Image via Unsplash — Greg Rakozy

Are You A Multipotentialite? (Confessions From A Man With Obsessive Learning Disorder)

Niklas Göke
Dec 2, 2015 · 8 min read

I’m sorry Mum.

But I have to tell you something.

I have OLD.

Obsessive Learning Disorder.

There’s no cure for it.

If you’re born with it, you’re stuck with OLD for life.

My question today is: Do you have OLD as well?

Maybe we can be friends.

Or start an OLD Anonymous group together. Although my public confession might make this kinda tough.

More importantly though, I want to show you how to find out if you have OLD, and if so, that there’s nothing wrong with you.

But first: a story.

Passion #387 — growing up with OLD

Being a kid with OLD can feel lonely. Incredibly exciting and never boring, but still lonely. Maybe you can relate.

Here are the first 3 answers I can remember, that I gave to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”:

Astronaut, secret agent and race car driver.

I think race car driver was the first one. I always had a big picture of a Ferrari F40 on my wall.

Passion #1 — Cars — via Rev To The Limit

Of course that meant for Christmas I’d often get car models and Hot Wheels. Eventually though, I got a Lego car — and that triggered passion #2.

Because one of the first Lego sets that I got included a space shuttle. I already imagined myself in a space suit, with the big helmet, going to the moon.

Passion #2 — Space

However, the coolest part of building with legos was that there were no limits — if you could imagine it, you could build it.

Which, in turn, triggered what I thought would be my true passion: inventor!

I built the models, took them apart, modified them, combined them, and made them even better.

Until they came up with Lego soccer.

Passion #4 — Ball sports

This set was so cool and close to playing a real soccer game at the time, that it actually made me go outside — and play real soccer.

When I was 7, me and the neighbor’s kids played outside 24/7.

But we didn’t just play soccer.

We played every ball sport you can think of.

Hockey, Soccer, Football, Basketball — we even had a Baseball set and played on someone else’s property, not that we knew the rules or anything.

Until the next thing came around. The original Game Boy.

Don’t get me wrong, we were still outside all the time — but from now on we just sat in the grass, playing with our Game Boys.

If you know where Game Boy stands in the dictionary, then you also know what word comes right after it:

Pokémon!

Passion #6 — Pokémon

Like everywhere, Pokémon was huge in Germany. We played always and everywhere. Even in school. And when we weren’t playing Pokémon, we were watching the show on TV.

Eventually it was forbidden to bring Game Boys to school. But that didn’t matter, because right then, the Pokémon trading card game came out.

Passion #7 — Card Games

There was even a Pokémon league, where you could go every week to play against others and trade cards.

I’m going to stop here, because by now I’m not even 10 years old and you probably already have ADD just from reading this.

Was my childhood exciting? Yes.

I never got bored. There was always something new to learn. To explore. To invent. To adapt to.

However, there’s a downside to Obsessive Learning Disorder:

You never fit in.

Or if you do, it only lasts for a short time.

When I turned 16 I was wondering: “How can these other guys from my class go to soccer practice 3 times a week for 10 years and not get incredibly bored with it?”

I was always switching friends and cliques, which meant I got along well with everyone, but didn’t really belong anywhere.

Round peg. Square hole.

Alright, time to see which category you fall into.

The OLD test — diagnose yourself

The good thing about OLD is that you can easily diagnose yourself, by checking for symptoms. Here are the most common ones:

1When someone asks you what your hobbies are it causes you anxiety, because you have so many of them that you don’t know how you could possibly answer that question.

2You love learning new things. Love love love it. How can you NOT learn new things? You love it so much that you’re not even worried about forgetting old things.

3All it takes to fire you straight into research mode is one well written article, one touching video or one Google search. If you find something new that excites you, you can immediately spend the entire afternoon venturing down the rabbit hole.

4You’re terrible at sticking with things. Whenever you learn something new, you pick up the basics really well and really fast. However, once you get past a certain point, that new thing becomes boring.

5Ideas come naturally to you. You have so many of them, that all you can do is write them down, because you can never find the time to execute them all.

6You don’t have a problem with pivoting. You can turn around 180 degrees from one day to the next, whether that’s in relationships or in business.

Does that sound like you?

If you’re still not sure, here’s the final test:

Has the answer to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” changed more than 5 times throughout your childhood and time in high school?

If the answer is yes, chances are you have OLD as well.

This diagnosis, however, should not make you feel bad. To the contrary. It’s a cause to celebrate!

Welcome to the club. Share the love:

The world of multipotentialites

OLD is not a bad thing.

Feeling a little bit ADD with your passion doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.

What you are, is a multipotentialite.

Note: The term multipotentialite was coined by Emilie Wapnick, and I’ve learned most of what I know about it from her great TED talk.

You just happen to be someone with many passions, purposes and destinies.

Not just one.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s great!

Multipotentialites are highly adaptable, very innovative and rapid learners.

But how do you embrace that?

OLD: A life in circles

2 days ago I watched a great movie: Finding Joe.

It explains the underlying concept of almost any movie, book or story ever told: The Hero’s Journey.

Every journey can be broken down into 3 major parts: separation, initiation and return.

Screenshot from Finding Joe

After receiving a call to start his journey, whether in the form of an actual phone call, a vision from above or a literal knock on the head, every hero has to be separated from his familiar territory.

Neo receives his call in The Matrix (1999)

Having overcome the fear of starting the journey and “taking the red pill”, the hero’s initiation begins, followed by trials and adventures in the forest.

Thanks to courage and many helpers along the way, the hero eventually makes it to the final test: the battle with the dragon.

Harry Potter’s first fight with a dragon — via Tumblr

After having faced his or her fear, the hero finally returns with a treasure, which can be a chest full of gold, a bunch of diamonds, or a whole lot of cash.

Robbing a bank in Now You See Me — via Youtube

In all cases though, the best thing the hero brings home is a story.

Sometimes, that’s also all the hero returns with, ain’t that right Indy?

Yeah, right… — via Ugly Owl Films

The beauty of the hero’s journey is that it’s not a straight line.

It’s a circle.

After the return, the hero can receive another call and start another journey.

The life of a multipotentialite is very similar.

You’ll see over time that even though you seem to be obsessed with learning new things, eventually, you’ll return to topics you’ve studied before.

If you’re trying to force your life to be a straight line, you’ll just make yourself miserable.

Accept that your life comes in circles, and you’ll finally be able to breathe and give yourself a break.

You don’t have to know what your passion is right now.

Even if you’re 35. Or 47. Or 52.

You don’t have that one purpose in life, that one thing you are destined to do.

What you do have is time.

You have hundreds, thousands of circles of learning you can go through.

You can start over at any time. It’s up to you.

But please, accept yourself, so you can finally become the hero of your own journey.

Okay, let me come full circle.

Whatever you do — Don’t. Stop.

It’s not your job to hack the straightest path through the forest of career options you find yourself in.

Right now, your job is to explore the entire forest.

And then the next one.

Whatever you do: Don’t stop learning.

Let your OLD blossom. Go full throttle. All-in on your strengths.

Be innovative. Adapt. Learn rapidly.

And jump boldly from topic to topic.

Eventually you’ll find a common thread.

But in order to find it, you have to keep going.

We need you.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Niklas Göke

Written by

I write for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists. I’m also working on a book to help you live a balanced life: https://emptyyourcup.substack.com

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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