One of my best friends is infuriatingly good at just about everything. You probably know someone like her: a masterful golfer, a charismatic orator, a wordsmith capable of sending an email that will tug your heartstrings. And she actually knows how to meditate.
When I was younger, I wanted to believe she was just born into these talents, and that was the only reason I didn’t have them too. “Tough luck,” I could comfortably tell myself as I wallowed in my own mediocrity. “I guess I just wasn’t born to be excellent at wine-tasting.” Or gardening. Or leadership. Or any other skill she had that I didn’t.
Her talents went against my ingrained idea that we’re all just meant to be good at one thing, not everything.
As I’ve met more and more of these people, I’ve carefully studied them to see what they had that I didn’t. Was it luck? Was it good genes? The closer I looked, the more it became obvious that it was a simple attitude to embrace her life and chase her own definition of success.
Multipotentiality refers to the theory that there is a way to be good at multiple things, not just one. If you closely examine every single true polymath in your circle, you’ll notice not a single one of them has any of these four habits.
1. You Desperately Cling to Your Strengths.
If you’re afraid to improve, you’ll see this manifest itself as wanting to stick to your strengths. I am good at a few select things. When I’m not good at something, I struggle to stick to it. For example, when I started painting, my first self-portrait looked like a troll. I hated it and decided to quit.
The next day, I picked up my paintbrushes again and had another go.
In our success-driven world, it’s easy to dismiss an interest if it’s not something you’re already good it.
To get away from this mindset, you need to accept that you are obviously not perfect. Not only that, but you need to actively find something you’re terrible at and work at it. If you enjoy it, there’s no harm in doing something badly.
2. You Refuse to Cultivate Unprofitable Passions.
The only reason I haven’t set out to pursue my gardening habit is that there’s no money in it. Despite my love of all things green, I’m held back mostly due to greed.
Nowadays, everyone is encouraged to have a hustle. Every time you spend time on something that doesn’t earn you hard cold cash, there might be a small, niggling voice in your head telling you that you’d be better off writing a book, making an e-course, or investing in bitcoin.
You need to think beyond monetary profitability and into emotional and spiritual profitability.
You won’t ever get rich from working out, but we still recognize it makes you stronger. Apply the same mindset to any passion you find yourself poo-pooing just because it’s not going to earn you money. If you want to stop being afraid of self-improvement, embrace your chance to do things that won’t earn you money.
3. You Shy Away from Unfamiliar Opportunities.
I was once asked to give a speech during high school. I had two tests the next day, three projects due, and swim practice to get to. I deferred in favor of a friend, who excitedly accepted. She gave an amazing speech.
Later, I asked her if she’d done a lot of public speaking before. She admitted this was her first time, but that she’d been looking for a reason to try it out. She knew oration was a useful skill that doesn’t often pop up in casual opportunities to practice.
“Besides,” she added, “we’re at school. What’s the worst that could have happened? That I gave a bad speech? That possibility wasn’t going to stop me.”
That question stuck with me. So often, the worst that can happen is actually not nearly as bad as we think it might be. By wielding that phrase every time a potential opportunity crops up, you can gain skills and experience in so many areas that you might have been afraid to.
4. You Hate Admitting that You Tried Hard.
I can vividly remember in high school, there was this girl who aced every test and insisted she hadn’t studied for it. Besides obviously annoying the crap out of everyone, it seemed like such a stupid lie. Why keep up the pretense?
Meanwhile, another student admitted openly to studying for an hour every night. He wouldn’t ace the tests, but he was always happy with his results.
You want to guess which one is happier and more successful now? Of course, it’s the guy who didn’t hide away the fact that he made an effort to improve.
For some reason, we consider it “uncool” to try hard. It’s much more attractive in our society to pretend we simply stumbled into any kind of success we encounter. But it’s easy for this fiction to become reality.
The much harder and much more rewarding approach is to be open about your struggles and efforts. If you openly embrace new challenges, not worrying about others seeing you struggle, you’ll be more likely to develop new skills.
Modern society encourages people to hone in on just a few things they can be really good at. For specialists, that’s great. For the rest of us? It means we tend to limit ourselves unnecessarily.
If you’ve been hiding behind these habits, it’s likely that you might feel some resistance to improving yourself. Maybe you’re afraid to look bad; maybe you don’t want to struggle in front of others.
Instead of being terrified of self-improvement, lean into it. Actively look for new things to try — especially if you’re bad at them. Ignore the dollar signs and hunt for where your passion leads you. Always be open to new opportunities, particularly if they make you uncomfortable. And finally, never be afraid to show your struggle.
No matter what the case is, don’t let anything hold you back from embracing additional skills, passions and experiences that will give you a richer life.
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