Detail of “The Frameworks” by Bernadette Cay. Colored pencil on paper.

How I made peace with having so many interests

After years of thinking something was “wrong” with me, I finally found a model that works

I have a lot of interests, as I describe in my previous post on combinatory play. In college, I was the kid who wanted to major in everything.

As a product manager and product marketing manager, I’m thankful that my career experiences so far have been so interdisciplinary. I’ve also enjoyed making art again after 10 years, completing a yoga teacher training program, writing and pursuing a number of other interests outside of work.

For a some of my peers who have picked something and stuck with it, I’ve seen how far they’ve gone in their careers. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I “stick to something”? Why did I feel like I was the only one who approached life this way?

Recently I read a book called Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. The book describes people called “scanners.” She calls them this “because instead of diving down into the depths of an interest, we scanned the horizon for many interests.”

Expecting such a person to pick one specialty for life as his or her singular “passion” and forfeit all other curiosities is like expecting someone with wanderlust to pick their favorite country and stop traveling.

Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin are popular examples. [1] Related terms include: Renaissance people, polymaths and multipotentialites.
 
There are also several types of scanners. For example, some seek mastery in a subject before moving onto another one, while others are satisfied with a “101”-level understanding.

Picking one interest over all others is usually associated with “growing up.” But what if “growing up” instead meant “How might I come up with an arrangement that’s both intellectually satisfying and able to meet my financial needs?”

Solace

I’ve read all sorts of career advice over the years and oddly this was the first time I encountered anything like this. It’s comforting to know there are more of us out there like this.

I now embrace my curiosity and breadth of skills and interests. I also noticed that the career experiences I’m most proud of are those in which I made connections across different disciplines. [2]

No matter what’s next in my career journey, I hope to incorporate such themes moving forward.

Does this sound like you, or like someone you know or manage? I’ve included some resources below. I would love to hear from your experiences and any helpful resources you’ve encountered along the way!

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” ― Samuel Johnson, Works of Samuel Johnson

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[1] Look up your top role models on Wikipedia — you may be surprised at how many have multiple “careers” listed and/or scanner-like qualities.

[2] On a separate but related note, an interdisciplinary approach is also a key part of the social and technological change. Think of your favorite TED Talks and you may notice the most interesting stuff is at the intersection of multiple disciplines. Also, all of the issues listed as UN Sustainable Development Goals need interdisciplinary collaboration to make progress.

Resources