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The Gifted Resource Center of New England

Dabblers and Doers

Robert loves to play ball. He likes any sport that has a ball in it, which means that he loves, and plays a great many sports. He is usually on at least two different teams each season. This involves an incredible amount of juggling of other family obligations in order for Robert to play as much as he does. Robert would prefer to spend all his time playing sports.

Rachel plays the violin and practices five hours and more each day. To Rachel, time spent playing the violin just flies by and it never seems to her that she has spent much time at all. Still, with her lessons, practice, and performances, Rachel devotes almost all of her time to music. She attends a special school that allows young musicians to compact the school day into a shorter time in order to have more time for developing musical talent.

Roger likes to do many different activities. In music, he likes to improvise, playing his guitar for an hour or two at a time. Then he may put the guitar down and not play it again for weeks. He likes to write stories as well, and when inspired will spend several hours at the computer writing pages of a story. When he gets tired, or it’s bedtime, he will save the story intending to work on it the next day. The next time he sits down at the computer though, he is eager to work on another idea he’s had meanwhile.

Robert and Rachel are examples of Doers. They have a passion for working at something they love, and each is willing to work long hours to perfect skills and advance to new levels of challenge. Robert is a wonderful athlete and excels in soccer. He is 10 now and knows that he will soon have to make a choice about whether or not to focus on soccer exclusively so that he might have a chance to play in college. Right now though he can’t bear to give up playing all the other sports he likes. This is one of the dilemmas that Doers face. How much of other things they like do they need to sacrifice in order to become really good at their passion? Rachel long ago decided that it was worth it to spend all her time with music. She can’t imagine what else she would want to do. When asked what will happen if she doesn’t make it in the musical world, Rachel just smiles. She knows there is no answer for such a question. In fact, Rachel believes in herself so much the possibility of future failure doesn’t enter into it. Besides she wouldn’t see it as failure anyway. Somehow, she’d still find a way to play no matter what.

Roger is a Dabbler. He has many passions and each is extremely interesting for the moment. Roger is driven less by the need to develop skills and perform well than by the novelty of his new ideas and how he might put them to immediate use. Once he has tried them out, they often lose their potency for him. Besides he is struck by another idea he just has to try out. Like Rachel who isn’t worried about what she will do musically of her grand plan doesn’t work out, Roger isn’t worried about finding another idea.

Doers and Dabblers are creative beings. Each tries to produce a specific result. Robert wants to hit the perfect home run, score the best goal, and make the best touchdown. He is willing to practice long hours to perfect his catching, shooting, pitching, throwing, hitting and kicking skills. Whatever he will end up doing, Robert recognizes that reaching his goal will involve a lot of work, as well as love for his sport.

Rachel wants to be a world famous soloist someday. She not only studies music, she also studies those violinists who have become soloists to see what it is that enabled them to do so. She likes all aspects of performing, and recognizes that one of her talents is how she perceives the music. She sees herself as someone opening up a gift package for the audience, slowly unwrapping this musical piece until it is arrayed in all its glory. This then becomes Rachel’s motivation: to provide a flow of music that enraptures the audience as much as it does herself.

Roger's motivation is entirely different. Though he is as self-directed and passionate as Rachel and Robert, he works entirely differently. His passion is intense but he cannot sustain it over time. What motivates Roger is the next new idea, the next thing he wants to try out. The novelty of the new idea, the development of the new piece, and the intense focus and concentration are all as rewarding for Roger as for Robert and Rachel. It’s just that he then changes to another medium, or another idea as soon as the initial novelty wears off.

Does this mean that Roger's creativity isn't any good? Will he grow up to be a ne'er-do-well who cannot keep a job and drifts from one thing to the next? That could happen. On the other hand, Roger might become more motivated to finish something if the stakes get higher, for example, when he has to make a living. My own father dabbled his way through life. He had his own business and what he did changed over time, ranging from packaging Easter egg colors to starting a publicly supported foundation that helped handicapped workers gain job skills. There were many failed ideas, but there were also many successful ones. That’s because Dabblers are idea people really, and do best in environments where they can produce based on many ideas, some of which will fail.

Parents of Doers need to support their children’s intense dedication to a passion, supplying lessons and time in which to engage in the activity. People who become famous sports stars, musicians, scientists, artists and so on need to have the opportunity to work on their chosen activity from an early age, including educational support that allows them the time to develop their skills.

Parents of Dabblers need to allow them to follow their ideas wherever they go, supplying lots of free time, and encouragement to experiment without needing a specific product. Later on, some dabblers become Doers, and the time spent dabbling allowed them to gather material for their later activity. Many writers, for example, dabble as children. Our most creative inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists, and designers are Dabblers. But oddly enough many of the most creative musicians and artists are too. Just think of our great jazz and blues musicians; think of VanGogh.

Doers and Dabblers provide different aspects of the creativity that sparks progress. Each is necessary and each needs to be equally supported and allowed to develop.

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