allowed club house with matching performance stage in corner all from wood no plans at all, I did a complete car DIY gutted a car inside to the seats then redid everything to pink and black (love pink) I replaced my car radiator fans do my friends brakes and tune ups. I sew can make outfits from scratch, I sing I can play a tune my ear, very very detailed to the point to where it annoys me. I can’t just watch a movie like anyone else, I see where in one clips a pair of shoes were different in the next. I give advice to stranger in need, wanting to vent etc etc.

    With all that being said I’m lost on what really can give me financial freedom. My friends refer to me as the one with the hands of gold. Anything I touches becomes art, fixed etc, I need to know how to focus. I want to do everything and I do, but it gets me very exhausted at times. Oh yes I’m a girl lol.

  2. that person is definetly me,i fill out of step with reality. I play 5 different instruments by ear I’ve had 15 different jobs been with 4 women seriously I can discuss any subject intelligently I am good with colors wardrobe I can dress anyone and make them look more fitting then they make them selves but yet I’ve missed my calling at least 5 times I’ve had 2 to 3 chances to get rich and miss the mark because I did not take advantage of the situation because I lack that cut throat mentality.ijust don’t know what’s wrong with me.i even good at reconizing talent in others.i can give others advice on how to change their life for the better but not myself.i would land in good situations and something or someone would steal me away from it and im well liked by friends and strangers. I just don’t understand oh yea im always told I should be in new York or cali because I look like i’m in entertainment I came close but the moment escaped me. help!

  3. Hi Ilona, wanted to share that I am a multipotentialite, and wondered why this term was not referenced anywhere within your article? Also, the site Puttylike.com is the mecca for multipotentialites. I blogged about this term on Good.co and it went viral on Twitter. Evidently I awakened the kracken because so many people identify with these multi-passionate characteristics.
    Thanks.

  4. I love this article. It touched me internally, this is so because i’ve felt daunted times without number to be bristled with different career types. Meehh, it isn’t easy at all to be the type of a student that’s multi-talented; its frustrating. But thanks for this article cos, it has given me hope. Kudos!

  5. Wow! I have always felt the need to describe myself as a Jack-of-all-trades, usually completing the statement with”master of none.” Yet, I have mastered and worked hard. I love the learning and growing as part of an amazing world, but I take a little issue with the depression part of your article. True depression is fragmented, but the frustration in being a”scanner” can lead to low moments and should not be dismissed. This validation helps!

  6. Is it possible that persons with this kind of personality, are more often than not found working with IT?

    I’ve been working with IT my self for almost 20 years of which many years as a manager, and I’ve seen this personality many times during interviews and later once a person has been hired.

    It’s absolutely no problem, as long as you are able to provide for many different assignments, but once you grow and need to get specialized, it’s becoming more of a problem.

    • Need to get specialized? I’ve been in IT for 19+ years and that’s a problem with IT and it’s silo’s. It’s a function of size. The bigger the organization, the greater the specialization. That’s why jack of all trades types work better in smaller orgs and start-ups. Look at it like a doctor. A jack of all trades is a country doctor or like an emergency room doctor. They deal with everything. If the world wants neurologists, podiatrists, proctologists and other ists, then the country doc will have a hard time of it.

  7. Thanks for this article! While it didn’t provide any advice on choosing a career path or wrangling the various interests, it did make me understand the difference between ADHD and being multi-talented. I’ve often wondered if I should be tested for ADHD because of my constantly changing interests. I’ll have to pick up the books mentioned and see what guidance they can provide!

    I’ve decided the best fit for me would be to own my own business. What type of business is still a challenge, but it would provide the flexibility that I crave. In college, career testing showed almost an even split between science and art. The proctor even commented on how unusual it is to be right and left brain dominant. I chose the science route, but of course got bored very quickly and craved more creativity. Teaching is another career I’ve considered, since in the earlier years, teachers teach all subjects.

    I would love to see more articles and advice on multi-talented people and career success. Keep ‘em coming!

    • The key with jack of all trades types is that, and this is my opinion, they are facts curators or at least some are. New interests allow for the collection of new facts. It’s an innate desire to learn. Is it ADHD? DK.

  8. It’s very interesting the way this kind of personality is described. I would like to know how to use it as a hiring tool? What areas of a company look for someone like this?How do I sell a renaissance personality to a company?

    • I haven’t seen it. Not really. Sometimes companies look for purple squirrels and unicorns, meaning they ask for everything under the sun within a discipline, like IT. This is done to cut down on applicants and also the feeling that employers are in the driver’s seat and can ask for what they want. This is different though than looking for a multi-talented person. I haven’t seen it.

  9. I see no evidence that the world wants jack of all trades. I have many talents, work in IT and within IT, I am a jack of all trades. Picking IT was a choice as I didn’t know what to do 19 years ago and a career counselor said pick something and stick with it. Even then I gravitated towards being multifaceted within my career. The thing is, companies want depth, not breadth. To put in context, I am a country doctor in a world of neurologists, podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons and yet now I am processing medical insurance forms. As far as my interests and experience outside of IT, it doesn’t help. Employers want experts in one discipline because it makes that position a replaceable widget. Couple this with an excess of unemployed people which creates an arrogance of supply and well…Forget about it.

  10. I’m going to have to look into the two books that you mention. I think I’ve found an industry and career path that will allow me to follow many interests, but I would love to learn more about my own wiring and why my brain works the way that it does and find ideas on how to harness those traits.

  11. For those who are having trouble finding jobs this is the answer. It is not only you who are having trouble with it. We are made differently. We just need to take an opportunity and be open minded on what will come to us. That will be a good start and a good sign.

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