Last year, both Elsa and I wrote about rethinking passion [here and here]. I argued that childhood should be about exploration, rather than passion. I also cited the importance of hard work, setbacks, and struggles in developing passion. Similarly, Elsa spoke of shifting from a “passion” mindset to a “craftman’s” mindset, which she describes as “a relentless focus on activating one’s unique potential by continually pushing to develop one’s skills and acquire new ones” A craftsman mindset involves deliberate practice of valuable skills.
what is purpose?…*
This year, rethinkED…* has been thinking about purpose and how to instill purpose in students. Yet what is purpose? Personally, I argue against the notion of pushing students to define one unified purpose for their lives. Instead, I believe we should cultivate multiple purposes and overall purposefulness in our students. Rather than having just one purpose, do with purpose.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?…*
Especially in today’s society, it seems rather rare to have just one passion. With this in mind, I was enthralled by a recent TED talk by Emilie Wapnick, a career coach who speaks to those without “one true calling.” Recollecting the overwhelming anxiety of the question “what do you want to be when you grow up,” she explains that it is not that students have no interest but rather than they sometimes have too many. She says that,
“while this question inspires kids to dream about what they could be, it does not inspire them to dream about all that they could be”
This question is part of the overall societal pressure we place upon children to pick one thing, to choose which of the things that they love and make a career out of it. She continues,
“The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling, the idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is and devote your life to it.”
However, we leave many, many people out of this narrative. People who do many wonderful things across their lives, who have many things they are curious about and many different things that they want to do. People she calls multipotentialites.
She defines multipotentialites as those with many pursuits, the modern-day “Renaissance” men (and women). Rather than thinking of this flitting from interest to interest as a limitation, Emilie cites three super powers that multipotentialites can possess:
- Idea synthesis- Combining two or more fields and finding something new and exciting at the intersection. Innovation happens at these intersections.
- Rapid learning- Multipotentialites are comfortable at being beginners or “accomplished novices”.
- Adaptability- With many skills, you can morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation.
She states that there are many complex, multidimensional world problems that need solving right now, and the ideal team for such problems is a specialist and a multipotentialite paired together. She concludes by stating
“…embrace your many passions. Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly — multipotentialites, the world needs us.”
ARGUMENT AGAINST THE MULTIPOTENTIALITE..*
Overall, Emilie does not advocate for one path through life but rather believes that we should support individuals who aim for breadth (multipotentialites) as much as we support individuals who aim for depth (specialists). This fits with the idea of exploration alongside passion.
However, one criticism that could be put upon Emilie’s argument is that most students would rather be multipotentialites, flitting from interest to interest, rather than dig in and put hard work into one specific thing. In terms of grit and deliberate practice, it is far easier to shift gears when something gets hard or tedious. In terms of success, research suggests that being gritty and putting in the work is very important.
Purposeful, gritty pursuit of multiple passions…*
Instead, I would argue that the ideal falls somewhere in the middle. We should encourage students to pursue multiple passions, but we should also discourage students from straying from an interest when it simply becomes too challenging. Further, in order to use the “idea synthesis” superpower, students must actively reflect on the themes and ways in which their various interests connect. I am passionate about education research and studio art. I can cultivate these two passions simultaneously. More importantly, I seek inspiration from my artwork in my research. I seek respite from the intellectual rigor of school in the flow state I get when painting. I integrate the two when I design research studies and develop compelling presentations. My overall philosophy on life, truth, and knowledge is inextricably tied to the meaning I’ve distilled from these pursuits.
Your life does not need to be played on a single instrument. Yet only through hard work will you play any one instrument well. And only through learning how to combine the sounds of each together in harmony can you create a symphony…*