After years of thinking something was “wrong” with me, I finally found a model that works
Interested in everything
I have a lot of interests, as you saw from my previous message on combinatory play. In college, I was the kid who wanted to major in everything.
As a product manager and product marketing manager, I’m thankful that my career experiences so far have been so interdisciplinary. I've also enjoyed making art again after 10 years, completing a yoga teacher training program, writing and pursuing a number of other interests outside of work.
For a some of my peers who have picked something and stuck with it, I’ve seen how far they've gone in their careers. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I "stick to something"? Why did I feel like I was the only one who approached life this way?
Recently I read a book called Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. The book describes people called “scanners”. She calls them this “because instead of diving down into the depths of an interest, we scanned the horizon for many interests.”
Expecting such a person to pick one specialty for life as his or her singular “passion” and forfeit all other curiosities is like expecting someone with wanderlust to pick their favorite country and stop traveling.
Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin are popular examples. Related terms include: Renaissance people, polymaths and multipotentialites.
There are also several types of scanners. For example, some seek mastery in a subject before moving onto another one, while others are satisfied with a “101”-level understanding.
I’ve read all sorts of career advice over the years and oddly this was the first time I encountered anything like this. It's comforting to know there are more of us out there like this.
I now embrace my curiosity and breadth of skills and interests. I also noticed that the career experiences I’m most proud of are those in which I made unique connections across different disciplines.
No matter what’s next in my career journey, I hope to incorporate such themes moving forward.
Does this sound like you, or like someone you know or manage? I’ve included some resources below. I would love to hear from your experiences and any helpful resources you’ve encountered along the way.
"Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” ― Samuel Johnson, Works of Samuel Johnson
- Book, Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher
- TEDx Talk, Emilie Wapnick: Why some of us don't have one true calling
- Emilie Wapnick's site Puttylike, a home for multipotentialites
- SuperSoul TV, Elizabeth Gilbert: Flight of the Hummingbird - The Curiosity-Driven Life
- 99U, Framing Your Creative Expertise
- NYTimes, The Lives of Millennial Career Jugglers
“Combinatory play” can be described as “the process of taking unrelated things (thoughts, ideas, topics, images, disciplines, etc.) and putting them together to generate new, useful ideas.” 
For example, “Einstein famously came up with some of his best scientific ideas during his violin breaks, which he believed connected different parts of his brain in new ways.” 
“Combinatory play” sums up what I’m up to at this stage of my sabbatical. I'm collecting a variety of enriching experiences around certain themes and keeping an open mind of the results. My approach to “R&D,” if you will.
For example, in the theme of “Nature,” I went on my first backpacking trip, became certified in Wilderness First Aid and participated in a foraging walk in Golden Gate Park.
At the intersection of “Nature” and “Art,” I took a class at the San Francisco Art Institute on Environmental Installation.
In the theme of “Art,” I’m taking my first poetry class, at the Writing Salon in Berkeley. I'm also working on my art book and exploring various projects at my shared art studio space in the Mission (more on those in future email updates).
And so on.
Process vs. results
This process of Combinatory Play is separate from its results.
Furthermore, those results can be expected and unexpected. Those results can also be immediate or later.
For example, in 2012 I completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training program. Some results were immediate and expected (e.g. a stronger yoga practice).
Some results were immediate and unexpected (e.g. decision not to teach yoga at the time), while other results were later and unexpected (e.g. inspired several art pieces I created in 2015, such as this).
In a similar way, I’m doing this process of Combinatory Play around certain themes, but keeping an open mind to the results.
While some of these endeavors have already borne fruit in the most unexpected of ways (more on that in future updates), I understand that some may come up in my art life or tech life years from now… or maybe never.
With that in mind, I select activities that I enjoy and can learn from, so that at the very least, I have fun and have learned something new.
"How we choose to pay attention, and relate to information and each other shapes who we become, shapes our creative destiny and, in turn, shapes our experience of the world."