I hope I haven't yet reached the limit of how many times I can link to Tamara Fisher's Unwrapping the Gifted blog over at EdWeek, but I really enjoyed her recent post on Multipotentiality.
Blogger's software doesn't recognize that as a real word, but it's a real phenomenon. Just try asking many gifted kids what they want to be when they grow up and you'll get an earful. As Fisher quotes a list from Maggie, a 6th grader: "famous singer, veterinarian, marine biologist, material scientist, archeologist, doctor, nurse, dancer, artist, Navy Seal, charity founder, fashion designer, spy, professional horse rider, dog agility trainer and competitor, firefighter, EMT, animal shelter owner, magician, professional photographer, TV star, cop, INVENTOR, professional instrumental musician, weather woman, chemist, engineer, physical therapist, game designer."
Of course, the problem is that while some of these could certainly happen together in a lifetime (plenty of fashion designers found charities, and some these days moonlight as TV stars as well), being a doctor and an archeologist both require many years of specific training. Since gifted children have a tendency to think about the future, this can introduce plenty of stress, particularly as they hit college and need to start actually specializing. Fisher quotes Jane, a young woman, as saying "It seems almost impossible to pick just "one" [subject] and as a result I am looking into possibly getting multiple degrees so that if I get bored with one career I can move on to another." This is an option, though my husband (who works at a consulting company) can tell plenty of tales of people who've gotten PhDs and medical degrees and MBAs, and finally wind up working with him, which they could have done with any one of those degrees. About a decade earlier. As a net result, they're a decade behind the hierarchy of people who made up their minds. That state of affairs also doesn't sit well with many gifted folks.
There is no good solution to this, though I can tell you mine. One big reason I chose writing as a career is that I get to study many subjects briefly. I have stubbornly resisted specializing (this month I wrote about the anti-lawn movement, people who create jobs, the Ramona books, and a forthcoming piece on Korean green grocers, among other topics). 168 Hours profiles everyone from scientists to novelists, with a mix of economics and sociology thrown in. As a result, I rarely get bored.
But part of growing up is realizing that not all doors will be permanently open. Eventually, you'll need to pick a career (even if you won't stay in it forever). Perhaps one of the best ways we can help gifted children is help them sample different careers that sound appealing, figure out ways that certain careers can combine other interests, and help them figure out ways to have other loves become hobbies. I'm curious what other parents have done or observed with their children.