Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

Afflicted With Too Much Talent


photo courtesy of Glen Noble, Unsplash

photo courtesy of Glen Noble, Unsplash

When you were a teen, did you hear this?

“You’re so lucky. You can do anything you want, when you grow up. You could be a doctor, lawyer, musician, engineer, professor, IT professional, journalist, artist, anthropologist–anything. Aren’t you lucky!”

You didn’t feel lucky.

You felt confused and overwhelmed. Guilty and ungrateful. Paralyzed and like a failure. Did I mention that you didn’t feel lucky?

And what happened to that kid who used to be full of excitement and enthusiasm? Reading voraciously. Sleeping with the encyclopedia. Dancing spontaneously. Curious beyond measure. What happened?

Let me guess.

Maybe it was school. Maybe it was your dysfunctional family and your chainsaw parents. You’re complicated so it was probably more than one thing. But just for today, let’s look at your unending number of interests and abilities. Your passion for learning new things. Your boredom with something once you’ve mastered it. Your multipotentiality.

You are afflicted with multipotentiality. Or, as Emilie Wapnick calls it in her TED talk, you’re a multipotentialite.

Yes, indeed. I’ve known many rainforest-minded folks with this affliction. And you won’t get any sympathy from the masses. Too much talent just doesn’t bring out the compassion. But, for you, it can stop you in your tracks. How do you choose just one thing? How do you make a career out of psychoneuromusicalanthrobiocomedy? Not to mention being a psychoneuromusicalanthrobiocomedic parent.

Your coping strategies? Procrastination. Depression. Anxiety. Hot Fudge Sundaes.

Not so great.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. You don’t have to stick to one job/career.
  2. Multipotentiality is not a sign of weakness or inability to focus or ADHD or slackeritis.
  3. Use your creativity to craft careers that combine many talents and interests. Good resources for guidance are here and here. (and Emilie)
  4. Look for the book Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher.
  5. Don’t feel guilty anymore for your abundance. It’s not your fault.
  6. If you’re a parent, make a list of all of the ways parenting meets your needs for variety, emotional growth, problem solving, deep loving connection and intellectual stimulation.
  7. Make a list of all of the things you’ve done so far in your jobs/careers and family life to prove to yourself that you’ve accomplished a lot even if you feel like you haven’t. Meet with a coach or career counselor who has also slept with her encyclopedia.
  8. Let yourself grieve over the choices that you don’t take because even though you can do a lot, you probably won’t get to everything in one lifetime. Believe in reincarnation.


To my bloggEEs: Are you afflicted with too much talent? What do you do about it? Have you created several career paths along the way? Thank you as always for reading and sharing!


Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in counseling gifted adults and consulting with parents of gifted children. The label "gifted" is often controversial and confusing. I use the metaphor of the rainforest to describe this population. Like the rainforest, these individuals are quite complex, highly sensitive, intense, multi-layered, and misunderstood. They're also curious, idealistic, highly intelligent, creative, perfectionistic, and they love learning. I've been an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I've written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Advanced Development Journal. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016 by GHF Press and is available on Amazon or at your independent bookstore. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019.

97 thoughts on “Afflicted With Too Much Talent

  1. I resent the statement about hot fudge sundaes! Of course they help 😉

    You were the first person to point this out to me. I have felt such peace just accepting that I still haven’t found my ‘one thing’. I’ve found my ‘now thing’. Maybe my ‘now thing’ will lead to my next thing, but I accept that I can’t stay in one role and one skill set over the long term. A few years, sure, probably even a decade – but after that I have to do something else. I’m ok with that now, thank you. Of course, my family doesn’t understand, and I’m sure my employer won’t understand when the time comes, but I’m ok with it now.

    I’ve also found that working in the non-profit sector for a dynamic and severely understaffed program gives me a lot more variety than government work did. I also completely changed fields, but that’s ok too. I went from studying forest ecology, to helping bring up the next generation of STEM professionals. Right now I love that, partially because at different times in the year I have different jobs, I do graphic design and layout, I am an event organizer, I’m a data analyst, I’m a pseudo-public figure (I still am not comfortable with that role, but it comes with the job), I’m the LEGO lady, I’m a writer, I’m a coach for others, and when I’m very lucky I get to do a smidge of programming and play with robots.

    At the average small non-profit (not your well funded large non-profits like red cross who has enough sponsors to run efficiently) an individual does the role of 3.5 people and gets paid for less than 1 (the downside of non-profit work is the paycheck – but I’ve been reluctant to ask for a raise myself – for two reasons; one, it’s really hard to get sponsors that will allow their donation to be used for staff, rent, and basic office needs, and two, every penny that I can use on my own pay could also be used to help the kids that benefit from our program as well. So if you can sacrifice the salary, I feel more multipotentiates could find true happiness in non-profit work, at least for a while!

    I just want to add one other separate thought. In high school, I really wanted someone to tell me what came next. I took aptitude tests that left me more confused and uncertain about my future than ever. I never fell hard for my one thing, although I stubbornly stuck with my initial college degree. I still think about that field often. Maybe someday I’ll try to go back. I still love everything I learned and I feel my choice of wildlife biology gave me a wonderful framework for understanding the interconnectedness of the world; even if I still can’t identify the bird out my window without help. It was really hard for me in the beginning – everyone was so driven to their one thing.

    So until I find the next thing, I’m giving all my passion to the now…. and trying to find time to get back into my hobby of writing and gaming, and game design, and maybe finish some programming projects I’ve been playing with for a couple decades, although like the tablet (I had a good design for 7 years ago), I fear my big house project will have someone else beat me to it. I’ll have to be ok with that too.

    Liked by 8 people

    • Such a wonderful example of what I’m talking about, KtCallista! Your experience will help a lot of readers. I love the “now thing” versus the “one thing.” I always appreciate hearing from you.

      Liked by 3 people

    • This is much like my narrative. Marine biology undergrad, research in wetland systems in national parks, Ecology PhD in marine systems, JD specialty in environmental litigation, all while people kept telling me to try art. BTW, I CAN ID those birds, though, as I kept species identification as a hobby all along. So now I’m part-natural history fanatic for my family, part-programmer and game designer for my son, part-artist to document our extensive travels and to cultivate a love of art and history in my kids. Now homeschool parent diving into the classics while trying to stay one step ahead of a curious and eager new generation.

      So my question is this: I don’t really consider these to be talents, do interests become talents just because you choose to pursue them? Do “deep dives” into ecological or human systems mean you’re talented just because you understand and analyze and maybe publish a few papers about them? I’m curious about that label, talent. I always associate talent with musical, dance, mathematical or even spatial abilities, as in “gee, you’re a talented musician or artist or architect.” I’ve always pursued my interests as much and as far as I can, but I thought everyone did that. Don’t they? If they don’t choose too, then I assume they have fewer interests or less ambition or some sort of personal situation that holds them back, either by choice or by necessity. I don’t consider others “untalented” to my “talented” at anything. In fact, I don’t really think I have any “talents” that aren’t basically interests that I’ve developed into something more. I never leave any interest “half-finished,” I’m always drawn to another interest as I’m finishing the first, but I never thought of that as being multi-talented. Not like real artists or lifelong scientists who retire with tenure or distinguished members of the Supreme Court Bar.

      And I’ve tried the nonprofit route. As a volunteer, I represented kids as their guardian-attorney when appointed by the courts to report on their best interests after a parent was jailed or unable to care properly for them. The emotional toll of these situations was far too great for me. The kids and the things life handed them still haunt me. This was one situation I was not talented enough to handle. Oh I wrote the reports, I interviewed parents in jail, visited kids in foster care, testified about best interests, etc, and even had judges urge me to continue accepting appointments, but I could not manage the overwhelming emotions required to accept mere survival as in the best interests of any child. But talent in the field? I consider that to be something I was not talented enough to keep doing, not like the social workers or volunteers who pulled this kind of thing off so easily every day. No way.

      Is the world really so different than that? Doesn’t everybody try to pursue their interests as far as they can until they find something that fits them? Am I just naive about that? This column has helped me look at others in a new light, in so many ways, so maybe it’s true that not everyone has a wide range of interests they try to cultivate. I’m thinking maybe not everyone buys 4 guides to local mushrooms when they start to notice on local hikes how diverse the fungi can be after a heavy rain. My SIL just asked me this morning, “why 4?”, and I struggled to understand why he couldn’t see how different the guide books were from each other, so varied I felt I needed all 4 to know the unique habits of all the ephemeral species. I think he thought I was someone who either over-accrues material things or just nuts! He wasn’t too accepting of the bumble bee field guides either, come to think of it, or the carefully-researched height-adjustable ergonomic German-engineered computer desk and chair I gave his 5yo son.

      I guess most people aren’t like this, am I right? Is that why so many people are uninterested or bored with the things that interest me? Huh. I’ll have to look out for that and report back later. It’s kinda eye-opening in a way, I thought people just had other interests, or chose different things to pursue in their free time. It’s not a game-changer to think of things this way, but it would explain a lot.

      For now, I still prefer to think of having many interests. For now, to use Paula’s vernacular, let’s just not use the t-word.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I guess I use the t-word because another of my struggles is breaking it down for everyone else. I had several supervisors who reprimanded more than reminded me that “not everyone is as talented at this as you, you have to simplify it for them.” There are lots of reasons I left biology, why it is now one of my hobbies more than my career, not all of them have to do with getting bored with the material, just more excited about other environments and opportunities that simply were not available where I was.

        Whitechalk – I’m sorry you had a rough patch with a very challenging volunteer role. My non-profit works with kids from all backgrounds engaging them in learning more about problem solving and working as a team to overcome challenges sometimes using robotics. Maybe I shouldn’t have made such a blanket, but I’ve had a good time working with food co-ops and the youth robotics programs. At least in the later I’ve had a chance to use many skill sets and fill many roles from the same job. That’s not something I’ve found many other places where you tend to be in charge of doing or ensuring one thing happens.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Oh so many great questions, Whitechalk. I’ll respond to a few. I actually used the word talented in place of gifted. I rarely do this because the definitions are often different, as you say, talent applied to the arts. But there are people who use the word in place of gifted, possibly because “gifted” is so controversial. I hate to admit it but I used it partly because it worked better in the title. Eek. That said, you may be under-estimating your abilities. Your “deep dives” sound like talent/giftedness to me. Not everyone is capable of great depth. Or of such a span of ability. You provide a perfect example. You’re so right. Not everyone would buy 4 guides to mushrooms!

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’m one of those people who had a couple of identifiable “talents” from a young age. Having something to focus your energies on is sometimes good, but sometimes it just makes things harder because you put pressure on yourself to make hay out of those talents, and guilt may ensue if you have not or because your focus has moved on to other interests, especially interests where your talents are not so obvious.

        But I think more important to note is that our biggest talents may lay undiscovered, even by us. I was in my mid-20’s before I realized (accepted?) that I am a creative person. Turns out I am highly creative, and in quite a few unrelated areas. I now consider my creativity to be my strongest, most essential talent. Looking back, I wonder how on earth I ever considered myself non-creative but I guess it takes time for some talents to reveal themselves.

        So perhaps you are selling yourself short by not identifying with the word talent. But whether that is true or not, consider these highly underrated — and all too RARE, but still vitally important — talents: Self-awareness. Honesty. Modesty. Sounds to me like you possess these talents, no?

        And just imagine what the world would be like if those talents were not so rare!

        Liked by 4 people

        • Self-awareness, honesty, modesty–talents, yes! Thanks, Mark.

          Liked by 1 person

        • “I was in my mid-20’s before I realized (accepted?) that I am a creative person.” I’ve experienced something similar, but it took until I was in my 40s for this to happen. It may be that one talent, say intellectual, can overshadow even one’s own ability to perceive that you have others. It may also have something to do with learning. Most everything involving intellect, math excepted, came easily to me. The artistic side, not so much but because I learned so fast in other areas, I took the inability to instantly draw or play an instrument as a sign that these were things I just couldn’t do. I had no idea that if you couldn’t do something immediately, that, well, you could just take some time and learn it. That was a lesson that came late, very late.

          Teaching English overseas has been a good 2nd (or 3rd career) because I am determined not to do all the terrible things that teachers did to me. I try to individualize each lesson. Not all my students thrive with my somewhat intense and nonstandard techniques but I try to be flexible for them.

          I have found out that many of my students don’t know how to read. They can read ‘word, word, word’ but they don’t know how to connect the different ideas and themes that are there and they are unaware of the nuances. This is true of students who are studying English as a second/foreign language and native English speakers. It is a shame that thought is not encouraged, nor are questions. It’s questions that will take you somewhere. I sometimes ask them why they like answers. Answers are endings. What can you do with an answer? They are stupefied.

          I still don’t know what I want to do and I’m 71 but I haven’t stopped trying different things.

          What is most heartbreaking is to meet youngsters who are bored with life – even when they know they don’t know anything about like.

          Liked by 2 people

          • hksounds,

            You are hitting me right in the feels today. My 6-year-old is in a kindergarten classroom and his teachers are actively chainsawing at his forest in the name of compliance. I feel like my hands are tied. I’ve tried to get them to understand how bored he is, while respecting the need for him not to be an active distraction in learning activities of others. I AGREE he can’t be physically harming his peers. But you hit the nail on the head, so much. He is being discouraged to think, explore, and learn – because that’s not the school culture compliance is.

            I don’t know what I can do for him, but trust me it’s a constant fear, need, anxiety, concern in my mind.

            I’m also immensely disappointed because I have repeatedly been lead to believe he will be accommodated and challenged, and I do not see any of it happening.

            Liked by 3 people

            • KtCallsita, so sad to hear yet another story of a gifted child not getting his educational needs met. Argh!!!


            • I feel for you. I can’t say what I did will help, but some things I did do with/for my daughter was: A) I kept her well stimulated and engaged in critical thinking – at every opportunity and I do mean every opportunity. I discussed and explained what was being omitted or distorted and how the subtext is always more important that the overt message of whatever books you are reading, TV shows and movies you are watching.
              B. I never hesitated to tell my daughter when the teacher was giving incorrect or inaccurate information. I took those issues straight to the teacher and/or administration. Even if that didn’t ‘fix’ the problem, it showed her that one mustn’t accept such things passively; that is it important to stand up for what you believe in.
              C) Non-violence and respect for others should be integral to all you do with him so that hurting others would not be an option. Talk to him often about alternatives to violence and why hurting others isn’t a good thing. Practice this yourself with him and others so he can see this modeled.
              D) Find after school programs that will stimulate and excite him. School should not be a main focus. Help him to consider it as a distraction to real life.
              With the kind of schooling that exists, most likely your own actions are vital in helping your child. If he is sufficiently stimulated and engaged outside the classroom, he will not find the time spent inside so important. Encourage him to talk about the students, teachers and subjects from a critical perspective. Together try and figure out why they do what they do and how you and he could things better if you had the chance If you can do this, maybe he will be able to get past this ordeal in a healthy way. Anyway, that’s the hope.

              My daughter did much better in school than I did. They had TAG programs which were laughable but at least made an attempt. She graduated with highest honors from college at age 19. My first honors degree was an MFA, last year at age 70 so there is life after primary school.

              I wish you all the best with your child.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Oh! And take him to concerts, classical music concerts so he can be familiar with the best of what Western civilization has to offer. This is the most involving of the various sorts of music available. Take him to orchestras, operas, ballets and recitals and let him take music lessons if he shows an interest.
              Certainly, take him to other kinds of music as well but be sure to use ear plugs. Do it especially for him to protect his hearing but it is important for you too and if you don’t use them, neither will he.
              Enough! Let me know your thoughts on all of this and thank you for spurring these two diatribes.

              Liked by 1 person

          • “I had no idea that if you couldn’t do something immediately, that, well, you could just take some time and learn it. That was a lesson that came late, very late.” I’ve seen this many times in gifted folks. You get used to learning fast and when you don’t, you drop it or you decide you must not really be gifted.

            “It’s questions that will take you somewhere.” Yes!

            Liked by 2 people

          • I was lucky enough to have a few key people at the right time to give me encouragement that really helped awaken me to my creativity.

            I was very lost at the time, and yet it really only took those two or three people to wake me up and change the course of my life and my concept of self forever. I’m not a big success (yet…?), but just knowing I had that rich resource hidden within probably saved my life so I know now how important encouragement is.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Yes, you were lucky. I may have had some encouragement but I don’t recall finding it meaningful as they had no idea how I was feeling, what I was going through. If I couldn’t accept their opinions on ordinary aspects of the world, how could I possibly trust their encouragement as having a legitimate basis? So I missed out on that.
              I feel I am lucky in the life I am living now but that’s because I can do what I want and I have accepted that I can do that without others. Sounds lonely, and sometimes is, but mostly I enjoy what I do, go to lots of concerts, write my blog and occasionally write stories and poetry. I do some travel plus the kids I teach are very challenging as to how to help them overcome the problems the schools are not addressing. These things help keep me on my toes so I am not totally isolated or disengaged.

              Liked by 1 person

      • You make some excellent points, Whitechalk. I think maybe it would be fair – and I’m open to correction – to suggest that talent, in this case, equates to above average ability. You are right – we are talking about interests as well, however, not everyone is able to generalise their ability across the spectrum so that they are logical enough to be a programmer, are good at picking up languages, can write good prose and poetry, have an ear for music that makes learning to read it difficult because they learn the melodies too fast, have good insight into the way people behave, good intuitive composition for art/photography…(This is making me think of my 17 year old son who is even more talented in many of these areas than I am!)

        Liked by 1 person

    • KtCallista, you make me feel better about my hotchpotch CV. I trained as a nurse, did a diploma in journalism, then cross trained into programming and worked in IT. Added a diploma in Business Management, went back to nursing, scrubbing for Excimer Laser Eye surgery, helped set up a clinic with some ophthalmologists, then back to IT looking after a legacy system, got a certificate in Short Term Insurance (that’s the most way out of the lot) – through all this I was struggling with my terror of distance learning and dropped out of a psychology degree about three times. Added a certificate in Basic Counselling, tackled the Student Development Cert to get the Uni to let me in for another try, got training in Logotherapy to Intermediate level (as far as one can go without being a psychologist) , finally completed a year of uni distance study getting distinctions for psychology and English, then got retrenched taking a dramatic salary drop as I returned to nursing – this time working in Bone Marrow Transplant Unit (very different from my previous nursing). It’s taken moving to Australia and another decade (as an Anaesthetics Nurse and Clinical Nurse Specialist in charge of Laser Safety now) to finally find a point where my major interests coincide – but I can’t afford to study, so I’ll have to write a book to prove my worth 😛 I have always felt as if I’m trying to do at least two careers at once…

      Liked by 3 people

  2. This is me. First I was a biochem major in college, then psychology, then education. After graduating, I worked as a secretary until I got a job as a teacher. Then I went back to school for a master’s degree in education. Then I taught for a while. Next I studied computer science and got a second master’s degree. I worked in computer science for a while. Then I decided to study biochemistry. I almost got a Ph.D. in biochemistry, but by then I had two children and they needed better educational alternatives. So I helped start a school for gifted kids. This derailed my Ph.D., but I decided I wasn’t competitive enough for academia, so I went back into teaching. Back and forth; back and forth. I generally returned to teaching – teachers can be interested in everything – especially elementary school teachers. But now I was too expensive to be hired as a teacher. Two master’s degrees and 199 hours toward a Ph.D. Nobody wants a teacher with too much education and not enough focus.

    I try to tell myself I have done a lot, but, in the end, I feel unworthy. I have been a substitute teacher now for many years, trying to get back into a field that doesn’t want me. And now, I am too old and too tired.

    So, what am I doing now? Writing music. I am not very good at it, but I am enjoying it. I am on my second musical and have many songs to my credit. Very few people will ever hear them, but they really aren’t that bad. I just have no interest in the publicizing part of music.

    In a way, I wish I had had more focus. I don’t exactly regret all of my multiple interests, but I wish I could consider myself to be REALLY GOOD at something, instead of always an amateur.

    Liked by 4 people

    • It’s very possible that you’ve been REALLY GOOD at all of your multiple interests. For some reason, we feel that we can only get really good at something if we focus on it for a lifetime. But I don’t think that’s true for everyone. (especially rainforest minds) If there was a way to objectively evaluate your accomplishments, you might find that you’ve done quite a bit, very well. Thank you for sharing your journey!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Dammit, Paula, I’m fifty and I sit here with your posts making me cry because you are describing me. I guess it’s a while since I felt understood. Mensa is currently failing me in this regard.

    To all the other folk – especially the younger ones who read this, hang in there. (Happy New Year, btw) Last year, 2015, the year I turned fifty, a number of things happened, but most importantly, I was finally able to define my One Thing. My “many things” looked like this: I’m a Clinical Nurse Specialist. I wanted to…be a psychologist, writer, environmentalist, political activist, nurse educator/major mover in the whole “going green” in the hospital environment, writer of nursing short course stuff, guru in the realm of weight loss (except my weight has crept up through the year – but you know…), oh yes..better at playing recorder and guitar, singer, songwriter, better poet, spoken poet, better photographer/artist, spend more time honing my sword skills (I did get my sho dan)…

    Paralysis is my home territory. I waste time because I’m paralysed by deciding what to do..Oh! I forgot to mention I had wanted to finish my bardic druid grade,and there’s a million coursera courses I’d love to do, but I’d rather do something that will give me a qualification…

    Well – I found my one thing. I explored, I wrote journals, I began last year with a vision board, I listened to my heart and sorted through everything again and again. My one thing is our relationship with our beloved planet – it’s eco-psychology – how we can shift back into seeing ourselves as somewhere in a circle rather than the top of a pyramid. it’s about instilling hope and will to act in the midst of global crisis that is horribly overwhelming.

    The very important things to note, is that my One Thing has been dependent on external factors – the point we’ve reached with Global Climate change. It wasn’t me – I needed the right circumstances to find it, and everything up ’til now has been learning, learning, learning. So, trust the process, too.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Oh my. This is me. It took me years (and an interest in brain development and ‘giftedness’ precipitated by the birth of my daughter) to figure it out. I am an original Jack of all trades. I am currently enjoying a career as a business consultant – never in one place too long and always a fresh set of problems to get absorbed with.
    I also took up knitting last week. The novel is still on hold though – it’ll never be good enough for me to allow anyone to read 😦

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I am definitely one of these. Babara Sher’s book revolutionized my self concept around this. I did well in HS because I loved learning and had great teachers, and it wasn’t until recently (I’m 46) that I realized that people around me assumed I understood how the world works because I understood so much. But I really needed guidance from someone like me because in terms of life and the need to build financially I was utterly clueless. In college I handled it by starting out a double physics and art major then switching to a double cell biology a dance major. With the double major and some creativity I graduated with way more units than I was allowed. While there I had the misfortune to know many people who died young (all from different tragic circumstances), and so the message that life is short mixed with the proclivity and ability to try everything. Among other things I had a dance company, drove a concrete mixer, learned organic farming, was a birth doula, etc etc. Now I am an elementary school teacher (and I agree this has been a good choice because it encompasses so much and is basically an impossible job) and single mother. I really value my roundedness, flexibility, and inquiry mindset, but am very stressed by my financial reality now that I do understand that although life can be short, it can also be long! I wish that our financial system had a better way to hold equity for the people who do part time work, flexible work, nurturing work, change careers, etc. If it did, my winding path would not distress me at all.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Great post! Thank you, Paula! Many of us are in the same boat (even though a good number of us choose to hide it, for fear of feeling like an imposter).

    I always loved Emilie’s video since the first time I watched it.

    I know I – now more than a couple years past age 50 – still can’t answer anywhere near adequately the basic kindergarten question of, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I’m really interested to see how many people in the comments ended up teaching at some point! I am very similar to the other people here, except that having a sequence of interests hasn’t really bothered me. I consider myself “project based”, or perhaps “portfolio based”. After starting off in primary school teaching I’ve written more than 50 books about teaching and now maths, started and continue to run a publishing company, run professional development, created videos and online learning modules, created card games, used statistics to analyse data, written academic papers and governmental reports, and am now trying to change educational policy… Lots of fun with a ridiculous amount of hard work. Oh yes, and I’ve been an at-home Mum as well. At the moment I’m on a mission to improve maths teaching for every student in Australia… I’m 36 and still naïve enough to believe that it’s possible. I never have long-term goals because I can’t imagine planning past the next year. This year I have 13 books to write, a webinar series to give, and I will be traveling for 15-20 weeks as a consultant in between running three different government projects and my next academic paper. Slightly nuts I realise. One thing that I have found very helpful is reading “Getting things done” by David Allen. It helps me keep track of things.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks for sharing the book title, Tierney. Please don’t stop believing in possibilities! (It sounds like you don’t really have a problem getting things done! But, I see, keeping track could be a challenge.) 🙂


  8. Not until many years later did I realize that my “picture-perfect” family and “privileged” education actually chain-sawed many of my potentials. Despite getting all A’s, they convinced my vulnerable teenaged self that I wasn’t good at math and science, and mustn’t take more than the minimum required courses in high school. Insisted (by threat of removing financial support) that I go directly into university, without the gap I desperately needed. And convinced me I was “too good” for the entry-level jobs that might have taken me in directions I was interested in, that didn’t suit their preferences. And so I’ve wandered along through my life, not quite aimlessly but close enough.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Its hard to find someone that understands you could be good at anything you set your mind to.
    Except you can’t actually pick one thing, and then you fret over how you’ll just fail anyways.
    Last ten years I haven’t been able to figure out what direction to go.
    I won’t even say how many degrees I’ve gotten.
    Becoming a mom has helped me rediscover myself, but it’s also just made me even more lost.

    I created all my degrees, I don’t understand why I can’t do the same thing in the workplace.

    Oh And I prefer choclate bars instead of sundaes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chocolate bars work, too. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Natalie. It certainly can be hard managing all of this while being a mother. But, yes, there can also be the blessing of rediscovery.


  10. The plus side of a high curiosity, chaotic, self directed education is resilience. I’m Felix the Cat with a bag of tricks assembled from everything I have done.

    I grew up in a factory town with a factory school system geared to producing factory workers. They weren’t looking for gifted students. Years after school, I took the IQ tests offered by Mensa out of curiosity to finally know my IQ. Unexpectedly, I qualified for Mensa.

    There is an exercise called walk back the cat; Trace the path that gets you here.

    I remember the Iowa tests in junior high. All three years my composite score was 99th percentile with the best year having 99th percentile scores on most categories and one 98th percentile score. I think that’s the one that got me called to the principal’s office. It is never a good thing to be called to the principal’s office.

    There were three boys and two visiting counselors from the high school at this little meeting. (Protip: It is never a Good Thing to be in a meeting with all boys.) The counselors had a question for me: “What’s wrong with you?” I am paraphrasing only slightly. They didn’t think my grades were aligned with my test scores. My own opinion was that I was there to learn and the test scores showed I was learning. It took me years to accept that school was for indoctrination, not learning. One of the other boys had decent grades but, poor test scores. Their question for him was, “What’s wrong with you?” Go figure.

    I never saw those counselors again, even when I got to high school. There was no follow up. No one at the junior high ever mentioned this again. This was fifteen minutes of seagull management.

    Sidebar: My mother showed that test to my Godmother who saw that single 98th percentile score and said, “Oh, look. You went down here.” Well, yes. That’s English which is not my strong subject. Godmother gets a pass. She is the one who gave me a chemistry set for Christmas in an age when they had real chemicals. That was a lifetime best present.

    High school freshmen were all given an IQ test and told there were gifted programs for those above 130 IQ. I never heard back about my score so, I made a mental note that my IQ is less than 130. The school never shared the actual score with any student. This meant the school had information about students that they could use (or not use) without ever being accountable.

    I asked about the National Merit Scholarship program. We had a practice session that seemed neat. I loved the math part. I was told by my counselor, “Do that next year.” Next year I asked again and was told, “You should have done that last year.”

    Ultimately, I had an ordinary path through a school system that was at best indifferent. A certain amount of neglect of kids fosters independence and self reliance, right?

    I independently found my way through college, taking the long way.

    I have had several careers in engineering with some of the best, biggest, complex, and expensive toys I could want. Life is good.

    Often delayed but, never thwarted.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I do see how it all seems to work out, but I wonder how much better it could be with more effective intervention earlier in a child’s life. Your story certainly suggests that more awareness from others could’ve changed your trajectory at an early age. Would it have been for the better? I guess we can never really say. But the simple identification of missed opportunities suggests there must be a better way. Not something extreme like in the book/movie Gattica, where talents are identified early and trajectories are mandated with no way to “jump off” your designated track, but something more responsive to the facts as they become known to adults. Like IQ, like curiosity, like grades being inconsistent with ability, one way or the other. These are clues, and as such, our systems ignore or mishandle them like no other. If we mined curiosity and interest like we mine rare minerals, we would be a far more productive and fair society. Perhaps in no other singular way do adults fail children in such monumental ways.

    BTW, just as Paula has written, we often identify these “missed opportunities” most lucidly when we witness the unresponsiveness of the system towards what we value most, our own children. It’s no coincidnce that life gives us this “best example” of what “could be” as we try to maximize the possibilities for that one child — ours — just as we would hope the “system” would do for all children.

    My similar experience with school lead me to realize early on how much power rests with people who have no interest or time or tools to manage (effectively) the intellectual lives of children. That has always seemed unfair and wasteful to me, I’ve always resented the inequity in any system that puts such great responsibility in the hands of someone unqualified or unable or unwilling to act at a level commensurate with the power they have to change lives, presumably for the better.

    Homeschooling has become an under-rated model of what “could be” in a parent-directed system that inherently maximizes the fit of a child’s curiosity and abilities with his/her educational opportunities. So many possibilities, so little time to make a real difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you Paula. Every time I read one of your posts it is like an aha moment. I became a lawyer cos I could but harboured a deep desire to regain my creativity. I left the law three times – once to work in publishing, once to work at a secondary school as the registrar and finally after 17 years and a nervous breakdown to go back to study and become an early childhood teacher. I now teach music and movement to preschoolers and the elderly with dementia. The final straw came upon discovering my son was gifted at age 3. I cried non stop for a year – out of fear mostly that he would end up like his mum – but then I pulled my finger out and started advocating for him and in the process came to understand myself. Now to accept myself – the goal for 2016!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Great points. So many choices – so difficult for those faced with these choices. Thanks for another great article.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post Paula! Thank-you for the link to the Ted Talk. A lovely perspective on the multipotentialite. Who knew about the superpowers!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It’s been amazing reading all the responses to your post, Paula. What a mind-boggling array of talents and experiences! Such interesting readers of this blog. As a result of childhood abuse (well… it continued until the end of 2014 when I was 33 years old), multipotentiality has never been an issue I’ve found myself contending with. Survival has been more my bag. I’m letting myself off the ‘achievement’ hook and trying to focus on healing and doing things for enjoyment (not concerned with results). I experience ‘The Scream’ moments whereby it dawns upon me that I’ll die before reading all the books I wish to read, and having learned all the things I am interested in learning – but they soon pass. My daughter has multipotentiality, but she seems fairly relaxed about it – at this stage she believes she’ll just ‘do it all’. Maybe she will hop all over the place during her lifetime. Younger generations are said to be moving away from rigid career paths. I can see how the freedom to do-it-all might potentially lead to burn-out for very driven people though.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, Ro, it’s quite a wonderful group of folks, including you! (and all of those readers who aren’t commenters) The comments add immeasurably to the content. And, not all rainforest-y darlings are multipotentialites. And, if you were focused on survival, well, that would likely take the bulk of your energies. I’m so glad that you’re here.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. More than any other topic this one resonates heavily with me. Over the past five days I have written and deleted over a half-dozen comments in an attempt to accurately portray how I feel about this but I finally gave up. I’ll just say that everything Paula wrote is pretty accurate.

    For better or worse, talent separates you from the herd. Having multi-talents separates you further because you are both confused and confusing to the vast majority who are specialists and believe specialization is the only way to be a successful contributor to society.

    I wish I had something to say to the “multipotentialites” out there that would make their lives (and mine) easier. The only thing I can think of is this: in an increasingly specialist world, multi-talented people may be some of the few people preventing everything from completely disintegrating.

    How? We are (to use Barbara Sher’s term) constantly “scanning” our environment for the new and novel, even if it is not in our immediate area of experience or expertise. Sometimes that scanning leads us to connect things together that others do not.

    Take the old parable “the blind men and the elephant” ( Unlike the blind men who may represent specialists, a multipotentialite may have diverse enough experiences that they may be able to identify an elephant from its various parts when others may not.

    In an age where most peoples’ attention is focused on a select few things simply to make a living, having the ability to connect seemingly unconnected things, events, people, and ideas may give us the ability to be immune to the shell game that “TPTB” are trying to dazzle and confuse everyone else with.

    Then again what the hell do I know?

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Man, this really hit home for me. I remember when I graduated from college and struggled to find a job, my dad actually said to me: “Why don’t you become a doctor or a laywer? Just go read a book about it.”

    It was hurtful then, funny now, the absurdity of it, but also so telling for how other people looked at my kind of smartness: Got a problem? Read a book!

    (I grew up “smart”, not finding out about my giftedness until adulthood, though I was in all sorts of enrichment and GT programming. Go figure!)

    Now I’m in grad school for teaching, and trying to future out what to do next. There are no clear paths. I love teaching, but also educational neuroscience, research, libraries, writing, languages, and China. If I had my way, I’d be a neuroscientist kindergarten-teaching librarian novelist with high level expertise in Chinese affairs.

    As it is though, I can’t find anyone who has successfully combined classroom teaching and neuroscience. So there’s the constant search for models, and perhaps the concomitant terror of how to be the first one to blaze a new way if no one’s done it before.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We’ll cheer you on as you blaze a new trail. OK? (Imagine how much you could nourish and study the sensitive brains of 5 year olds and then write about it, in Chinese, of course!)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I taught English in Beijing for 2 years. Perhaps you could teach in a university or “international school” there. You could teach science classes in English (they are needed!!), and while you’re there, use your free time to study languages, Chinese culture & history (especially in Beijing) and get to know local people and what life is really like there. Your teaching could include research, libraries, writing. The Chinese language is fascinating! Being there was a feast for my brain… I could tune in to listening to Chinese conversations on the bus, reading signs, etc… every minute there was something for my brain to decipher. Yet if I wanted to I could shut it all out like it was gibberish and just be in my own mind. There are lots of English speaking people if you need a break, though I preferred to immerse myself in everything Chinese. It was the best time of my life and I miss it terribly. An invaluable experience. You will only make enough money teaching there to live THERE, it will not be like an american salary, so you’ll have to be willing to shop in their markets, eat in their restaurants, live in chinese apartments, etc; not live like “a white person”, lol, but that makes it all the better. Put aside money for a plane ticket home, and realize you won’t be bringing home a huge sum; but the experience is worth SO MUCH MORE than money and after reading your post I feel like it’s the only, natural, perfect, next step and I want to be at your graduation to drag you to a plane with your cap & gown still on! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am 28 years old and just starting my second (of several I am sure) career path. I sometimes feel behind because of this, looking at people my age who have been in this career for much longer, already with a leg up, but I have experiences they do not. I also have many interests and past odd jobs and random knowledge bits that give me a unique approach. I have to remind myself of this more often than I like. But I am interested in a multidisciplinary field (cognitive science) so if all else fails, I have that to fall back on. 😉 Or writing. You can get away with a lot of “research” in the name of writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good to remind yourself that you’re not “behind” because you change careers, Stephanie. It’s totally appropriate for a multipotentialite to go on multiple paths and have a larger view/ knowledge and experience base than someone who sticks with one career.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I feel like I could have written this (other than the China bit, I’m more of a Russian/Spanish girl). I also recently got my Masters/certification for teaching, and when I was looking into programs I was speaking with an advisor at one school while considering that I might get my master’s and certification with the ultimate goal of getting an interdisciplinary doctorate in cognitive sciences emphasizing how the brain learns or something on the linguistic side (English teacher). I still feel like this is reasonable, though I’m not sure it is still a goal I have, but the advisor shut me down. No, that is not how higher ed works, but my response is still: well, why not? He said bachelor degrees are broad, and the higher you go the more you specialize, but I think so many things are so interconnected that specializing should be an option, but not the only way. Good luck on your trailblazing, maybe we will come across each other out there!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve found others have a similar problem with higher education. It’s so frustrating that university folks aren’t more open to interdisciplinary learning. One idea is to interview individual professors until you find one who also has a rainforest mind and who can support your vast complex multi-dimensional abilities!

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Paula,
    Thank you for your blog. Just yesterday I heard the term multipotentialite for the first time as I came across Emilie’s Ted Talk. Within a few hours of browsing this topic I ordered the book “Refuse to Choose” and now I’ve come upon your site. I am starting a new chapter of my life, and I’m figuring out how to combine many of my interests into a way to make a living. I had a number of chainsaw people in my life when I was young, and even though I wanted to be an astronaut, a scientist, an actress, an artist, and a number of other things, all my father expected of me was to be a cashier or receptionist and either work my way up in a company or get married and not work. My high school guidance counselor asked me ONCE if I wanted to go to college and I said no. She never asked again, or asked why, even though she yelled at me about not living up to my potential and showing me test scores with percentiles in the 90’s and a high IQ. If she’d probed even once, she may have found out that my reason for not wanting to go to college was purely because I thought we couldn’t afford it; no one in my blue collar family had gone or ever talked about it. College wasn’t for people like us. After raising a son who is now out of the house l I am now at a place where I HAVE to start over. I am at a new ground zero… climbed many mountains but now in a valley again deciding which mountain to climb… or that’s how I saw it up until an hour ago… I need a new analogy because I need/want to climb several at once…. perhaps the rainforest idea can work… I can be like a monkey swinging from tree to tree, interest to interest, bringing vines to tie them together to form a new roof, a new shelter for myself, a new place to call home, and I’ll decorate it with colorful things I find on the rainforest floor, lol 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Another fantastic post. I have been lucky to build my own business, and while the vein of what I do has remained the same over the last eight years, I’ve been able to change and shift within that discipline to always provide myself something new to focus on. Mastering something makes it boring, and this is something that always has a way to better myself. Plus having my own business means I can bake cookies or cakes, or create crafty things, and raise my kids and take lots of trips and see a million new things. I still have a list of things I haven’t accomplished yet.. but I’m working on it.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Pingback: If I Can Do It, So Can You — Finding Your Purpose(s) | Your Rainforest Mind

  21. Hi Paula,
    Many thanks for having this blog.What a great post.It is a real remedy for me.
    I am 38, married and I have a lovely daughter. I live in İstanbul, Turkey.I have a gifted husband, a multipotentialite who is 45 and I have a gifted daughter who is 4 years old.She can already read and write while her peers are just getting to know the letters. I started reading and searching about giftedness to understand and help my daughter.Unfortunately there are not enough studies done on this subject in Turkey.So I always read English resourses.So when ı found you, I was relieved.
    As a wife and parent, I really need to study hard so I can understand and help the ones I love most.You will be my guide on this journey:)

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I wonder if this was something others have thought about:

    The problem with ‘potential’ is that we’re told over and over (mostly as children) that we have “so much” of it. Potential becomes ‘the’ thing that wins us praise. It forms a big part of our identity and self-worth. A question: What happens when you “meet your potential”? Or finally achieve that ‘thing’? Well, potential disappears. You no longer have potential. In a child’s or teenager’s mind, this is pretty much an identity CRISIS. And of course, we all know that children become adults who play out those childhood decisions in their adult lives.

    Sounds like subconscious thinking, but I have an inkling that this plays out in many peoples’ lives.

    So, we flit from one venture, task, field, talent… to the next just enough to get our toes wet and establish that we have potential in those things because it subconsciously gratifies our identity. God forbid we actually follow through and have no more potential.

    Just a thought.

    Oh, and the cynic in me begs to point out that other concepts such as ‘hope’ apply here too. Scary.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is fascinating, Anonymous. I haven’t thought about it this way before. It could require a post on the topic! It makes a lot of sense. I do think that the flitting is because there are so many interests and you want to try as many as possible and that many RFMs go into depth even as they flit but this might also be a factor that I haven’t considered. Do you want to elaborate?


      • Sure. RFMs would certainly want to and do go very in-depth. I assume this is because there’s never and ending to anything. There’s always another question to be asked no matter the answer. As long as it’s never enough, there’s never an end and it’s never truly complete. I suppose in some way the reluctance to call anything “finished” is a reluctance to lose the potential I was speaking of. I do feel like I’m grasping at straws with this though.

        To elaborate on my original thoughts, perhaps I should ask how many people you know who in their last hours of life explained how thankful they were that they had/have so much potential? None, maybe? So why do we praise children for their potential? Potential is completely abstract and the converse of achievement. Potential is the lack of achievement. Achievement is the lack of potential. The world didn’t get anywhere on potential. It moves forward on action. Well, we can’t have action/achievement without potential, I hear you say. This is true. The two only ‘exist’ because of each other, but in all honesty I’d rather look back on the things I HAVE done.

        I wonder how many people here start a project or learning a new skill etc. and get to a point where it loses its novelty. They move on because it became easy; they could see exactly how it could be done from that point so never finished. That’s a person reveling in potential and unfortunately leaving the world a little aggrieved. AND I bet it leaves themselves feeling a bit disappointed too. (I realise this is multilayered and also involves feeling under-stimulated etc.)

        Just to touch on my comment about ‘hope’: I’ve observed people who (with the best of intentions) cling to hope; hoping that [insert occurrence] will happen. The problem I see is that when their focus is about hoping, they never allow for the actual occurrence to happen. Hope becomes the focus; the goal – and that’s all they ever end up with; the converse of the event – which is ‘nothing’.

        Please excuse my hyper-logic here. I understand that these topics are multifaceted and some may not entirely agree with me. I just feel that we have to be super awake to our minds and the way we manifest things. I’ve been reading your blog and the comments for some time now and it’s clear to me that the people who frequent here should, more than most, be cognisant of what e thinking and thus doing. This is my very humble opinion and I’m always open to a counter argument or correction. I hope I’ve made at least a shred of sense. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m sorry this was a bit of a deviation from the actual post.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, it’s multifaceted but still interesting to hear your thoughts, even though it might be frustrating to not be able to go into greater depth or to have a direct exchange. This could be why more people don’t comment here. It might be hard to get your exact meaning across, particularly when it’s all so complex. Do we tell children they have potential because we’re pressuring them to achieve? You raise many good questions. I might also write about why RFMs don’t finish projects…multiple reasons? Once you learn it, it’s no longer interesting? Fear of failure? …?? Thank you for continuing the conversation.


  23. I know you your questions were more rhetoric and open-ended, but I feel to say one more thing.
    Instead of telling kids they have potential or telling them they can do it, when faced with a task, we should ask them to find out if they can do it. You know, “See, if you can do it.” Maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Pingback: Multipotentiality: Are You Overwhelmed By Your Too Muchness? | Your Rainforest Mind

  25. Because this is a pretty old post I don’t really expect a reply but this is just what I’ve needed lately. I am a high achiever in school, an (supposedly talented but I can’t be the judge of that) artist, and a violinist. I love space and graphic design and fashion.

    I know I could do anything I wanted and it scares me. My biggest thing is that no matter what I choose (including if I choose multiple), the years of practice I’ve dedicated to everything else would feel wasted…

    Liked by 1 person

    • One thought is that you don’t have to stay on the same path your whole life. You can change careers. More than once. And you might imagine that the years of practice have served you in many ways (ie. neurologically, emotionally, intellectually…) even if you don’t continue with the particular art form. Thank you for sharing. (even if the post is old, I continue to receive the comments!)


  26. Pingback: Giftedness, Multipotentiality, and Your Fear of Losing Interest (FOLI) | Your Rainforest Mind

  27. Dear Paula,

    I hope you are safe and healthy.

    I just wanted to thank you for everything you do. Your blog is uniquely helpful, even for the most skeptical people like me.

    Sending you digital hugs 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Pingback: A Gifted Multipotentialite* in Chile | Your Rainforest Mind

  29. Pingback: The Loneliness Of The Highly Gifted | Your Rainforest Mind

  30. Pingback: Why Do You Need To Know You Have A Rainforest Mind? | Your Rainforest Mind

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.