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You're a dabbler, she said

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

'Ah, you're a dabbler!' she said. After I explained what I was doing.

I was oddly hurt by that remark. And mildly outraged.

You see, for us multi-passionate people, doing all these things is not 'dabbling'.

What dabbling is

But no, first of all, let me stop myself, before I go in a (very belated) full-blown rant.

You see, for me, dabbling was associated with a story. With a particular woman. She was absolutely amazing at all sorts of arts and crafts. She also loved gardening. Apparently her garden was a Garden of Eden of bushes and artwork and sculptures and drawings. I never saw it, but her reputation preceded her.

However, when I spoke about it to her she said she 'dabbled'!

To dabble for me, therefore, meant to underplay what you actually do. To make yourself smaller. To make your accomplishments smaller. Even though, on the say-so of her colleagues what she did when she was 'dabbling' was absolutely amazing!

Anyway, just to satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to see if my interpretation was correct.

And sure enough, even according to the dictionary 'to dabble' (/ˈdab(ə)l/) means 'to take part in an activity in a casual or superficial way'.

What it means to be a dabbler

Now before I go into what I should have said (instead of saying ye-e-a-ah, and then writing a ranty blog about it two months later), I'd like to talk a little bit about the difference between being a multi-passionate and being a dabbler.

And I believe it is intention.

As one woman so aptly put it when I had my mini-rant on LinkedIn, not EVERYTHING has to be done to achieve something. You CAN do something just because. For fun. Or because it interests you. Without you actually having to achieve something with it.

I used to go to an art class in the evenings. I think I did it for 8 years in a row. There was a man there who couldn't draw to save his life. The teacher would call his attempts 'naive'. He loved it, and came back year after year after year. That - to all intents and purposes - could be described as 'dabbling'.

But for us multi-passionates I don't think it IS like that. I believe that we have such a passion for a subject that we go deep. We learn everything about it, quickly and deeply. We achieve what we want to achieve. And then we move on.

We are deadly serious about all the things we do. And go into it 1000%.

Doesn't mean we 'dabble'. Doesn't mean we are not serious, or not professional.

We just do more things. At the same time. Or sequentially. And become relatively good at it.

Dabblers vs polymaths

Now, once upon a time, people doing multiple things was the most normal thing in the world. Industrialisation hadn't taken place. People had to do everything.

In actual fact, doing multiple things was revered.

William Morris was a textile designer, poet, artist, novelist, architectural conservationist, printer, translator and socialist activist.

Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, draughtsman, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor and architect.

Maya Angelou was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist.

And apparently Marie Curie was a polymath too.

So why are we so insistent on classing specialists above generalists?

Well, in fact, I think you may find that the tide is turning on this one!

Because, according to this article in The Observer it is the people who have multiple interests that are more likely to be successful than the specialists!

You see, if you are a specialist, it is much harder to be in the Top 25% of people in that particular field.

Whilst, if you combine 2 or 3 or even more things and make THAT into your specialty, you may well be the ONLY ONE in the world to do this!

A famous example of this is Scott Adams. Who combined an average ability to draw, with a wicked sense of humour and his time spent in an office environment and made it into Dilbert, the cartoon we now all know and love!

Us polymaths just cram more in. It means we are hungry for more, because there IS so much more. It means we learn quickly. It means we do multiple things. And combine all these things in different ways. And are successful that way.

How others can judge

Going back to my rant. When someone said to me that I 'dabbled' she inadvertently judged my activities by the standards of a society that - for now - rates specialisation higher than being a generalist.

That is - no longer - revering people doing multiple things.

You're doing multiple things, so you can't do them properly, is what she was saying.

Whilst, actually, people work in different ways. If you like to go deep into one problem, one issue, and spend a long time becoming great at that, you're a specialist.

If you're multi-passionate, a polymath, a multi-potentialite, a scanner, multi-talented or a Renaissance woman, you delve into a subject, follow your curiosity, learn everything you need to learn, do what you want to do. And then move on. Taking that knowledge everywhere. Being creative with it wherever you choose to go next.

One is not better than the other. They're just different.

What to do when someone calls you a 'dabbler'

Which swiftly (?) takes me to the subject of other people.

Because - like it or not - we take notice of what others say. Worse, we sometimes internalise other people's judgements as our own.

We may think we're lacking stamina, or that our attention spans are short. I've had one woman describe it as a lack of stability or being prone to distractions and new interests.

Instead, I'd like to reframe it and say, we are creatives. People with multiple interests, multiple passions, multiple skills. We are perfectly placed to combine one thing, with another, and another, and come up with solutions that no one else had thought of.

In other words, we're not lazy, or lacking ... well ... something. We're not slackers, or not dedicated. We learn fast, we have a keen interest in everything and build careers of freedom, flexibility and a whole heap of learning.

So, the next time people call us 'dabblers' we politely inform them of our working preferences, calmly point them to our results and carry on doing what we're doing!

A dabbler indeed - I bet Leonardo da Vinci never had this problem!

And before you go ...

During this article we have spoken about your and other's perspective on being multi-talented.

But what next?

How can you now embrace your multi-passionate-ness (if that's a word).

And, more importantly, how can you embrace it and do something good with it?

Well, I may well have the solution! You see, I believe lots of us are creative multi-passionates. I also believe that you have a notebook full of projects. Things you will do - you know - 'one day'.

Except one day never comes. Or you've realised that 'one day' IS now.

So what if you could:

  • celebrate your creative and multi-passionate, multi-talented self?

  • start doing more of the things you'd like to do?

  • meet like-minded women to bounce around ideas, do the things you want to do, actively cheer each other on and hold each other accountable to make stuff happen?

  • identify YOUR 'golden thread' and build your career around it?

Join me in Pick 'n Mix - the community for multi-passionate women by clicking this link:

Pick 'n Mix

I'm looking forward to seeing you there!


Tineke Tammes is an ICF accredited Career Coach, who supports creative, multi-passionate, professional women in making successful career transitions! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.

Join her now in Pick 'n Mix - the FREE community for creative, multi-passionate women or sign up for her newsletter.

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