The Importance of Being Learned: My Multipotentialite Mind

*This post is part of a scholarship application for Activia Training. Further information:*

Why is learning important to you and how has it impacted your life?
Learning is so important to me. I love expanding what I know about life and the world, and there are a multitude of things that intrigue me and I am curious about.

In September 2016, I began my journey at university to study a BSc in Zoology and I am content and confident with my choice. Nevertheless, I spent the best part of my childhood struggling with the major decision of what career path to follow. Like all kids, I was asked what I wanted to be when I was older. My friends responded with ‘rock star’, ‘ballerina’ or ‘doctor’. Meanwhile, when I was a child, I never really thought much about the concept of having one dream career. I just knew what I enjoyed in the moment and didn’t overthink the future. One of my greatest loves was dancing, specifically Irish dancing. I started at the age of four and continued into my early teens, performing in local competitions and winning medals and trophies. I loved drawing and hand crafts and still have bejewelled DIY projects and colourful crayon pictures around my family home. I loved decorating, and re-decorating, my bedroom, playing with make-up and styling my hair, but unlike many of my friends, I didn’t grow up with one particular focus.

Instead, I had many passions, and my career goals changed constantly throughout my adolescence, ranging from ceramic artist, to singer, to set designer. At one point or another, I had an interest in almost everything under the sun. These weren’t just fleeting thoughts either. I gave serious attention and commitment to these ideas. I read up on the subjects, took lessons, volunteered with organisations, and practised my skills at home, but nothing stuck. My peers would gradually be narrowing down their options, but it took a lot of thought for me to choose. I didn’t want to give up on any of my passions. I was sure I would remain unfulfilled if I had to leave any behind in favour of ‘one true calling’, but then I realised I didn’t have to. I came across the term ‘multipotentiality’ and it changed the way I thought about life and work completely.

Also known as a ‘Renaissance person’, ‘universal person’ or ‘polymath’, a multipotentialite is someone whose knowledge, skills and interests span several subject areas. Famous examples include Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who all lived and worked this way, taking on many different and diverse careers and projects, and in our own time Brian May and Viggo Mortensen come to mind. It would be incredible to experience such a myriad of professions, let alone achieve the heights of one such as Leonardo, but I know it would be exceptionally difficult, too. Today, particularly for young millennials, it’s hard enough to find a full-time, well-paid job, let alone a position that satisfy all our interests, or provide enough financial stability to switch careers, but, who knows what will happen if I don’t at least try?

I try to experience life to the fullest, indulge my curiosities, and discover new loves. It is also, however, important to stay grounded and realistic. I have no genie to grant me three wishes and I know I cannot step into a job that will fulfil all my desires straightaway. So, a few years ago I enrolled in further education to reach a level of expertise in a select subject area. I thought about what is vital to me for a happy and purposeful life. I want a career that helps me to understand the natural world. I want my work to benefit future generations. I want to do something remarkable, extraordinary. Thus, at the ripe old age of twenty-one, I chose to pursue a career in marine biology.

Learning plays a very central role in my life, not only because it is enjoyable and stimulating, but because it opens doors and provides great opportunities, which, unfortunately, not everybody has access to. Many children in developing countries are uneducated; more than half the population are illiterate. Some schools are fee-paying, which means that for the poor, education becomes an unaffordable luxury. In some countries, women and children are denied education and so we are still fighting for equal education because we know how vital this is. I count myself lucky for my upbringing and the opportunities I have had.

My education has, and always will have, an immense impact on my life. It affords me the confidence and freedom to live how I choose. I can discover the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of the universe, I can work for fantastic organisations that are doing amazing things and changing the world for the better, I can discover beautiful places, immerse myself in new cultures, and search the unknown.

Knowledge can never be limited; the choice or ability to learn doesn’t have a best-before date. I know that to become a biologist I need a university degree but to become an artist I just have to create art, even if just for myself. To be a photographer I can take photographs. I can teach myself an instrument. I can take creative writing classes or study a language. I’m very grateful for my education and am fully focussed on my degree, but who says I can’t try my hand at other things, too? Although I may never excel as much as others who concentrate wholly on a subject, I love delving into new projects and I make the time to do so.

I see no fault with being a ‘Jack of all trades’. In my eyes, ‘Jack’ loved a lot of things and wanted to learn all he could. There’s no shame in that. As the saying goes, ‘A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.’


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