During the concurrent session periods, there sometimes were up to 40 different presentations happening at the same time. I consistently wanted to attend at least three - and sometimes up to eight – sessions during any given period. Narrowing down to the one I would eventually attend for each time slot was difficult. Choosing one meant I had to say no to several others. Often, the choice I made came down to otherwise completely trivial actors, like proximity to another contender so I could leave one early to catch a glimpse of another.
The consequences of making the ‘wrong’ choice while developing my conference schedule were not life-changing. Yet this situation reminded me of the choices that many gifted individuals face, especially as they encounter educational and extracurricular options beginning in middle or high school.
Multipotentiality. While gifted individuals - students as well as adults - may have strengths or gifts in many areas, the limited amount of time in a given day, week, year or even lifetime dictates that choices must be made. In her blog Unwrapping the Gifted, Tamara Fisher notes that,
“Gifted children often (though of course not always) have multipotentiality. Their advanced intellectual abilities and their intense curiosity make them prime candidates for excelling in multiple areas. This can be both a blessing and a curse. On the bright side, they have many realistic options for future careers. But on the downside, some of them will struggle mightily trying to decide which choice to make. Particularly in the last couple years of high school and the first couple years of college, this monumentous decision with so many great possible outcomes can be a source of debilitating stress. The choice is "exhausting and stressful," as one of my students said this year.”
So what are we who care for gifted children to do? Lisa Rivero, in her Creative Synthesis blog, mentions several ways parents and other adults can help children deal with the problems associated with multipotentiality. Among her suggestions are encouraging gifted students who excel in more than one area to explore career options that are intrinsically fulfilling, and not just financially rewarding. Also, parents and other adults should allow them to explore a wide variety of interests at an early age. Additionally, we should share examples from our own lives of how we have found new passions, returned to past interests, and made some choices that meant letting go of others.
In my own family, when it came time to face decisions about colleges and areas of study, my husband and I emphasized that each child should ‘just try it on and see how it fits you.’ We let our sons know that once a school or major is chosen and tried, if the fit isn’t right, changing course is okay and takes courage.
And isn’t finding the courage to make our own way one of the best lessons we can learn?