Refuse to be boxed in: Embrace your multipotentiality

It’s OK not to have one true calling

Photo: Clem Onojeghuo

Are you jealous of people who have a clear-cut idea of what they want to do in their life? I am. My Dad worked for the same company for twenty years. My husband discovered his calling as a musician and a music teacher while still in high school. How do they do it?

Did you find it hard to choose a major because you have so many interests? Do you worry that you will never find your true calling? Or do you feel like you need a new calling? 

If you answered yes, I have reassuring news for you. You are not alone! There is a word (or several) for what you are. You are a multipotentialite. Also known as a scanner, multi-passionate, Jack-of-all-trades, or Renaissance person. Phew….

Adults ask kids the question: what do you want to be when you grow up all the time? I wanted to be an Olympic figure skater, actress in Broadway musicals, a journalist, and a diplomat. My son, who is ten years old, wants to be a professional basketball player and a stooge. He also loves reading, science, and math. Do you remember your answers?

As he gets older, society is going to ask my son to narrow his focus again and again. When it comes to creating a career and life he loves, I will give him advice based on my personal experience and on Emilie Wapnik’s new book: How to be everything: A guide for those who (still) don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

Here is how I imagine the potential conversation on multipotentiality I will have with my son. (As an introvert, I like to rehearse these things in advance.)

Photo: Akhil Chandran
 

Me: You may find your calling like Dad. But it is also normal to find to find it hard to choose. Or to change your mind. In our careers, everyone needs to find meaning and a way to make money. But if you are a multipotentialite, you will also need variety. Variety is the key spice in a multipotentialite’s happy life. Your choices do not have to be permanent. There are many ways to find variety. You do not have to fit your life and career neatly into a box.

Son: But how will I find the variety, Mom?

Me: There are four work models to mix and match to be a happy multipotentialite.

Son: Like what?

Photo: Toa Heftiba

Me: Picture a Group Hug. You choose a career that smooshes together all your interests. For example, you could become a Harlem Globetrotter. You could combine your interests in both basketball and comedy.

Son: That would be cool. What’s another way?

Me: You can have more than one part-time jobs or business at the same time. Your Dad, for example, was a music teacher/professional musician. He worked as a music teacher by day and as a professional musician at night, on the weekends and in the summer. This the slash approach or a portfolio career.

Son: That’s two ways. What is the third?

Me: You’ve read about Einstein right? Einstein worked a stable job in the patent office. He developed his scientific theories on the side outside of work. If you choose the Einstein approach, you need a job that leaves you with enough energy and time to pursue your passions on the side. Your passions don’t have to earn you money, fame or a Nobel Prize to give your life meaning. I’ll never earn a cent playing tennis, but that doesn’t stop me from playing whenever I can.

Son: Mom, you are no Serena Williams. What is the fourth way?

Me: Do you remember Fawkes, the phoenix, in the Harry Potter books?

Son: Yeah, he dies and is reborn again from the ashes.

Me: Well, you can also reinvent yourself in your career. You don’t have to have the same career the whole time.

Son: How will I know what skills to use my career?

Me: Have you heard phrases like Jack of all trades, master of none.

Son: Yeah.

Me: Specialize no more. Your unique skill lies in the intersection.

Son: What do you mean?

Me: Well multipotentialites are masters at blending together different subjects. You can combine two or more areas together into something completely new. How cool is that?

Son: How do we do that?

Me: You are good at learning new subjects quickly. You are adaptable. You can find creative solutions to problems. You see the big picture and use all your areas of knowledge. Like an orchestra conductor, you are a good connector of people and ideas. These are your multipotentialite superpowers.

Son: So I don’t have to have just one superpower, like the X-Men?

Me: Nope!

Son: Every superhero has his kryptonite. What are they for people like me?

Me: I love that example! Yes, it is true you will have some stumbling blocks along the way. 

Son: Like what?

Me: Some people won’t understand you. They won’t appreciate your skills or why you need so much variety. This might cause you to lose confidence in yourself. It can also be scary when you change directions and start something completely new. Finally, it can be challenging to manage your time and energy productively to get everything done.

Son: Hmm… will you help me if I encounter these problems?

Me: Of course! I have experienced many of these problems myself.

Conclusion

You may have begun by thinking something was wrong with you. When in fact, being a multipotentialite is your biggest strength. Emilie Wapnik claims you are puttylike: 

“able to embody different identities and perform a variety of tasks gracefully.” (p. 9). 

Embrace it! Learn as much as you can about multipotentiality and your unique skills. If you have or deal with children, share the message with them too!

To learn more:

Read the How to be everything

Watch Emilie’s TED talk: Why some of us don’t have one true calling

Check out Emilie’s website Puttylike

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Kelsey Cleveland is a multipotentialite who has a slash career as a Desire Map facilitator and freelance writer. As a Desire Map facilitator, she helps women at times of transition figure out how they really want to feel. She understands transitions. Prior to her current slash career, she had a 15-year career in nonprofits.

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