Scott H Young

What if You Have More Than One Passion?


Leonardo DaVinci

Leonardo DaVinci

If you have many different passions, pursue all of them.

Recently, I’ve had a couple emails from readers explaining that their problem is simply having too many passions. Far from being members of the apathetic masses, these people seem to have difficulty focusing because there are simply so many things to be interested about.

I know I may incite a lot of disagreement for saying this: but I believe that it’s completely okay to have multiple passions and to pursue all of them.

The Comeback of the Renaissance Man (or Woman)

I believe today is a great time to be a renaissance man. The explosion of the internet as a platform, both for new businesses and in transforming old businesses, is creating more opportunities for multi-talented people.

As the world becomes more interconnected, I feel two major shifts are important to note:

  1. Competition is increasing
  2. The number of niche markets is increasing

I believe this means two positive things for the renaissance men and women out there:

First, because competition is increasing, specializing alone isn’t the best strategy. Being extremely good at your craft will always matter. Mediocrity sinks in a competitive world. However, with intense competition, being in the top 1% of your field could still put you in the bottom 100,000.

Diverse interests put you at an advantage here. Because although becoming the best at one common skill set is almost impossible, it is easier to become the best at an overlap between two or three different skills.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, offers himself as an example. He claims he isn’t the funniest, nor most artistic, person. But the overlap allowed him to be successful.

Second, as niche markets increase, bizarre skill sets that previously would only interest an insignificant minority may now be viable. Gary Vaynerchuk pointed out in a recent speech that, “…there’s a $70,000/year business providing reviews 0f Pinot Grigio wines out there.”

Even if only .01% of the world care about your passion overlap, that’s still over a half million potential clients or customers.

Renaissance Man or Obsessive Focus, Both Styles Can Work

First, I don’t want to claim that this means you need to start taking karate lessons, mastering Sudoku and learning Gaelic if those things don’t interest you. If you have one obsessive lifelong passion, pursue it. If you have many, don’t fight that either.

Even if you only have one passion, you can specialize in content to find your niche rather than explore the overlap between two different skills. The world is large, and there is a place for both styles.

I simply believe a lot of people who pursue many passions have been told, unfairly, that they need to stop daydreaming and get to work. Eliminate all the other interests but one. And, if you aren’t going to master something, it isn’t even worth beginning.

I definitely fit more into the multiple passions category than complete focus. I have interests in art, design, programming, nutrition, psychology, fitness, history, literature, public speaking, dance, language learning, cosmology and many other topics. I believe it gives me otherwise inaccessible opportunities in my main pursuits, writing and entrepreneurship.

Focus and Hard Work Still Matter

Having many different passions isn’t a bad thing, but a wonderful thing. That being said, this doesn’t reduce the need for focus or hard work. Just because you’re interested in a million different things, doesn’t mean it takes serious effort to become extremely good at one pursuit.

While exploring other interests on and off, I’ve devoted close to four years and thousands of hours into improving my writing and business skills. This website is a massive, continuous project. It didn’t just spring up during a brief obsession, but a long period of patient focus.

Whether you choose incredible specialization or a unique skill combination isn’t important. You still need to work hard. You still need to show up, every day, to improve your craft.

How Do You Combine Hard Focus and Multiple Passions?

Some time ago, I realized that productivity systems, discipline, motivation and all that Dave-Allen-goodness works well for doing the things you need to do.

But those same systems are really lousy at getting you to do the things you want to do. Putting a genuine curiosity on an action item list makes the curiosity a lot less genuine.

So my answer to the above question was to use my productivity systems, habits, discipline and focus to work on my projects and long term goals. But, at the same time, I don’t restrict myself from pursuing personal interests in my spare time.

Don’t Force Alternate Passions

I don’t force these alternate pursuits. When I was learning to salsa, two years ago, I didn’t put any pressure on myself to master it. My only goal was to enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill. Same for when I started creating photoshop art, reading classical history or, just recently, began learning Ruby.

From an outside perspective, it might appear to be a struggle to manage all these different tasks. Like the parents who send their kids to ballet, soccer, piano and language lessons every day after school.

However, since there is no pressure to achieve anything, these new skills are fun and relaxing. If I’d rather watch TV one day, I don’t force myself to do new things, I simply do these side pursuits because usually television is boring.

With my main passions, I apply a little (although not a lot of) discipline. I set goals, make to-do lists and push myself. With alternate passions, I just go wherever they take me.

The Unusual Benefits of Side Pursuits

Often these side pursuits eventually have an impact on my main pursuits in life. Aside from just being enjoyable, learning new, different skills, has a cumulative effect. When I started learning photoshop art, I wasn’t thinking that those skills would eventually allow me to illustrate my own books.

Do side pursuits always pay off, in a strictly economic way? No. But then again, economics aren’t the point.

If you have multiple passions, allow yourself to explore them. Don’t force it, but don’t draw a box around yourself just because the world tells you to.


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21 Responses to “What if You Have More Than One Passion?”

  1. Kathy Rees says:

    This is a great thought provoking post and defining a passion is the hardest thing to do to get started on anything I find with so many different things vying for our attention. If you haven’t read Gary’s new book Crush It, you can get the cliff notes here http://cliffnotebooks.com/crush-gary-vaynerchuk-cliff-notes/

  2. I like that ” don’t draw a box around yourself just because the world tells you to.”

  3. Duff says:

    A good reminder for jacks-of-too-many-trades like myself. Thanks, Scott.

  4. Nezzie says:

    In a way education does draw a box around us. It impacts how we view the world, how we view life, and how we view others. If a doctor, an engineer, and a lawyer view the same car accident, they are going to apply their education to what they see and it is going to affect how they perceive it. Education is exclusive it its nature. It gives small groups of people common words/descriptors, goals, ethics, ect. Education creates a box. Even on the micro scale I think this still exists. You’re experience in salsa is going to be your frame of reference for all dance. Should you learn another ballroom dance you will be adapting salsa rather than learning dance all over again. You can expand your box, you can create other boxes, or sub-boxes, but I don’t think that we can ever escape boxes. I think only kids have the freedom of no boxes.

    As far as alternate passions, I don’t know how good of a descriptor that is. Alternate interest, definitely, but to have passion would be to have an intense drive. Such a drive would require you to push yourself out of pure curiosity, to hope and dream about what could/will be and therefore to have goals and to-dos.

    Also side pursuits might pay off economically if you consider health benefits, social connections, and quality of life. But then again, if economics is your sole reason then you might be disappointed.

  5. Scott Young says:

    Nezzie,

    I’m not talking about broader box-drawing. Of course, your past experiences dictate your views of the world, that’s obvious and inescapable.

    My “box” in this article is the lines some people feel they have to draw because the world tells them they can’t try certain things because they are a certain type of person.

    -Scott

  6. Atle Iversen says:

    I think *learning* without having to *master* is very important !

    Learning new skills and different things brings variety, “mental exercise”, gives you new perspectives, and also helps you avoid burn-out from your “main” passion.

    I still think you need to focus and put in extra effort where you want to truly *master* something, but you should definitely pursue different passions.

    Great post !

  7. Seth M Baker says:

    Great article. I think having a lot of passions makes people more likely to have great ideas and generate creative solutions to difficult problems.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve had ideas for stories or articles while playing music.

    Too often, a person’s multiple passions are seen as ‘useless skills’. In reality, those skills or interests are making their life richer. I mean, there are worse ways people could be spending their time (watching television, reading the newspaper).

  8. Elena says:

    I agree that having lots of passions, and learning lots of different skills improves creativity, as well as the ability to learn new skills. Every new skill you learn can give you a different way of looking at a problem, even if it seems quite unrelated at first glance.

    When I first started karate, I found out that all those years I’d spent studying geometry had made me quite good at rotating geometric shapes in my head, which made it much easier to copy a complex series of moves after observing someone else. Remembering my high school creative writing classes helps a lot with writing Toastmasters speeches. All those things I learned about narrative structure, how to build tension in a story, how to craft an effective sentence – they all apply to speechwriting as well.

    Thanks for this article! I do feel sometimes that I have too many interests, and that I’ll never be able to become good at all of them. It’s nice to have a reminder that side pursuits are also worthwhile, and that I don’t have to try to become good at all of them.

  9. Helen says:

    I think it’s great to have more than one passion. what can be wrong at this? and if you are hardworking and devoted, then is may be a real success! try to make them better and better.
    If you do realize to make use of your passions, then i truly believe that you will be a happy person. cause, you are doing the thing you like right?
    You can make use of your passions. Some sort of briefing.:D
    It’s all about being positive, hard working and passionate!

  10. [...] should pursue your interests, finding a job that is in line with your interests and hobbies. But, what if you have more than one passion? Do you really have to specialize or can you try your hand at being a [...]

  11. Elena makes an important point that is often missed. By developing diverse passions you get access to new ways of thinking and problem solving. If you work your whole life as an accountant, you have no choice but to approach all problems with that hat on. But If you are also a computer programmer, community theatre actor, and copywriter, you have options when the usual ways of solving accounting problems aren’t working.

    People who solve problems this way are often regarded creative thinkers–and maybe they are–but the creativity comes from applying a common solution from one discipline in an uncommon way in another–not from pulling ideas straight out of the ether.

  12. Johanne says:

    Enjoyed reading through your post. I totally agree about not forcing your side passions upon yourself. We already have enough pressure in life. Sometimes, having fun learning what you want to learn (as opposed to what you need to learn) can help us learn more effectively.

  13. Amie Simmons says:

    Thanks for the article. I have just started to accept all of my passions. Always felt a little lost and a little bit like a loser with no direction. But, really I think it makes life more interesting. It’s nice to see someone writing about it.

  14. [...] friend Scott Young recently published a blog post with an intriguing title: “What if you have more than one passion?” He reports that several readers admitted that they have “a hard time focusing” because [...]

  15. Steve says:

    Scott, thanks for a unique perspective on this subject. I have often felt frustrated at not being able to follow the advice of focusing on only one area of success. However, I can also understand why the advice is given. Thanks for the fresh outlook that really fits me to a T, as well as some of the practical ideas for carrying out the multiple foci :)

  16. [...] Cal Newport, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote an interesting article following my post, “What if You Have More Than One Passion?” [...]

  17. David says:

    I think this could apply to many high school seniors. Try a variety of interests so your not superficially jumping into a college plan.

    *don’t know how i found your site but you write great stuff

  18. [...] other interests or side-goals. Simply that they will come second. Some people were confused after this article, believing I advocate doing all of your interests with equal commitment levels. Completely the [...]

  19. I.A.1989 says:

    Thanks Scott!!! Having loads of passion, I always tot that i don’t really know what is it for me, the one that is destined to be my sole passion. Because i love to do everything at the surface level (too bad, this also include the main passion, where i put almost the same effort as to other passions!) and don’t master them. But it pays of, like what you said.

    I’m not a computer geek, just a normal kid who sometimes play with the movie maker to create some stuff. And it happens that i was the only one who knows how to use it in my English team for movie assessment.

    The last 2 subtopics rocks!!! Looks like i have to put a lil pressure on the main passion. XD

  20. J says:

    Hi Scott,

    This attitude and active encouragement is refreshing!

    I think the whole ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ thing is a little hypocritical considering the way we’re educated. At my school, we did 6 different subjects a day. And a different mix of subject every day. At the end, there was a ‘dux’ – the girl who did best across the board. The dux in my year got top marks all around! She mastered all of them.

    I think it’s completely possible to be a master of all (or at least several) trades. Da Vinci, like you posted, is the ultimate example. He was a master painter, amongst other things. I think if we go about our crafts the right way, we can master each despite the others. I was thinking of writing my own curriculum similar to school’s to help me get a better grip on everything I want to undertake.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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