How to be multi-class and own it

Ever feel like you’re compulsively interested in just about everything? Are you torn between all the things you want to do and desperately trying to focus? Don't worry, you're not a scatter brain or a schizophrenic. You are a polymath, or in geek-speak: a multi-class person.
You’re creating a new character in a role playing game and you’re staring at the dreaded class selection screen. Do you want to be a mage or a warrior? Do you want to specialize in knife throwing or pick pocketing? Are you a long-range or melee fighter? This or that? Decisions, decisions…

Why can't we just get to be it all and do it all, right? If you agree, it's probably because:

You are multi-class

You know me, I'm a video game nerd. I've spent so many hours playing Baldur's Gate and Diablo and World of Warcraft that I've started to borrow useful terminology from role playing games into reality.


In a role playing game, a multi-class character in someone who has two or more specialties. For example, a multi-class character can be both a wizard and a thief. Another one might be a warrior/priest. These characters are skilled in several different areas and use these skills in tandem, giving them an edge in battle.

A multi-class character, like the real-world polymaths and renaissance people, are often talented and knowledgable in a large number of areas, making them extremely useful. They are out-of-the-box thinkers, combining their many skills to solve problems.

A lot of games allow you to be multi-class, but our real-world society isn't very good at appreciating multi-class people. If you have many different aspirations and hop from job to job or just can’t stop taking university classes, it’s often frowned upon by the general public. We are perceived as being scattered, not able to make a decision or stick to a plan.


Why do I say ”we”?


My story


Hello, my name is Louise, and I am a multi-class person.

When people ask me "what I do", I feel like sucking in lots of air like Ace Ventura and make a point of mentioning every single job title, hobby, interest and skill of mine. I know what they want to hear. They want a short, simple answer so that they can put a nice, memorable label on me. And I probably should be more selective in my answer. But frankly, I refuse to be defined by one thing and one thing only.

I had classmates in grade school that wanted to be doctors. They were doctors way before I even had half a clue what I wanted to do with my life. I always wished I could be like them, and have it all figured out. Imagine devoting all of your time and effort towards one career: how much faster you'd progress. Instead, I've been fooling around: wanting to be a writer, and then wanting to work with animals, and then music, and then programming, and then professional poker, and on and on it goes.

And I hated myself for it.

A few years ago, I read this article by life coach Barbara Sher and I started to cry.

There was the story of my life, and the description of my personality, clear as day. Turns out, I'm a "scanner".

A "scanner", as explained by Barbara Sher, is a person who, rather that dive deep into one interest or profession, prefer to scan the horizon for stuff to try out. They can't pick just one direction in life, and their attention shifts between many different areas.

This was why I changed direction in life as often as other people change hairstyle or car tires.

This was why I’ve always felt like a failure, despite pursuing a number of ambitious aspirations.

This was why I always got that sadness in the pit of my stomach whenever I discovered something new and fascinating, because I knew it was just a matter of time until my interest would fade in favor of something else.

I finally had a name for my condition. A lot of people who’ve ever gotten a diagnosis of some sort can attest to the relief and comfort of having a name on it. Admit what you are and you can deal with it. Both the negative and the positive.

So instead of feeling like I have no direction in life, I’m fine with having multiple directions. Instead of shying away from the question about ”what I do”, I take pride in having many talents.

And instead of dreading the question ”what to do with my life?”, I now know the answer. I want to do everything. And I want you to feel that same confidence and motivation about your life, no matter how many careers you want and no matter how much unfinished stuff you've got. So first off...


Are you multi-class?

How do you know if you're multi-class?

Chances are, you already know just from reading this far. And of course, no one but yourself can really tell you whether or not you are multi-class. But this is a simple self-assessment test that should give you some clarity:

It’s based on the test from Barbara Sher's book Refuse To Choose!, with some minor modifications.


  • ”I can’t decide on a direction in life, I’m too scared to pick the wrong one.”
  • ”I’m never gonna be able to focus on something long enough to create a career.”
  • ”As soon as I’m proficient in something, I’m bored and want to move on to the next thing.”
  • ”I want so many things, I end up doing nothing at all.”
  • ”I wish I knew my purpose in life, what I’m meant to do.”
  • ”I start a lot of projects, but I rarely finish them.”
  • ”I have a lot of aspirations but I could never stick to the plan.”
  • ”I’m afraid to commit to something bigger, like an education or a career.”
  • ”I feel like a Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.”
  • ”I’m never going to be an expert on anything.”
  • ”I could never do the same thing day in and day out. I would be bored to tears!”
  • ”I’m not getting anywhere, I feel like a loser.”


If you identify with 3 or more of these statements, you are probably multi-class. Welcome to the club!

Now, let’s talk about the nature of multi-class people and why we are the way we are.


Why are we like this?

Well, we’re a different kind of animal, who are motivated in a different way than other people. It’s in our genes to want to browse and explore all that life has to offer.

If the world was a giant buffet, we'd be those people who flock around it and can't decide what we wanna eat, so we grope around and stick a finger here and a finger there and grab way to many servings and stuff ourselves and leave half of it on our plates and feel really bad about ourselves.



We're kind of greedy that way.

But from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense, right? If everyone in a tribe stuck to what they best knew and nobody ever went outside of their comfort zone and tried new things, where would humanity be today? It’s part of our adaptability as humans to have both experts and curious multi-talents amongst us.

The best analogy of a multi-class person is a honey bee. A bee flies from flower to flower, collecting their nectar. Nobody would accuse a bee of being scattered or unfocused or getting bored too easily. They’re bees, it’s what they do! A honey bee isn’t passionate about any particular flower, they’re passionate about the process of collecting nectar. Switching flowers is part of the plan.

Multi-class people love learning new things. The love reading, writing, planning, designing, solving problems and inventing stuff. There are never enough hours in the day for a multi-class person to do all the things they want to do. This is the painful part. You want to do a million things at once, but at the same time feel like you’re never getting anywhere because you’re spread too thin. You start lots of new and exciting projects, but you also leave a trail of unfinished ones in your wake, and feel like there is something wrong with you.


Unfortunately, you're not the only one to make you believe that either. We live in a world that don't understand polymaths and tends to favor the specialists, the one-trick-ponies. Our very system is based on single-class mentality. We’re supposed to pick direction in life as early as high school, when most of us are clueless, insecure teenagers, and after that there is very little wiggle room.

Just consider the amount of money spent on acquiring a ”specialty”. Once you’ve got your diploma, you better get a well-paying job to start re-paying that debt. A risky career switch is out of the question. And five half-finished educations doesn’t look very nice to employers. Neither does more than three different job positions over the course of a year. A multi-class resume practically screams ”Scattered, lazy and unambitious." Nothing could be further from the truth.

A multi-class person is like three or more people in one, like combining alts in World of Warcraft. They're the swiss-army knives of mankind. But most importantly, it's freakishly fun to be multi-class. We really should stop beating ourselves up about it, and start enjoying the hell out of it instead.



How to be multi-class and own it

In order for you as a multi-class person to kick ass and chew bubblegum, you must be allowed to simply be what you are. But you also need some tools to help you make the most of your nature, and take control of your life. Worry not, I have solutions. Here are the most common pains of multi-classing polymaths, and what to do about them:

”I want to do and be so many things, I don’t know where to start…”


Solution: A rock-solid organization system.

Your ideas are valuable, even if you don't get around to realize them. Just having them neatly organized will make you feel better.

Make a list with everything you want to do and be. Quite often, what feels like ”a million things” isn’t that much on paper. You might decide to start pursuing some of those dreams right away. Set goals, create a plan of action and start doing all of those things.

You won’t become a poker pro overnight. Step-by-step, a few hours here and there, is how it’s done. It might take you a bit longer since you’re not spending all your waking time on it, but you will eventually get there. It’s better you actually do something little every once in a while than nothing at all.

Right now, I use Trello as my complete life organization system, and it frickin rocks. Trello has both the depth and the overview that a multi-class person juggling a million projects need. Incredibly, it's free.


Other tools:

”I’ll never be truly great at anything…”


Solution: Keep a skill tree.

I don't know about you, but I sure as hell won't remember that I know the Dragonborn shout "Unrelenting force" unless I look in my skill book or have a quick button on the screen for using it. In games, we learn so many skills, and we need a way of visualizing them. I've been playing the piano since I was 4 years old and I'm pretty good at it. But is long as my keyboard is stashed away, I could go for months and not remember to play.

No wonder a multi-class person, with a video game-worthy amount of skills in their arsenal, feels scattered and worthless if they can't somehow remind themselves of everything they know. We don't see obvious results fast enough, and maybe don't get the same credit and acknowledgement as specialists do. That doesn’t mean we aren’t getting anywhere!

Solve this problem by keeping a skill tree or a skill log. List all of your skills, talents and interests. Put an estimated value on each skill. You can choose any tracking system you want here. You don’t even need to put numbers on your skills if that feels difficult. Use words like ”beginner, intermediate, expert, master”, or ”apprentice, journeyman, artisan”.

I like to score my skills from 1 to 1000 per skill level, and then I have names for each skill level. My system is far from perfect, but as long as I have a nice overview of all of my skills, and get to update their score when I feel like I've leveled them up, I'm satisfied.

Tools:


”I will never accomplish anything worthwhile…”



Solution: A quest log and a journal.

A multi-class person, more than anyone else, needs a quest log. It is what will keep you sane when you feel like the eternal level 1 character, dressed in rags, slaying rats.

The quest log is where you write down all the stuff you want to do, be and have.
The journal is where your chronicle your adventures and accomplishments. It's your Captain's Log.

Start by writing down all of your finished quests. You don’t want to start out with an empty track record, that’s not fair. It’s by doing this you’ll realize how much you actually have accomplished in your life. From now on, everything you spend substantial time on should be visible in your quest log, regardless of the results, and regardless of whether you finish it or not.

Becoming an expert doesn’t need to take a lifetime. It doesn’t even need to take 10 000 hours. Practice deliberately and applaud yourself for every bit of progress you make.


Tools:

”I don’t want to commit to just one thing…”



Solution: Don’t! Be a greedy pig and do everything you want to do. Embrace your right to swing both sword and wand. Simultaneously or periodically, whatever works best for you.

Spending time doing what you love is your divine right, and you need to claim that right. Everything you do doesn’t have to be a career, you’re allowed to do things just for the hell of it.

Similarly, what you do for money doesn’t have to be your life’s purpose. You could pick a day job that you’re comfortable in, just to live out your other passions on the side.

There are plenty of jobs and career solutions for multi-class people: Temp-positions, freelancing, consulting, multiple part-time jobs, and entrepreneurship. You don’t have to commit a lifetime, you can commit just the next year or just 50% of your time.

Find a solution where your multi-class nature is a strength rather than a weakness. And find bosses and co-workers that understand what you’re all about. Ideally, you want to work at a place that not only tolerates your many talents, but actually uses them and appreciates them. Freelance writing and professional blogging are great examples of careers where your flexibility and natural curiosity is a competitive advantage. Other options might be working at a library, or doing consulting work, or teaching.


”I never finish anything...”


Solution: Why do you have to?

I know there's a stigma on being a "quitter", but why is it so damn important to always finish things? Isn’t it more important to accomplish what you actually set out to do? Those two things may not always be one and the same.

Yes, you should totally push yourself to finish the projects that are important to you. Most of the time, what keeps you from doing that is distractions, procrastination, fear of failure, et.c.

But a lot of times, leaving something half-finished isn’t so bad. Ask yourself what you really wanted out of that project, and whether you managed to accomplish that before you finished the project.

Scanners and polymaths don’t finish things the same way other people do. Remember the bee-analogy: you are done with something the moment it is no longer giving you what you came for. Don’t feel bad about that. Stash away your unfinished projects and leave them for another day, or maybe even another person. Your projects don’t go anywhere, you can re-commit to them at any time.

Also, think about the times when you’ve been deeply engaged with something, just to drop it a while later: what was the most fun about that experience? What made you stop? What feeling was there in the beginning but not when you left? Whatever that feeling is, that’s your "nectar". Maybe it’s curiosity, a challenge, or a problem or puzzle that needs solving.



Whenever you are abandoning an activity, you have good reason to, because you got what you came for. Nothing wrong with that.

Try to understand your own behavior, and don't beat yourself up when you shift focus and abandon projects. You probably learned something from the experience, so enter that in your journal and skill log and move on towards new quests.


Tools:
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • One or those big cardboard box thingies
  • Or like, a bookcase or big-ass drawer or something


”I don’t have time for everything I want to do…”


Solution: There is none.

This is the way life is for most people. There’s too much to do and too little time. And even if we have time, we find other things to do with it.

As a writer, if you want to make it really difficult for yourself to get stuff written, take a lot of time off to write. You'll sleep in, procrastinate, find other things that "you have to do" and walk around feeling anxious. Instead, don't give yourself time to procrastinate. Write during lunch break, on the train ride home, or while on the toilet. Write on "stolen" moments.

Also, make working on your many projects easily accessible. Set up little stations in your home where you can easily spend just a few minutes with your different hobbies. That way, you can steal a few minutes here and a few hours there, without it feeling like a ”project”. Small doses are better than none. And remember: you need this to feel good. Take a break from your school paper and practice some piano. It'll probably invigorate you.

But what about that "too much to do"-paralysis? You've probably experienced this at some point: You have a few hours free on the weekend, but there is so much you could do during these hours, you end up doing something completely worthless instead, like color-sorting all your ball point pens or watching 8 or so episodes of Deadliest Catch. (Which by the way totally sounds like something I would do.)


The best way for an ambitious but frustrated multi-class person to make progress it is to pick one or two things at a time to focus on.
Think of it like putting food on your plate from a buffet: don't just load it with all sorts of different, non-compatible stuff and expect to eat everything, (which is how I do it every single time. I suck at buffets), because you won't and then you'll get disappointed. Be realistic. Say to yourself "This month, I will work on my art project on weekends and practice my french on wednesday evenings", or something like that. After a month, you will have made progress within these two areas, and you're avoiding the paralysis that can come from trying to do a little bit of everything every day.


More ways to thrive as a multi-class person:


- Always view your multi-class nature as a strength and an asset. You don't have to put all of your professions on the same business card, or list them all on the same resumé (have separate cards and resumés), but do make your many talents known when called for. You might end up getting interesting opportunities this way.

- Feed your curiosity. Press the Stumble button in StumbleUpon and delve deep into new subjects. Go to the library, wander never before visited aisles and borrow a bunch of obscure books about things you know nothing about. Take distance- or evening courses.
Something I really enjoy is watching reality-tv. No, really, I'm serious. You get fascinating insights about people who are good at things you know nothing about. The trick is to select the right kind of shows: not the ones where stupid people fool around, get laid and throw things at each other, but the ones where talented people compete against each other in some area or profession. Some of my favorites are: The Pick Up ArtistFace OffKing Of The NerdsThe ApprenticeNaked And Afraid.

- Find the overarching theme or passion in all of your different quests. Maybe it's helping and teaching people, or problem solving, or creativity. Identifying this theme can help you zero in on that illusive life purpose of yours.


So are you a bit more comfortable in your condition now? Are you starting to see the perks, or maybe even the unfair advantage, of being multi-class? I very much hope so. And if you even should forget it...

Repeat after me, the multi-class manifesto:


I am multi-class and proud.

I have many options in life.

I am free to pursue any and every interest, passion and goal.

None of my time spent learning or creating is wasted.

All of my talents are valuable.

I am expert enough.

I live an extraordinary life.

I am going to have a lot of interesting stories to tell.



I would also like to leave you with...

The multi-class person's reading list


BarbaraSher - Refuse to Choose!: Use All Of Your Interests, Passions, And Hobbies To Create The Life And Career Of Your Dreams

Before you go...


My friend, thank you for reading this post. I worked harder on it that on any other post I've ever written, because this topic is important to me.

If it hit home with you, and your know other people like us who might also benefit from reading it, I would love it if you shared it with them. So that we can all awaken to our epic multi-class potential and start dual-wielding wands and battle axes and break all the rules and look positively badass while doing so.

25 comments:

  1. Great post. I think I am myself a multiclass person. I share your interest for RPGames and I think the metaphor is completely right.
    The only thing I would add, is that maybe the right thing to do, is to take profit of the advantage of multi-class, and not just produce one-class work but work that shows connection between classes.

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    1. Thank you! RPG metaphors, I find, are useful in a lot of areas.
      I absolutely agree. I multi-class person should always look for ways to combine knowledge and experiences in everything they do. That's one of our biggest advantages.

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  2. Great post, Louise, as I was reading the post I felt you were talking directly to me.
    I will learn by heart (and soul) your manifesto. It is liberating.
    I also like your idea of "overarching theme". A few years ago I coined this "overarching theme" to guide myself: "I am aimed to connect everthing with everything". I guess I enjoy creating or discovering connections between apparently so different things. It is always exhilarating to find commonalities.

    I have another name for "multi-class": "flâneur", a french word, which also captures part of the essence of your multi-class:
    [...]The terms of flânerie date to the 16th or 17th century, denoting strolling, idling, often with the connotation of wasting time. But it was in the 19th century that a rich set of meanings and definitions surrounding the flâneur took shape.

    The flâneur was defined in a long article in Larousse’s Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle (in the 8th volume, from 1872). It described the flâneur in ambivalent terms, equal parts curiosity and laziness and presented a taxonomy of flânerie—flâneurs of the boulevards, of parks, of the arcades, of cafés, mindless flâneurs and intelligent flâneurs.

    --Wikipedia.

    I like the combination of curiosity and laziness (=contemplative mind).

    As to the tools you reccomend , I am going to try the quest log and the skill lists. I am already writting a journal; aside from the therapeutic benefits I find it is a great way to be conscious of your achievements.
    The skill lists and the quest log will work wonders when I feel down. It is very easy to forget or take for granted the myriad of things that we, multi-class people, have been doing over the years.

    Thanks for the post. Best regards.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm very pleased to hear that, that's exactly what I was going for.
      So glad you've found your overarching theme, that really gives you a sense of focus and energy right?
      Haha, flâneur... I like the sound of that word! And the meaning too. I need to improve my ability to waste time though, way to impatient as it is. =)
      Thank you for this great comment!

      Delete
    2. Some thing tells me you'll like this.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6V_YKn8i9k&list=FLNzuVRaGeTO9ipVOsvs0RrA&index=3

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  3. Thank you for such a great post! I definitely found myself identified with multiclassing (I even can't specialize in MMORPG's, as I have the sensation I'm missing stuff, haha).

    For the first time in a long time, I don't fell guilty about it. The true is I also must work in my self-discipline (by the way, I found your blog because of your post about self discipline)

    Keep the great work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for saying that! Positive feedback means so much to me.

      Yeah, speccing's a bitch... That's why I always have like 10 alts in every RPG I play. (And almost never finish the game because I have to re-do everything with 10 characers. -_-)

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  4. Great post! I really enjoyed reading it, and could totally use some of your tips on how to be a happy and successful multiclass! Keep up this awesome blog!

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    1. So happy to hear that! Thank you!! I will definitely keep it up. ^_^

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  5. Fantastic post! Gave me a lot of insights about my own life and how I should pursue my different interests. Thank you and keep up the good work!

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    Replies
    1. Way to go! That makes it all so worth it. =D

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  6. I feel like you may have spied on my entire lifetime up until this point. :)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Well... No comment.

      (Mwaaahahahahahaha!) ;P

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  7. Holy cow! I am 50 and someone (you) has finally told me what I am and why I do what I do. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Late is better than never. And it's never too late. =)

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  8. Heh, ...I think I'm a fifth level class collector.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post. I've never heard of Trello before and I think I'll start using it.

    I've recently starting using my own mantra to help keep me motivated about what I'm doing (whatever that may be), looking for new things to do, and using my time wisely.

    "Open your mind, Open your eyes, Find your voice, Find your PASSION!"

    Seems to be working so far. Just need to keep at it until it turns into a good habit.

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    1. Trello is great, and shows big potential as a complete life-gamification-tool. Will write a post on that sometime soon...

      That's a great mantra. =)

      Delete
  10. Hi, I would like to take issue with your use of the word polymath. Certainly, polymaths are interested in different subjects, but a polymath can demonstrate superior and complete knowledge in more than one subject. A polymath is not someone with a BS in Biology and minor in Russian Lit.. A polymath is someone who has a PhD in Biology, and a PhD in Russian Lit.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Wow!! your blog is awsome ! and im happy to see that im not the only multi-class lol
    today i was thinking about creating a IRL RPG to level up / organise my life and i did find your blog wich is realy in toutch with my project and its awsome ..ill probably spend the night reading it ..because you know ...im suposed to sleep but there is never enough time in a day ! lol
    ( sorry if my english is not realy good ..im learning atm ..one of my millions of projects lol)
    c ya ! :P

    ReplyDelete