Last Monday on Artist Strong we discussed the first fallacy of being multipassionate: that us multipassionate types are flaky, without follow through. I got all riled up after a friend of mine was told something that suggested her multiple interests were a weakness, not a strength for this woman. It was after my friend was told the following, which is our second fallacy of being multipassionate:
“You are good at everything but an expert at nothing, what is it that you are good at?”
If I am so busy learning archery, cooking, painting, hand-lettering, reading a new book, building an online business and practicing yoga, how can I possibly be an expert at anything? I mean there is no way to be an expert (I mean perfect) at anything if I am always trying new things. You know, those Olympic athletes have to train 8 hours a day to be experts. How can I possibly be as good as them if I’m not dedicated to one interest?
My friend heard these exact words recently from a friend; a well meaning friend who clearly subscribes to these very fallacies I’m discussing. I have a question for you. Actually, two. What is an expert? How many people do you know who you consider experts? Expert means fully knowledgeable in a content area. Merriam Webster says an expert is: “having or showing special skill or knowledge because of what you have been taught or what you have experienced.” I had a cyst on my pituitary in my early 20s. I can tell you, I was damn happy to have a world renowned neurosurgeon in the surgery suite of that hospital instead of a medical student. But I’m pretty sure that neurosurgeon is the only expert I know. Because expertise demands a very narrow focus of our attention and energy. And yet, the above fallacy implies that people who are experts at nothing have something wrong with them; perhaps, these non-experts are “missing out.” I ask you, on what?
Most people in my life display various levels of proficiency. My dad working in human resources for 40 something years makes him an expert in his field; his experience has made him an expert. For most, no excuse me, ALL people, expertise comes with time. For some of those Olympic athletes we speak of, that is their narrow focus of attention and energy. It allows them to put in the time they need to, within the physically possible age range necessary, to achieve great things. And we need people like this in our world. It is awesome that there are people out there with singleminded focus that gets them, and us, places. And yet, what would our world look like without Steve Jobs? Yes, you can argue he was not the nicest nor easiest person to work with, and that he stole ideas from people. Yet, his dabbling interests (which included things like Pixar and Buddhist practice, remind me again what that has to do with all things Apple?) very much contributed to the brand identity and vision of Apple. We generally embrace Steve Jobs as a brilliant man, but tell me again, what exactly was he an expert in? The most important question I have for you is: why is being an expert important?
Our culture expects and anticipates that for every new endeavor we embark upon that we strive to become an expert, that we become the best at it: number one! With this assumption lies another: that we must have an achievement oriented goal for everything we do. As an educator, I cannot begin to emphasize just how toxic this mindset is to growth and development.
We wonder why more and more students today are graduating only to be told by companies that they are not creative. It is, in part, because of this toxic notion that if you aren’t an expert, or striving to be one, then the task is not worth doing. I’m pretty confident a young man I know stopped playing sports because he feels he has to be perfect at it and since he cannot fulfill that achievement, it’s better not to play at all. I wonder, when did he lose his enjoyment of the game? Probably when someone told him it wasn’t about having fun anymore, that it was always about getting better. I don’t know that one person exists in his life that made this happen, I believe its a combination of different people with good intentions who all contributed to this mindset. This young man I speak of is 17. It makes me wonder, just how many teens, or even younger children, stop trying things, or enjoying them because it has to be about achievement? Why would you try anything new, because clearly, the first time you try anything you certainly aren’t an expert. This limiting mindset is nothing like the growth mindset Carol Dweck says is necessary for student success in school, and in life.
Let’s be clear about one thing: I’m multipassionate not to be an expert of many things, or even to be an expert at nothing. I’m multipassionate because I’m curious, because I love learning, and I derive a soul glowing satisfaction from my explorations. Let’s repeat that, my soul GLOWS, and I feel more alive, when I get to play and try out new things. Yes, that means I have a project list that is probably nearing the 100s. And somedays I need a reminder from my husband to slow down, or to switch gears, but when he sees that glow of excitement and the positive energy that comes from taking new classes (thank you B-School!) he gets to really see me, not the shameful or awkward reply I have to fumble for when someone tells me, “I’m an expert at nothing.”
When you see someone judged for having multiple interests and start to assume the above, stop yourself, take a minute, and give that person a chance. Or, even better, stop judging yourself! Multipassionates do have an expertise. It is an expertise in Carol’s growth mindset: having the courage to get right up again when it doesn’t go well the first time around.
The next time someone asks you the question: “You are good at everything but an expert at nothing, what is it that you are good at?” reply with the following quote:
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How has a growth mindset furthered your creative interests? I want to know! Talk about it in the comments below.
Additional resources for those of you interested in a growth mindset or being multipassionate: