Oh, the hours I've spent wishing and praying to be a simpler kind of person. The kind of person with a simple job title that even my Great Aunt Edna in Topeka can understand and repeat to her friends over bridge. The kind of person with a singular, glowing passion that drives her forward down the clear, shining pathway that leads to the one, simple place her unified heart is longing to go. A coherent kind of person who knows who she is and what she's here for. Simple, and clear.
But, I'm not.
And, chances are, you're not either.
And there's not a thing wrong with either of us. We're just complex. That is allowed.
Like Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes. We've got a lot going on inside, and a mixed bag of interests and passions and loves to express.
Multitudinousness, however, is not the success narrative most of us grew up with.
Our most beloved stories of success teach us that the person with the greatest singularity of focus wins. We embrace stories of the person with a powerful dream and "no plan B" who overcome all odds to rise to the tippy top of their field. You've got your Misty Copelands, your J.K.Rowlings, your Taylor Swifts, your Eddie the Eagles. When Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted, did he say to himself "you know, I've always had an interest in real estate...this might be a good time to try that!" No. He did not. He hunkered down in the bathtub with his amphetamines and his whiskey and his typewriter and he WROTE, dammit, until his creative excellence finally triumphed over evil and his Oscars were returned to their rightful home to the cheers of his adoring family.
In all permutations of the "singular dream, perseverance against impossible odds, undeniable success" storyline, it is the laser-focus on one clear objective that gives our hero the energy to lift himself or herself out of one life and into another; it is their maniacal insistence on pursuing their singular passion that enables them to become "the best." And, if you can't be "the best," why bother, right? I mean, there are winners and losers in this life, and a bunch of "might have beens" who just don't have what it takes....
I say Balderdash.
As multi-modal creatives, we are uniquely positioned to create alternatives to this pernicious "claw your way to the top with a single, unwavering dream" narrative. Our own life-stories are evidence that there are other ways of being and dreaming and doing in this world. There are alternative plot lines that we have been inventing all along.
How about a narrative about a heroine who sees that "arrival at "the top" of anything is not a real thing that can happen, but rather a dangerous fantasy, and it is actually the quality of your experience of life matters more than anything.
How about a storyline about the person who explored and embraced multiple centers of meaning in her life and enjoyed the heck out of all of them?
Let's have a new trope about the person who, by her sheer multiplicity of interests, is able to come up with a solution that has eluded everyone who DIDN'T study both architecture AND oceanography?
What about a heroine who bravely faces the challenge of testing out an array of possibilities for her life - despite a chorus of disapproving friends and relatives who complain that she is immature, or commitment-phobic, or just flaky - even though she had not a clue where they were leading her, and without a single guarantee that any of them were bringing her closer to a "final destination."
What about a hero who, in a climactic scene, is at a party surrounded by well-heeled strangers. One of them breezes over and casually asks, so, what do you do?' and our hero looks the stranger right in the eye and calmly says, "I contain multitudes."
Don't you just get chills?
My point is that the lives of those of us who are multi-modal creatives are not without a distinct set of challenges, but these challenges are not the ones that fit neatly into the narratives of individual triumph that we're used to.
The demons that drive us are not about whether we do or don't "reach the top" of something. Instead, we seek to turn potential fragmentation and overwhelm into a mature embrace of our own complex wholeness.
As multi-modal creatives, we have to overcome a tendency to move sideways when things get tough. We have to practice finishing at least some of the projects we begin, lest we use our own complexity as an excuse to stay perpetually distracted - scurrying crabs moving ever sideways.
In our plot lines, there are powerful moments of convergence when we suddenly see how our travels in Japan, our passion for knitting, and our perverse fascination with parasites all combine to make us the perfect one to design the costumes for the giant yarn-monsters featured in the hot new Japanese ballet.
We have to have the courage and trust to live through all the days leading up to those convergence moments when we are challenged to make our identities legible to ourselves and desperate to help our families, our friends, and our potential colleagues see that there are emerging themes that make our multiplicity something other than random, and evolving patterns that make our complexity something other than chaos.
I don't believe it IS chaos in there.
We carry in us an innate wholeness, however intricate that wholeness might be. Wholeness doesn't mean simple or singular: a mobile is whole when all it's parts are free and moving; an orchestra is whole when all it's parts are alive and in motion; a constellation is whole because we draw the lines that make it so.
So yes, we are allowed to be complex. We are allowed to be all of who we are. We are allowed to structure our own life-stories with as many sub-plots as it takes to investigate the multitudes within. We are called to apply the insights that can only be born of complex thinking to the problems of the world.
There are storylines yet to be written about how it took all of us being all of who we are to solve the ghastly problems of the world.
And we're not going to get there if we are wasting our time wishing we had fewer arms.