Having multiple passions is wonderful—you never get bored, and the world looks full of options. What could you do with your career? Who could you be? So many possible answers to that question. It's exciting!
It's also challenging. Us multi-passionate folks can get easily fed up with something and quit, just as we were on the verge of finally “succeeding”. Our friends, family, coworkers and bosses see us as the flaky one who always finds new obsessions, and never commits. Multi-passionate folks aren't held in high regard by anyone but ourselves, it appears.
In this post, I'm sharing tips for overcoming challenges that multi-passionate people experience, based on my own 13+ years of work experience as a creative professional.
1. Own your unique blend of interests
You are who you are. Forcing yourself to become less than what you are is of no use—your passions will rise to the surface despite trying to suppress them, one way or another.
I was one of those people who tried to fit myself into a career that didn't align with my true passions, got depressed and found my way back to the arts. I've talked to many, many people who have experienced the same thing. Some were well in their 50s, 60s and beyond when they realized they don't want to be limited to their expected social role anymore, and expanded into areas that interested them. Some have only done it after they retired from their old jobs, their children grew up and they were finally free to do whatever they wanted.
You don't have to wait until you're retired to enjoy your life and career. There is no golden medal for enduring sucky jobs, and nowadays there are so many possibilities for creatives to find a career that fits them perfectly.
Your unique blend of interests is your opportunity to differentiate.
When have a day job and are constantly surrounded by other folks who have a day job, your creative skills and ambitions may seem rather unique. But once you start your business, you slowly become aware of so many other freelancers and entrepreneurs who do the same thing.
With so much competition surrounding you, how can you convince your clients and customers that your work is the best? How do you stand by your price when others are undercharging?
Identifying your “special sauce” can help you communicate the true value of your work. Your complementary interests can give you an edge. You can:
- Connect with a specific niche of clients who share your interests.
- Create innovative products and services that use your multiple interests.
- Become known as “the bug loving artist”, “the hip-hop marketer”, “the astronomy geek designer”, both within your field and outside of it.
I wrote in more detail how you can leverage multiple interests to create a unique business in my post: What is a unique value proposition & how to create one.
2. Follow the flow
If you get a wave of inspiration, ride it. When you’re in the flow, you get more done in less time.
This goes against productivity advice that emphasizes planning in advance, and is probably one of the trickiest challenges to get around. I'm not against planning, but I've found that most plans never work out exactly as I imagine them simply because I don't have enough information to make an accurate assessment of how long things will take, and what results each action will give me.
My experience has taught me that it's better to have an intention that will help you navigate in the right direction and a general outline of potential next steps, and remain open for any twists and turns that come in the moment. It's far less stressful when you go into a plan knowing that things will change, and that it doesn't mean your plan has “failed”. As long as you're happy with where you've ended up, even if it's not exactly the place where you planned to be, it counts as a success.
If you wake up one morning crazy inspired to do something other than what was formerly on your to-do list, you have several options:
Do it with no regrets
If you can do it in less than a day and come back to your plan tomorrow, you can still meet your goal and a small detour won't harm. This little jump outside of your routine can refill your creative well, and make you more energetic to complete your other goals.
Connect it to your bigger goal
Perhaps the plan for your big goal required that you write all the time, but now you're itching to paint or create music. You may feel guilty because you should be writing, but what if your project could benefit from other media? What if you could illustrate your writing with your art, or create a soundtrack for your writing, or record audio of your text with this music in the background? Maybe your passions are not at odds, maybe they are here for a reason: to enrich your project and make it even better than you originally envisioned it.
Redirect this energy into something else
Maybe you're on a tight deadline, and you really, really don't want to neglect your to-do list. I've been there, and I know how hard it is to be so distracted. Muse always knocks at the most awkward of moments, right?
Not all is lost. Take 30, or 20 or even just 10 minutes to indulge the siren's call, and then switch to your Big Important Task. You'll get your creative juices flowing, and still have time to do everything on your list. You can promise yourself to continue with your new thing after you've done everything you've planned to do for today, so you'll be more motivated to get focused and complete your work faster.
3. One project at a time
In between client work, household chores, education, and your creative passions, it’s hard enough to find time for one self-initiated project, let alone several.
If you try to do too much at once, it all slows down:
- All your projects are a constant work-in-progress and no one else ever sees them.
- You’re not able to fuel your new projects with the momentum of your previous successful projects.
- Your attention and time is scattered.
- You get demotivated because it seems like you’re not getting any closer to the finish line.
Doing one thing at a time is the fastest thing to get things shipped out the door sooner, and reap the rewards.
There are some situations when one project is related to and contributes to another project (see point 2). Taking a short break from the overall bigger project in order to complete the smaller project, and then go back to the big project, is fine.
It’s also good to take a break from a big project so you can complete one or several smaller projects that will bring you desired results sooner—but there’s a big difference between taking a conscious break, and pretending like all your projects are equally important and jumping from one to the other all the time.
I’ve tried to do this. It’s really hard. I wish I realized this sooner.
Note that I'm not saying you shouldn't do anything besides your One Project. You can do any creative practice for fun—just don't make it into a “project” with a goal. Some things are best enjoyed with no pressure, right?
4. Know when to shut out distractions
Multi-passionate people are superbly curious, so whenever an opportunity to learn something new appears, we jump on it. This is great when you're in the information gathering phase, but if you're deep in the creation phase, it can disrupt your project.
The longer your project takes, the longer your “media fast” will need to last in order to see the project through. I know it's hard. I've done it.
At one point you need to commit to your own creativity and let outside influences go.
After getting serious about writing my book, I made a promise to myself that I won't be taking any courses, workshops or seminars. I was tempted so many times, but I saved the notes for later and moved on. If the book, class or workshop is offered regularly, I told myself I could always take it when it's offered next time. If it's a once in a lifetime deal, I reasoned that there will be something else, perhaps even better, that will help me learn the same things when the time is right.
Trust in right timing. The world is abundant with information and opportunities. Keep your FOMO in check because your project deserves nothing less than your full devotion. The people who have created all those wonderful things that you're flirting with have done the same. Do as they do, not as they say you should do.
5. Create momentum with one topic
Your “topic” (or area of interest) is wider than a “project”. You can have several projects tucked under the same topic, and other projects that relate to a different topic.
For example, you can have different projects like lettering practice sheets, a lettering course, a lettering-of-the-month wallpaper, all under the same topic—lettering. In addition to that, you may have a different topic like natural cosmetics, within which you educate people on certain plant benefits, and sell skincare products.
If you want to see faster growth, focus on one topic at a time.
I have many interests and write about many different topics. It was difficult to gain any momentum when I was spread over too many things at once, and people had a hard time wrapping their head around what I’m about. They could never expect what I would do next, and honestly I didn’t know either.
Things changed in early 2016 when I started to focus on one topic: branding. I wrote blog posts on branding. I based all my services on branding. I started speaking about branding. And then I wrote a book about branding. After a while, people have started to associate me mostly with branding, and my business has boomed. Who would have known?
Do I still make art? Yes.
Do I still write about other topics? Yes.
Do I still have plans for other non-branding related projects? Yes.
But for now, I’m building momentum based on one thing, and when I’ve accumulated enough to have things roll on their own for a while, I’ll pour my energy onto my next creative project which has nothing to do with branding. (More on that in my next newsletter. Still not a member? Sign up here or at the bottom of this post and you’ll find out what it is.)
Some business strategists will recommend that you focus on one thing for all eternity. I’m not able or willing to do that, so the best I can do is focus on one thing for long enough to gain momentum. That’s all I can promise. Then I’ll be on my next thing.
6. Take care of your temple
Your body is your tool. If it doesn’t work properly, you’ll have difficulty achieving your dreams. You can’t out-hustle your own body. When it says “Stop”, stop.
I know you love your work. I know you want to make big things happen. I know you're worried you won't be able to do it all if you spend so much time sleeping, cooking, exercising etc. When you're inspired, the rest of the world can fade in comparison and all you can think about is your project. This may seem noble (and our culture encourages it), but it's not healthy.
Working harder than your body and mind can handle leads to burnout. (Also, a prolonged state of burnout can lead to depression. Ask me how I know.)
I repeat because this is very important: take care of yourself.
Your clients are not more important than your health.
A clean house is not more important than your health.
Your art is not more important than your health.
Your friend’s approval is not more important than your health.
Businesses can be rebuilt. House and art can wait. Your friends will understand. But your health can’t be put aside until a more convenient time.
Prioritize healthy food, sleep, movement, and relaxation. If you’re attracted to meditation, do it. If reading relaxes you, spend evenings reading. If vigorous exercise helps you, do that. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and more creative energy.
Health collapse doesn’t happen overnight. Pay attention to the early signs of burnout, like the lack of desire to get up from bed, lack of focus, becoming bored with your work, irritability, etc. When you notice this, pause. Take a day (or a weekend) off from any work-related activity and just enjoy life.
Your multiple passions are a gift, and you can thrive if you can overcome these common challenges. I believe in you.