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Monthly Archives: August 2013

I am enjoying reading The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Just Pick One by Margaret Lobenstine. The book is for people who have multiple interests and talents which they enjoy pursuing at the same time, or in succession, and feel constrained by the expectation that they will follow one long term life path. They may find it difficult to solve the question of how to maintain all their interests while earning a decent livelihood without “starting from scratch” with every change of direction.

I can definitely relate to the description of the personality traits of the Renaissance Soul. Having been a business process analyst working on a how to make use of a computer system for 8 years I craved a dramatic change, which led to me quitting my secure job last year. Having said that, there was a lot that I loved about that job. It was intellectually challenging and offered a fair degree of variety and autonomy. It gave my analytical mind a good workout but after 8  years I’d had enough. My analytical mind was over-stretched, while other aspects of my personality were being drowned out by all the logical left-brained complexity.

The other day when I was at a talk for professional organisers there was a demonstration of a customer relationship database. I must confess I felt deeply nostalgic for the student management database I used to work on. Seeing all those fields and tabs and thinking about all the data they could capture got me excited. At the same time I was thinking I must be nuts to be getting all fired up over a  relational database. Whats was that about?

Learning about Renaissance Souls (also known as Multi-potentialites or Scanners) has helped me to understand that I have the capacity to be very analytical, but also to be very creative and spiritual. One ability does not exclude the other, and I need to explore both. Having allowed myself to explore reading, writing, photography, and other interests for over a year I am now able to feel the excitement of working with a well designed database again.

In The Renaissance Soul Margaret Lobenstine suggests that Renaissance Souls can make a life of many choices more ordered and manageable by choosing four Focal Points to work with at any given time. This involves listing all the things that you are interested in and picking just four to be the focus of attention for the time being. How long any item remains on that list can vary, depending on how long it demands attention or sustains interest. This strategy allows progress on a few key areas without committing to them forever; and it acknowledges that other options which are on the back burner are not lost because can be prioritised at a later stage.

This method is similar to what I have been doing over the last year, although its more structured and conscious than my approach. I can see the benefit of working on something for a set period then swapping that out, and bringing something else in.  As a trial run I have identified four focus points for a two week period:

1. Working Towards the Federal Election

2. Preparing my Tax Return

3. Writing this Blog

4. Researching Renaissance Souls/Multi-Potentialites/Scanners.

I set an initial time frame of two weeks because of the date of the election. Action on that point is urgent, and it can be swapped out when the Election is over. Making it a Focus Point helps be involved now, when it counts, knowing that it is a time limited commitment. It has also allowed me to say no another potential volunteering activity which is on at the same time.

Doing my tax is also a short term project and when it is done, I might swap in a budget review project. This means I am working towards financial management projects over time without getting overwhelmed by all the things I should be doing.

I am enjoying writing the blog as it helps me to clarify my ideas and build confidence in communicating them. It caters to my creative and introspective side. When I was not blogging, I did a lot of private journaling, but I find it difficult to maintain both. I can see myself swapping between the two rather than trying to maintain maximum output in both modes of writing all the time.

Researching the concept of Renaissance Souls is a priority because I think it will help me structure my life in such a way that I can continue to pursue my own interests and also make a living without feeling like I am short-changing myself on either count. I have a few books I want to read, but when I have got a grip on the guts of the topic I will probably move on to a different learning goal.

I am starting to get a glimpse of a modular approach to time management where I can take on projects that meet different needs and use a variety of skills for blocks of time. Each module builds towards one of my goals or a future module. Although there isn’t a Focus Point called “Make Money” or “Find Work” doing my tax and learning about Renaissance Souls are both building blocks towards those longer term goals. Eventually I hope to be able to swap in some money activities that contribute to my personal interests or goals to one more of the Focus Points.

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I am loving all the great ideas thats out there in blogland. There’s so many great writers and so much useful information. It makes me realise again that the world if full of interesting thoughtful people, and we can all learn from each other. Sometimes I read blog post and think, wow, I wish I had read this years ago, because that perspective would have really helped me along my way.

Even so, I have to remind myself that I have been reading and learning and experiencing and growing throughout my whole life, and will continue to do so. Personal growth is a slow process. Growth, by its very nature, happens gradually over time. It usually takes place so slowly that you can’t see it, although you can start to discern the effects.

It seems like it would be handy to have all the necessary wisdom for living in a 10 point list, but it doesn’t work that way. Lists of fabulous advice abound, but its not as simple as just reading what to do and doing it. Developing as a person isn’t just a rational process, is an integrative process that involves our hearts, minds and souls. We need time to absorb and adjust to each new learning in order to be ready to learn the next thing.

Growth is also often about healing, and healing takes time. There’s are no shortcuts to working through the grief and pain of the past that we might feel are holding us back. Some of the things we struggle with run very deep, and are best healed through ongoing relationships with other people, and through experiences in the everyday world. Its not as simple as reading a list of good advice and applying mind over matter. Even the best advice can be hard to take in when you feel like you can’t trust your own mind, you are paralysed by lack of confidence, or your heart is aching.

Growing as a person is a process to be taken slowly and savoured. It may not always be fun and the way may not always clear, but it can be interesting, and even enjoyable. Hope and confidence will grow if you remind yourself that you are on a journey of learning and discovery, and allow yourself to believe (or even just hope) that healing and change are possible.

Some of my deepest learning has come from long term participation in therapy and meditation practices which allow a gradual deepening in understanding. Although reading is a great source of wisdom and encouragement, at the end of the day personal development is primarily an experiential process. I probably wont be writing a blog post on 10 steps to happiness because I know there’s a lot more to it. What I can do is share a little bit about my perspective, and if it helpful, then thats great. Lets enjoy each other’s company in the slow lane.

I’m not interested in politics. I’m not really a big picture person. As long as things are ticking along smoothly I’m happy for other people to handle the details of how the country is run. Fortunately I live in a country where democracy works well and I enjoy a peaceful and stable society in which I can pursue my own thing.

One reason I don’t like politics is that it tends to be negative and conflictual. I am not someone who enjoys a good argument. I my mind, there is no such thing as a good argument. Thats the nature of my personality. I tend to think  “everyone is entitled to their opinion”, and I don’t like to create tension by highlighting differences. However because I tend to hold minority views, I sometimes forget to include myself in the “everyone” who is entitled to an opinion, and keep mine hidden.

Although I am in an introspective phase personally, I do occasionally take a peep outside my bubble and there are wider issues that concern me.  I am not interested in the mechanics of politics, but I am interested in values and how they determine our behaviour collectively and individually. I have solved this conundrum by joining a “greenish” political party which aligns with my values, and then keeping my membership a secret. I am also on the mailing list for a variety of social action groups and sign my name to petitions for various causes, although I never take the next step of passing them on to my Facebook Friends.

In two weeks Australia will be holding a Federal Election which will determine our national government. It seems like political pendulum is swinging towards a more conservative government, and thats a concern for me because issues that I care about like social justice and protecting the environment are likely to suffer.

If the election is close, then the smaller parties could have a strong influence in policy formulation, and I would prefer that influence to be held by a party that advocates for the environment and tolerance of diversity. I am going to feel bad if Australia ends up with an ultra-conservative government and I did nothing to speak up for my point of view.

I have been asked to hand out “How to Vote” cards at polling booths. I sat on the request email for a few days unsure about how to respond. I don’t want to say Yes; I don’t want to say No. I want to use my influence on strangers, but I don’t want to put pressure on my friends and family.

Rather than adopting my usual strategy which is “when in doubt do nothing” I have decided to do the smallest active thing I can possibly do and see how that goes. So I am planning to try handing out How to Votes at the pre-election polling booth and see what it feels like. Then I can decide if I want to do it on the main polling day.

I am still researching material on muliti-potentialites, scanners and renaissance souls ie those of us who have a variety of interests and like to move between them. People with this tendency often want to try things out and see how they feel before committing to a course of action. We tend to get very involved in things for a time, but then move on to other interests. What I am learning is that you don’t have to be the backbone of an organisation or the leader of a social movement to be able to make a significant contribution at a critical time. I am thinking that maybe I can engage in two weeks of my own style of political activity leading up to the election, then shift my attention back to other concerns.

My own style of politics is still forming, but I think it would be characterised by thinking out loud and allowing others to do the same. This gives me a little more scope for expressing my concerns, so that at least others know what I think and I am taking some responsibility for shaping the values that drive my community.

A while ago, I made a bad decision. When I say a while ago, I mean in 1980. OK, it was a long, long while ago. It was my the start of my second year of university after finishing high school. I had chosen a four year social work degree because I wanted to learn about how to help people. After the first year I had learned two things, I was great at psychology, and I hated social work.

Social work is a good first degree in many ways, because it draws an a wide range of disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and philosophy in addition to social work specific theory and practice. Its general education that takes a little bit from here and there. Psychology 1 was a compulsory first year subject taught by the Psychology Dept to a wide range of incoming students from a variety of streams. I liked humanist psychology, and I could do the “rats and stat” although I wasn’t convinced that scientific research on animals was a good way to understand the human heart and mind. Even so, I excelled at this subject, and that feedback was difficult to overlook.

The first year social work subject Australian Social Organisation, on the other hand, had me bored out of my mind. It was the first sign that an in depth study of the welfare system wasn’t going to be my thing. I was interested in how peoples minds worked, rather than in social and organisational support systems. Looking ahead at the course structure I could see that the psychology strand was going to dry up and be replaced by more welfare subjects. What to do?

OK. Its obvious what to do. Switch to psychology. Get myself out of there and try something else. I could have switched to Arts and done Psychology and English. I could have switched a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and become a Clinical Psychologist. This possibility was so obvious that it did occur to me to find out the last day to change courses and research options for continuing psychology.

So here’s what happened. Nothing. I watched “last day to change” move closer and closer. I racked my brains about whether I should change or not. On the  night before the last day to change I agonised intensely about whether to change. But I didn’t change.

I don’t  regret any courses or jobs that I started, but I do regret finishing a few things. I regret staying in courses that I wasn’t enjoying. I regret staying too long in jobs that were no longer challenging. I regret completing four years of a social work degree which I was not enjoying, and spending the rest of my life feeling like a “failed social worker” because I never went ahead and got a job in that field, even though I didn’t enjoy it.

Looking back to that agonising non-decision so many years ago, I wish I knew that it was OK to try something then change your mind if it didn’t fit. It’s OK to do a course for a little while, learn what you need to know, and move on. Its OK to try different jobs to see what you enjoy, learn new skills and experience variety. I wish could have cut myself some slack at 20 years of age, and tried a few different options.

Knowing when to move is still something I struggle with, because although I am someone who craves variety, I don’t love the process of change. I don’t enjoy applying for jobs, and I am not a big fan of applying for courses that take months to commence and years to complete. Having said that, its  uncomfortable to stay with something when the excitement has left the building.

I am still working on this question of how to decide what to do and when to move on. Right now I feel the need for a change, but I’m not sure how to quit “doing nothing” other than by “doing something.” Of course I am not doing nothing; I am writing and exploring options for having a small business. I have been loving the freedom to decide what to do with my days and I want to continue to have time to explore my own interests and try out new things. Having said that I am starting to get a tiny bit bored, and I am not enjoying seeing my finances dwindle. I am thinking it could be good to get back out into the world of structured work on a small scale to connect with people and make some money. I don’t want to make the mistake of ignoring the urge for change for too long.

Here I am writing again after a six week break from blogging, and also from reading blogs. I took some time out to do some deeper reading, quiet reflection and to work through a few things that needed my full attention. Its been a rewarding experience, and I am sure some of that journey inwards will inform future posts.

In the past few days I have been catching up with a few of my favourite blogs and stumbled across a fascinating interview with Emilie Wapnick on Joel Zaslofsky’s Smart and Simple Matters program. This has prompted me to start blogging again, so that I can share it with you.

Emilie has coined the word “multipotentialite” to describe people who have many interests and creative pursuits in life, and don’t want to choose between them. They are people with a high level of aptitude in a range of spheres, but prefer to be generalists, and pursue a number of interests at the same time, or in succession, rather than specialise in just one area.

This isn’t a new idea, people like Leonardo Da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin are the ultimate examples of people who have excelled across a wide range of spheres, rather than sticking to just one thing. Emilie Wapnick is bringing recognition to this phenomenon into a contemporary context. She is  allowing ordinary people to identify their wide ranging interests and reluctance to settle on one thing as a positive quality rather than a failing.

I have taken a quick look at Emilie’s website at Puttylike and was blown away by a wealth of posts describing me and the kinds of challenges I have faced. I had this strong sense of recognition and identification which is obviously shared by other people who have this generalist trait. Although I have made quite a bit of progress in being able to recognise and untangle many of the issues raised on the website, it was a relief to find out that I am not alone. I am in my 50’s and it would have been a big help if I could have known these things 20 or 30 years ago. I think there is a lot of potential that remains unrealised because multipotentialites have been unable to harness their wide-ranging interests and make sense of their lack of specific direction.

I loved the post called The Biggest Lie You’ve Ever Been Told which refers to The Question which is “what am I going to be when I grow up”. This May and September blog is about me pursuing this question, and given my age, it seems a little late to still be asking it. But what I am coming to understand, and what Emilie Wapnick is also saying, is that for some of us, this is the wrong question.

My experience of the past year is classic multi-potentialite behavior. Having left a full-time job I travelled, then returned home and explored a number of options and interests simultaneously. At one point I was maintaing three blogs and starting two businesses at the same time. Then quite suddenly, many of these interests faded and I stopped. This is typical of multi-potentialites, we develop a deep fascination for a topic, and pursue it in depth for a period of time, then quite suddenly reach a point of saturation, and feel the need to let it go. If we don’t let go, we become bored and restless, because our attention has moved away and what was once a pleasure with its own momentum becomes a hard slog. Oftentimes these interests than we have apparently gone cold on will resurface in a new way at a later date, or become the launching pad for a new direction.

Even the need to take a break from blogging is probably and expression of this multipotentialite quality. Its quite difficult for me to indicate in advance what I am going to do in terms of the structure and frequency of posts, and every so often I am going to need to take a break from writing altogether. I could discipline myself to be more consistent, but for the time being my priority is to explore what happens when I work with my natural tendencies, rather than trying to reign them in. Hopefully that keeps the writing fresh and relevant, even if it is sporadic.

Whats great about this new take on generalists like me is that it redefines these qualities as a strength, rather than as a lack of direction or consistency. The ability to take on a lot of information on a chosen field, integrate it quickly, and build links to other fields is a useful quality. The key is to understand this skill set, and find a way to make a living that accommodates it. This might mean finding a job that allows sufficient flexibility to encompass a wide range of interests and to move between them in a natural way; taking a part-time job that pays the bills but leaves enough time and energy to pursue one’s own interests outside of the job; or changing jobs with sufficient frequency to avoid boredom and inertia from setting in.

I’d love to hear whether this concept resonates with you. Do you recognise it in yourself or in others around you?