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Self-discovery is one of life’s greatest joys. Human beings strive for fulfillment and purpose, and knowing oneself is critical to this journey. It assures us that we are on the path we are meant to take, confident in our direction, and diligent in our work. But perhaps most importantly: the more we know ourselves, easier it is to answer the question of – why? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why do I work so hard day in and day out? Why do I want this so badly? All too often we fall into the habit of going through the motions, only approaching our work with a one-track frame of mind, and simply assume that we’re moving forward regardless of if we have constant intention behind our actions. But purpose goes beyond any day-to-day task or end goal. Our purpose defines who we are at our very core; however, the path to discovering this purpose is often not straightforward. But the solution is simple. If we’ve spent too long approaching our purpose by thinking about it one way, let’s try thinking about it in many ways! One effective approach to uncovering your true calling is through the lens of multiple intelligences, a theory developed by educational psychologist Howard Gardner. This theory suggests that individuals possess a variety of distinct types of intelligences, each of which can guide us toward different paths, whether they are career paths, academic paths, or even life paths. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of multiple intelligences and how you can apply these diverse capabilities to discover your true purpose. By understanding and leveraging your unique blend of intelligences, I am confident that you can better align your passions, strengths, and interests with a fulfilling and meaningful direction in life.

What are Multiple Intelligences?

Intelligence as we have been taught to understand refers to a systematic measurement of one’s ability to apply critical thinking, solve abstract problems, understand complex phenomena, and adapt to change. Yet, even that definition is hotly contested, with an entire field of psychological study dedicated towards validating methods for measuring intelligence, and almost all of them have been challenged, as well. For instance, an intelligence quotient (IQ) test is meant unify and quantify a single metric for measuring human intelligence, and most tests combine different questions that test cognitive abilities, mental flexibility and logical reasoning, among others. Attempts to craft an idea of a unified general intelligence have typically come up short. Either you are high IQ or low IQ, with no room for specific intelligences.

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences challenges the traditional notion of a single, unified measure of intelligence like the one we’ve grown accustomed to, presenting a new view of intelligence reframed to suit a person’s individual traits, learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. Instead, Gardner proposes that intelligence is multifaceted and that individuals have varying strengths across 8 different types of multiple intelligences. This perspective acknowledges the diverse ways people think, learn, express their abilities, and solve abstract problems. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences proposes that each person has a set of skills that thrive and represent a unique aspect of their cognitive abilities, a separate intelligence. Because no two people are the same, even if they happen to have equal proficiency in a certain intelligence, the ways in which they express their skills will differ. Knowing which of the multiple intelligences you particularly exemplify can help with narrowing down purpose, injecting focus into your unique goals, and developing the skills needed to reach those goals.

The eight intelligences Gardner’s theory specifies are:

Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence (word smart)

Innate sensitivity to language and its nuances, both spoken and written. People with high linguistic intelligence tend to be described as well-spoken/written, diplomatic, or a person who “knows exactly what to say at the right time.” Writers, lawyers, journalists and teachers are common examples of people who may be considered high linguistic intelligence persons.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (number/reasoning smart)

High ability to think logically, reason, and solve mathematical problems in a systematic way. People high in logical-mathematical intelligence are excellent problem solvers, excel at complex computation, and analyze problems logically. Common career paths for these people include science, mathematics, computer science, or engineering.

Spatial Intelligence (picture smart)

Spatial intelligence refers to a large capacity to visualize and manipulate objects and spaces. Spatial-visual intelligence is important for visualizing space and orienting oneself within it. For example, people with good spatial-visual intelligence enjoy puzzles, maps, exploration, and recognizing patterns.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (body smart)

Skill in using one’s body to express ideas and solve problems. These people have a deep connection with their body movement and can be said to be “in tune” with their physicality, represented by high coordination and dexterity. Dancers, actors, sculptors and surgeons are usually very high in bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

Musical Intelligence (music smart)

Sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, melody, and musical composition. Possibly the most specific of the intelligences, people high in musical intelligence understand and appreciate sound, engaging with the underlying principles of music such as recognizing musical patterns or performing musical instruments with ease.

Interpersonal Intelligence (people smart)

Ability to understand and interact effectively with others, understanding their perspective. People with high interpersonal intelligence are skilled at guessing the emotions, wants, and intentions of others, and are able to relate to others in ways that are constructive and positive. Therapists are commonly high in interpersonal intelligence.

Intrapersonal Intelligence (self-smart)

Capacity for self-awareness and understanding one’s own emotions and motivations. People high in intrapersonal intelligence are keenly aware of their emotional state and enjoy deep reflection and contemplation. They are extremely self-aware and can recognize the basis for their feelings.

Naturalistic Intelligence (nature smart)

The most recent addition to the intelligences, naturalistic intelligence is the ability to recognize and classify natural forms, plants, animals, and other aspects of the natural world. This is the more controversial addition to the group, since it is very limited to nature — however, individuals high in naturalistic intelligence are keen observers of their natural world, and can recognize changes in their environment no matter how subtle.

Multiple intelligences and personal growth: finding your dominant intelligence

Most people possess a mix of all of these intelligences, but to a different degree. For instance, someone may be particularly adept at wordplay, music, and interpersonal relationships but struggle with spatial tasks or abstract problems. The important thing to take away from this is that you have incredible gifts that resonate with your purpose, and the task is just figuring out which of the intelligences is your dominant one, the intelligence you naturally embody. Take a moment to reflect on the things you excel at and enjoy, and you will see where your innate interests align with your abilities.

How understanding your dominant intelligence(s) contributes to self-awareness

We can embody a mix of the multiple intelligences at any given time, and that mix is what we should be reflecting on when we think about our purpose. This isn’t to say that our purpose is wholly dependent on our innate intelligences, but rather, knowing which dominant intelligences we gravitate towards can help us discover purpose in a way that feels natural and in line with our deeper selves. In the end, it all comes down to self-awareness, and knowing our strengths and weaknesses. Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory is helpful in this regard, because whether or not you completely subscribe to his view, the way his model tries to account for internal states that vary across individuals is a starting point for deeper reflection.


Discovering your purpose through the lens of multiple intelligences is a transformative journey that allows you to align your strengths, passions, and values with a meaningful life path. Assessing your dominant intelligences, exploring aligned career and life paths, and reflecting on personal values will help you uncover your true calling and live a life of fulfillment and impact. One that feels authentic. Embrace your unique blend of intelligences and let them guide you toward a purpose-driven life that resonates with your deepest self.

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