Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Choices exclude: The existential burden of multipotentiality

What I would give to have your talents! It must be nice to be good at so many things!

Gifted children and adults are accustomed to hearing these comments. Many possess multiple and diverse talents and abilities. Math and music. Art and languages. Mechanical skills and writing. Often labeled as possessing multipotentiality, they have their choice of various educational and vocational paths. But is this a blessing or a curse?

Although gifted children delight in their many talents when they are young, they eventually confront the limits that time, money and energy impose. There are only so many activities or extracurriculars they can join (or their parents can afford). When faced with making choices, they learn how to let go, and often mourn what might have been.

While some research claims that multipotentiality is not especially common, many parents of gifted children would beg to differ. They see the decisions their children face - both small (what after school activity to select) and large (which career path to choose). Even when children have one overriding passion that drives their long-term goals, they still may harbor nagging doubts about the talents and skills they left behind.

An existential reality

Making choices can be a burden, and realizing how this limits which fork in the road they may take, is an existential reality the gifted learn at a young age. 

As existentialist and psychiatrist Irvin Yalom wrote:
"...'alternatives exclude' is an important key to understanding why decision is difficult. Decision invariably involves renunciation: for every yes there must be a no, each decision eliminating or killing other options (the root of the word decide means 'slay,' as in homicide or suicide)."
And to many multi-talented gifted children, relinquishing a choice is, in a sense, killing off a dream -  accepting that a particular option or path will never come to fruition. This can result is confusion, guilt, anxiety and grief. While some may find creative solutions that combine what they love, others may not.

Searching for purpose and meaning

Gifted teens develop an acute awareness of existential issues and question the meaning and purpose of their lives. Many question their religious traditions, and view authoritarian teachings with skepticism. Some fall into an existential depression. As James Webb has noted:
"Existential depression arises from idealism, disillusionment, and feelings of alienation, emptiness, and aloneness, and it is more common among gifted individuals. The gifted become depressed particularly because their high intellect allows them to contemplate the cosmos and their very small place within it."

Choosing a path

It would follow that multipotentiality adds to this existential burden. With so many options available, gifted teens and young adults feel pressured to direct their talents toward a purposeful career, yet also question whether it will make any difference.  At the very least, they need the freedom to choose a direction that:
  1. encompasses at least one of their interests, 
  2. fits with their values, and 
  3. will engage their sense of meaning and purpose.
If they can identify a path that includes the three components listed above, they may feel less burdened by nagging doubts about "what might have been." Yes, choices exclude. But encouraging gifted teens to forge their own path will alleviate some of the existential pressure and guilt they already feel.

Values to consider when choosing a path

As gifted teens and young adults plan career goals and weigh their options, encourage them to consider the following:

  • What do they value most in life - and how does it apply to their goals? Is it creative expression? Investigative discovery? Helping the underserved? Advancing scientific knowledge? Finding solutions to difficult problems?

  • Which of their interests and abilities translate into work they would find engaging and meaningful? Some of their talents may not lead to a paying job that is compatible with their goals. An artist, for example, might not want to work for an ad agency or sell paintings in a gallery. Of all possible paths, which one would best provide an engaging, creative and purposeful existence? 

  • How might they spend their day? What, exactly, would they do at work? How will work enlist the intellectual/creative/behavioral capability(s) from which they derive the most meaning? Is creative expression essential? Scientific discovery? Leading a team to develop a new solution? Detailed problem-solving? Helping the underprivileged?

  • What abilities and skills do they long to express? Which skills do they envision using - for example, mathematical, writing, linguistic, scientific, musical, spatial, reasoning, creative design, interpersonal, empathetic, investigative, strategic planning - to accomplish said goals? It may not be the content of what they do, but how they work, who they will interact with, the freedom to express themselves, and how it will serve their goals and what they value most. 

  • Do they have an overriding passion that they must pursue? Some feel compelled to follow a career direction or "calling," and cannot imagine any other choice. Many artists, actors and musicians who choose a financially uncertain path claim that they had no other option. They could not envision a life without their art, despite the potential for hardship. Even for some with multiple talents, the choice can be clear.

  • Can they envision some compromise or means of accommodating their varied interests? While choosing a career and relegating a secondary interest to a hobby is commonly suggested, many with multiple talents devise more creative solutions. These might include sequential career changes, side jobs, or integrating their multiple talents into their chosen career field. For example, creative writing skills can be a plus in almost any career. Artists bring perspective-taking skills to problem-solving in business. Musicians find that their "sense of rhythm and flow" enhances both interactions with colleagues and the strength of their writing. Mathematicians bring precision, clarity and spatial ability to most tasks. 

Rather than a burden, many eventually come to view their multipotentiality as a bonus, and see how it enhances much of what they do. Even seemingly dissimilar strengths, such as math and art, share commonalities that can enliven and enrich their academic interests, career, and personal lives. Once they resolve their confusion and grief over roads not taken, most gifted individuals with multiple abilities appreciate their opportunities and find creative solutions that enlist and combine their talents. 

For other blogs/articles on multipotentiality, see the following:

Multipotentiality: When high ability leads to too many options

When I grow up: Multipotentiality and gifted youth

Are you a multipotentialite?

Multipotentialities and multipotentiality: Embracing your true path of paths

9 ways to explain your multipotentiality to non-multipotentialites

Good at too many things

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Blog Hop on Multipotentiality. To see more blogs, click on the following link:  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_multipotentiality.htm

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Your musically gifted child's road to college

How can you help your child decide about college when music is his passion?

What options are available, realistic, and financially sound?

Parents of musically talented children often panic when faced with college decisions. They question whether to support their child's passion, attempt to steer her off-course, or even firmly refuse to pay for a music education. Landing a self-supporting job in music performance is an unknown, and many parents worry about their adult child's future livelihood.

Information about how to pursue a music career is hard to find. Your child's high school guidance counselor often has little understanding about possible options other than performance or music education. Most information is usually obtained through music teachers or band/choir/orchestra directors, and beyond that, you and your child are left to flounder on your own.

What can a parent do?

1. Try to relax

Not so easy to do, of course.  But your child's entire future does not rest on her college or conservatory decision. College opens up a world of advanced music study, but much happens later in your child's development. You may hear that finding the "best" teacher or most prestigious conservatory is critical. But if circumstances do not work out, your child can change schools, directions, or even careers. Once she starts college or conservatory, she will get a clearer picture of what fits or is not working for her. Give it time.

2.  Get informed

Ask questions wherever you go - from fellow parents at recitals to college admissions officers. Read as much as you can. Scour the internet. Learn the difference between free-standing conservatories, college music departments, and conservatories within universities, along with how a BM and BA degree differ. Be honest with yourself about what you can afford, since financial aid may be limited at choice schools. Some programs provide a good perspective on college and conservatory choices, and books, online forums, and even a series about conservatory auditions can offer helpful tips.

3.  Visit different programs

Compare, evaluate, and pay attention to details. These questions are just a few to consider:

  • If your child plays a popular instrument (such as flute or violin), will he be able to select the teacher he would like, or have to wait several years into his college career? 
  • If she wants to double major in music and science, will orchestra practice conflict with lab schedules? 
  • If he wants to pursue jazz, will the school also expect participation in marching band? 
  • If the program lacks a performance track, are performance opportunities and individual lessons still available?
  • Is it possible to transfer in or out of a particular major?
Also, make sure your child gets to observe a rehearsal or concert, or at least listens to a recording to ensure that she feels satisfied with the caliber of the ensembles. Visit the practice rooms and see if your child can imagine spending hours there.

4.  Be realistic 

Stand back and realistically assess your child's chances for success. You adore your child, of course, but the music world can be cut-throat. If your child is not already top-notch compared to his peers, it is unlikely he will be accepted into a conservatory, or flourish in a demanding university music program. If you can't be objective, ask her teacher or band/choir/orchestra director for a truthful assessment of her chances. And while achievements aren't everything, if your child has not demonstrated some accomplishments (e.g., participation in district, regional or state music festivals, acceptance into a prestigious jazz band or regional choir, assignment to first stand in band or orchestra), he may not be competitive with those who have mastered this level of achievement. Finally, ask yourself and your child if she is willing to practice...a lot. Endurance and discipline is sometimes the breaking point for young musicians.

5. Consider the possibilities

We all know that music performance is not the only option. Your child needs to eventually decide if he must pursue a performance career - and cannot imagine any other choice. Otherwise, options to consider include teaching, composition, music therapy, sound engineering, an academic career in music history and theory, film scoring, music production and management, and a traditional music education program.

Once your child arrives at music school, the excitement begins. Of course, the questions and challenges continue, and your child will need to follow through on practice, performing, and focusing on career directions. Even though there may be rough patches ahead, you can feel some relief that your child has made a decision and is pursuing a meaningful and challenging career path.