4 Skills that will Dramatically Increase Your Chance of Thriving as a Multipotentialite
Photo courtesy of Seth Anderson.

4 Skills that will Dramatically Increase Your Chance of Thriving as a Multipotentialite

Written by Emilie

Topics: Education, Innovation

What does it takes to thrive as a multipotentialite? Not survive. Not accept. THRIVE.

Accepting and embracing your multipotentiality are wonderful steps along the journey. I get a lot of emails from people thanking me for informing them that there’s nothing wrong with them.

That’s great, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Not only can you be okay with your multipotentialite nature, you can actually make it your competitive advantage. Your multipotentiality can be the reason people want to work with you, be around you, learn from you and interact with your creations — whether they know it or not.

In this article, I’m going to share with you four cognitive and emotional skills that can dramatically increase your ability to thrive as a multipod.

The beautiful thing is that anyone can develop these skills. Of course, the earlier you begin, the more time you have to hone and implement them. (It’s the reason that parents and teachers should really pay attention. If you can get your children/students thinking this way at a young age, it’ll really set them up as adults). But anyone, at any age, can learn this stuff. It’s just a matter of practice.

Skill #1: Self-Directedness

Thriving as a multipotentialite often means stepping outside the linear trajectories that make up the specialist life plan. It often means forging your own path or “choosing yourself” (to borrow a catch phrase).

Got a project you want to start? If you’re self-directed, you will initiate the project on your own, without waiting for permission or waiting to be selected by an outside person or organization.

Got something you want to study but don’t have access to courses (or perhaps courses don’t exist)? If you’re self-directed, you won’t let this stop you. You’ll do some self-study and research the topic yourself.

That’s not to say that a self-directed person won’t seek out support or accountability to help them stay on track. In fact, if they’re smart, they will seek out as much support as they need. They will work on coming up with a productivity system for themself, which may include daily rituals, strategies to get around resistance, mini-deadlines, breaking their projects up into smaller chunks, whatever it takes.

How to become more self-directed:

  • Start experimenting with daily work/creative rituals. You can begin with a short practice in the morning, like a 15 minute writing practice or meditation. Think about crafting your day, as opposed to being swept away by it.
  • Tell a positive, trustworthy friend that you are going to complete some small portion of a larger project and send it to them by a specific date and time. When I was writing my 30 Rock script a few years ago, I would send my accountability buddy a few pages twice a week. She knew to expect it and I knew I would get a (lighthearted) scolding if I missed a deadline.

Skill #2: Comfort with Discomfort

So many adults I know are afraid to try new things.

We are terrified of being wrong in our culture, afraid to look stupid or be incompetent, as though it might say something about who we are deep down.


In truth, being bad at something is a prerequisite to becoming good at it. It’s not a sign that you’re a failure, you just need more practice.

Multipotentialites are going to be beginners again and again over the course of their lives. If you can get used to that early stage of stumbling around and feeling like a moron, at least long enough to begin to feel a sense of proficiency, you’re going to be far more likely to thrive. You’ll have a richer, more exciting life, accumulate skills faster and be exposed to a greater number of ideas and opportunities.

Although not all forms of discomfort are desirable (some are obviously dangerous), the kind I’m talking about here is the good kind. It helps you grow and evolve.

How to get more comfortable with discomfort:

  • Try something new. Sign up for a drawing class, attempt to solve an algebra problem, take a mixed martial arts class, book a room and put on your first live seminar. Look for pursuits that sound both completely terrifying AND exciting.

Skill #3: Pattern-Spotting/Analogy

Creativity is just connecting things.” -Steve Jobs

Want to be an innovator or artist? Want to stand out and create something new? Well then, you’d better get good at pattern-recognition and drawing analogies between unrelated ideas. These skills are the foundation of idea-synthesis, which we’ve talked about before.

I define innovation as taking knowledge from one area and using it to solve a problem in a totally unrelated field. That’s where the new ideas come from. They don’t come from textbooks.

Multipotentialites have a lot of dots to connect and a lot of areas of knowledge to draw from. However, they need to know how to integrate that knowledge into what they’re working on by seeing how disparate fields are related.

Most of what I do in my coaching practice involves helping people see the commonalities between their various interests and coming up with an overarching theme to express that connection.

Pattern-spotting and analogy are highly lucrative skills that pay well and lead to inventiveness.

How to develop your ability to spot patterns and draw analogies:

  • Start looking for ways in which unrelated things are in fact alike and what your various passions and pursuits have in common.
  • Here are some exercises I came up with for my upcoming presentation in Colorado. Tell me how the following things alike:

1. Architecture and love

2. Movies and the human cell

3. Electricity and freedom of speech

4. Pirates and cooking

5. Cinderella and mold

6. The periodic table and a wheel

Hint: ask yourself what qualities each one has and what it does. Then see if there’s some overlap.

As an example, lets take Butterflies and Fire. These two things are alike because they both spring to life, they are both colourful, the flapping of wings resembles the flickering of fire, fire in a fireplace warms you while butterflies might make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, alternatively, your house on fire might cause butterflies in your stomach.

Try these out for yourself when you have a free moment. They’re fun. When I posted them in the Puttytribe, people came up with some really creative answers. There are no wrong answers.

Skill #4: Self-Knowledge

The more you know about how you like to work, what kind of life you want, what sorts of people you want in your life, and what changes you want to affect in the world, the happier you will be.

Self-knowledge is one of those skills that aids with everything. It helps you understand your motivations and allows you to make better decisions.

How to develop greater self-knowledge:

  • There are a variety of ways to develop greater self-knowledge. Most involve journaling and/or thinking a lot about what you care about. What in your background has made you feel alive? What gives you energy?
  • Think about your Why(s). Who do you want to help and why? Do you want to empower people, educate people, inspire people, entertain people? What issues do you care about?

I truly believe that multipotentialites are the innovators of the future. The idea that a multipotentialite needs to cobble together odd jobs or have a dull “good enough job” in order to survive is an outdated notion.

Your multipotentiality is hugely in demand and will become increasingly valuable throughout the 21st century. But being a multipotentialite alone isn’t enough. You need to know how to harness and use your super powers. Start by working on becoming more self-directed, getting comfortable with the beginnings, spotting patterns and developing a deep sense of who you are and what you care about.

Your Turn

What did I miss? What skills do you think are important for thriving as a multipotentialite?

em_authorbioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist. Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. #2 is the one of these that I’ve been working on recently. I recently turned 40,so according to the specialist life narrative, I should be at the peak of my career, having mastered the skills I set out to learn earlier in my life. Instead, I’m constantly learning new skills and contemplating a career change, which I’m not really sure what I want to change my career to.

    I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a quote from Jake, a character in the cartoon Adventure Time, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” I’ve really been focusing on the words “sorta good.” A lot of (possibly even most) tasks don’t require mastery of a skill. They require competence. Competence I can do; mastery, not so much. Doing something well (or even “sorta good”) is adequate for most purposes – not that I’m advocating for sloppiness or carelessness here, just that I’m trying to no longer feel the need to try to be “world’s best” at anything that I do, which was my previous standard of success.

    • Emilie says:

      That’s awesome, Jason. Constantly learning new skills at 40 sounds like way more fun to me! Can’t wait to see what you end up doing next. Did you catch when I reposted this cartoon?


      And I completely agree with your point about being competent. I think mastery is overrated. Often you just need to reach a certain level of proficiency and mix that skill with a few other pre-existing skills to have a real impact.

      • I hadn’t seen it before, but I’m glad to have seen it now. Thanks!

        • Jim says:

          Hey guys,
          This is my first post and I’m quite excited to have found this site.
          Jason- your post made me think of a New Yorker article by Malcom Gladwell on the “10,000 hour rule”… If you’re unfamiliar definitely look it up sometime. Also, a few other reflections on your post. In my opinion mastery is not necessarily overrated per-say. Rather I tend to believe that satisfaction with simply achieving competencey at an activity (or activities) is a bit like a coping mechanism. One that allows a multi to maintain a relatively “normal” productive lifestyle while creating more time for ones mind to discover a particular activity which one is more likely to achieve mastery. Your life experience simply may not have allowed you to find your “true calling” if you believe in such a thing. Furthermore I also like to believe that it is possible that one of the major factors behind the indecision those like “us” often seem to face is that our “true callings” can’t be found because they don’t exist yet. Perhaps our various intersecting talents are what is needed to create a new field of study, make a world changing discovery, invent the next iPod, or be a pioneer in some other sense.
          My apologies for the lengthy post, again I am not yet familiar with the etiquette of this site. Jason good luck in advancing your career, hope to hear encouraging news on here in the future!

    • Stijn says:

      This is something my psychologist and I disagreed upon today. While I argued the merits of trying new things outside of your comfort zone, she focused on how my time could be spent best. I think we both were right here.

      Intrinsically I know that I want to become an expert in my field. This is a goal I set out to achieve two years ago when I took a break from work. (I had just turned thirty.) That was two years ago, and I think I’m moving ahead quite well. Still learning new things every day. But that knowledge now accumulates. It feels like I just keep accelerating, coming ever closer to escape velocity.

      Had I chosen to do something completely different, that would probably have been fine as well. But that would have meant starting over, from scratch. That’s doable, but my productive years are limited, so I chose. But then again, this is my choice. And I am by far a good example here.

  2. Georgie says:

    I think these four are amazing! I’m glad I’m on the right track :D

    I’d add a high tolerance to criticism… or to learn to not give a high value to external validation. It’s really hard, and even knowing that you’re a multipotentialite doesn’t seem to help when people keep insisting that you did something wrong because “you didn’t learn it deep enough”.

    Great post!

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, Georgie. I agree, that’s a tough one but it can really help!

    • Stijn says:

      Don’t really agree. I actually go out of my way to hear criticism. How else are you going to approve, if everyone thinks what you do is perfect? It’s not easy to voice honest criticism. Even if it is meant to be constructive, people still fear that they will be perceived as negative. I have found it quite a nice challenge to establish trusting relationships with people I work with. Within this trust, everyone is comfortable enough to voice their own opinion. Even if there is disagreement, or one of the ideas turns out to be wrong, it is still considered a victory for the team. A victory, because we discovered an error that we can now eliminate and prevent. And that those mistake happen a lot. ;-)

      • Jim says:

        As I’ve read elsewhere on this thread, again the theme again applies… In the end we’re all a bit different.
        To generalize; what may be considered a maladaptive behavior to Emile may be very useful and healthy to Stijn. I tend to agree that criticism is often useful (be it constructive or otherwise- the latter often seems to put a real chip on the shoulder of some providing strong motivation). To others, criticism may be taken as harmful. I believe that both are okay, each just must find the balance that works for them.
        I have always struggled with criticism in a different way than both of you… Often (depending on the subject of course) I have a natural tendency to completely disregard criticism unless I am extremely confident in the critics knowledge/ability/experience in the field. I tend not to recieve criticism very frequently simply based on my particular social behavior. I generally do not act or say until I am confident enough in he decision to stick by it- or at least confident that I’m “more right” than the potential critic. That may not sound like taking a chance, but I prefer to look at it as calculated risk…. The trick is learning when to pull the trigger on an idea. Whether we like it or not, it often seems timing truly is everything in life.
        My best suggestion to emilie- try to seek out and expose yourself to possible criticism mainly from those you respect and feel you can learn from. If you seem to continue to recieve criticism from elsewhere, leave it for the birds. Hey if everyone’s entitled to their opinion, you’re fully within your right to say f**k ’em once in a while. Not to be harsh but surrounding yourself with negative or closed-minded people, chances are that may be best for both parties involved. However I know it can’t always be avoided, which is probably a good thing. So like Stijl said- if all else fails take it with a grain of salt and let it drive you to be better.

  3. Dan Henderson says:

    Self-knowledge, oh how I wish I had more of it right now. I’m seventeen and attempting to figure out life after high school, and while I have a general idea, I struggle with the question of “who am I and what do I want to do?” Part of my problem might be in that I’m a perfectionist who tries to do too much. I’m leaning towards Penn State, and I feel like being at a big college gives me more opportunities of majors if I decide against the science/engineering that I’m currently planning on or if I decide I want to add another major or minor. Also, big college = more places to find my niche, and I feel like that niche may be the key that I’ve been looking for to develop that self-knowledge.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Dan,

      I think self-knowledge is something that comes with time. Well, time and reflection. You’ll learn more about what drives you/matters to you as you pursue the things that sound fun and reflect on what about them you enjoyed (and what you didn’t enjoy).

      I would recommend choosing a school that will give you opportunities to explore and take classes in several different fields. College should be a time of exploration. Don’t worry so much about pinning down your niche. We’re a community of people who don’t have niches (or who have multiple niches) and make it work.

      You might also find this article helpful:


    • Hi Dan,

      It sounds like you’ve got a good plan as far as keeping your options open. Actually, it sounds a lot like what I did. I went to University of New Orleans (the biggest college available to me). I went in as a comp sci major, came out with a history degree, and in between spent time majoring in math, geography (environmental concentration), geography (GIS concentration), and sociology. The classes that were my major classes in the majors I changed out of ended up being my electives in the degree I ended up with.

      One observation I’d like to make based on my experience is that if you think you might change your major is that it’s easier to start out in science or engineering and move into liberal arts than to go the other way around – the math and science courses you took as a science major will fill those requirements for a liberal arts degree, you’ll just have more rigorous training in those areas than most of your classmates (which isn’t a bad thing). If you start out in liberal arts and then decide to change to science or engineering, you’ll probably have to retake some of your math and science prereqs before you can dive in to further courses.

      Good luck!

      • Emilie says:

        As someone who is now taking a bunch of science prerequisites and just relearned high school algebra, I would second that point about moving from science to humanities and not the other way around.

        (Though I will say that I’m enjoying the math and science very much. :)

        • Dan Henderson says:

          Thank you so much Emilie and Jason for the advice. I can’t express how much Puttylike has changed my thought process for the last 6 months or so as I’m working on college plans.

          I am interested and succeed across the board in my high school classes, so thinking economically, I figured it would be best to at least start college in the math/science/computers side because that’s where I would find a steady job more easily with the current market demands, and change along the way if I want to have something instead from the liberal arts. I’m also glad to hear that starting this way will make changes probably easier. :)

          • Jim says:

            Dan & all-
            First off, good luck! I too know how much of a pain in that decision can be, many go through it as is evident by threads such as these. Here are a few suggestions/thoughts Id like to add…
            1. Stop worrying about “success” and the job market quite so much. With the speed at which things move these days, chances are the top fields are different by the time you graduate. More importantly, the only person’s definition of success you should be worried about is your own. Not your moms, not the your guidance counselor’s, not the public definition. Yours.
            2. Unless you’re getting a ton of scholarship/grant/aid money to go to a school like Penn St. dont waste your time and money going for the schools name. At least not until you’ve tested the waters elsewhere (somewher MUCH cheaper) and have gained useful credits toward a major you decide on. Even then, go as cheap as you can. If you’re really ambitious, do your grad work at the expensive prestigious institution. That’ll get you further and you won’t be paying off loans until you’re a senior citizen like a startling (and increasing) number of people who go the “traditional” route.
            I’ve gone through 4 majors and am finally in my second to last year studying Physical Therapy, where many of my classmates are dreading a 200+K tab waiting for them upon graduation. Higher education is creating a ton of debt these days.
            3. I agree go the math/ science route. It will always be on the cutting edge and so will you. I’m probably biased but I tend to prefer the healthcare field- no matter the economy there will always be sick, injured and dying. Unfortunate reality. Not to say that the subject matter of humanities or liberal arts is useless, but much of the material is just history in some sense or another. If you’re driven and intelligent enough you will sufficiently self-educate in those fields on your free time.
            4. Whatever it is… Do it because you love it (or are at least fascinated by it) not the money. If you truly enjoy your work and have the real stuff, you will get good enough at it to get paid top notch somewhere somehow.
            Best of luck!

  4. Jon says:

    Emilie, thanks for this article. It’s what I needed to hear. Out of your list, I think a variation of comfort with discomfort – comfort with setbacks – is where I am. Trying not to let setbacks throw you off course. I’m in a place of “setback attacks” right now, trying to start my own business. It’s been hard, because I’m close to chucking in the towel, and yet, I wonder if the setbacks are trying to tell me something, you know? Like a secret message.

    How do you feel or cope with setbacks?

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Jon,

      Yeah, it’s touch sometimes knowing whether you should persist or throw in the towel (as though the set back is telling you something).

      Why don’t you go somewhere where you can be pensive and bring along a journal. Try to think back to what you are trying to achieve with this project, that grand vision you had when you started. Try to determine whether it’s still exciting to you.

      Basically what you’re trying to figure out is whether you’re dealing with fear/resistance right now or whether this is your natural end point (cause you got what you came for).

  5. Aviva says:

    I love it, Emilie. I would agree with these, and I am pleased to see Skill #4, Self-Knowledge, on here. Sometimes it can seem counterproductive or counterintuitive for people to spend time thinking about..well, themselves, but I have found that knowing myself, the good AND bad, not only leads to more exciting living as a multi but also more compassionate living.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. Radiet says:

    Thank you Emilie for reminding me who I am. I am a multipotentialite. I can’t be asked to specialize.

  7. Tracy says:

    Being understanding of and patient with people who are only good at one thing. ( :

  8. Jamie says:

    What a great post! All of these are very valuable skills. I would also add: mandatory down time. I have learned that learning and pattern seeking are brain intensive. I end up having to redo or rethink when I spend too long at one task. Get up and walk around. Might sound like a time waster, but I swear some of my best ideas are when I’ve just stepped out the door to walk my dogs.

  9. Thanks for this post Emilie. I just find myself faffing about lately, doing a bit of this, a bit of that, with no Grand Plan or Linking Everything Together. Its annoying and frustrating.

  10. Leroy says:

    You got it right!
    This helps give peace to all of us out here that feel confused on what to do and where to go when we love so many different things so much!
    Feels good to know your not alone!
    Thank you!

  11. Emily says:

    Thank you Emilie for your post. Since a few weeks, I am collecting infos from different sources which help me a lot in defining my next steps.
    This post has been of a great value as well:
    I feel more and more comfortable with being a generalist in a world of specialists.

  12. Emily a friend directed me to this post and boy can I resonate with what you are saying. I am turning fifty in a couple of months and never before have I enjoyed learning new skills so much. I am learning to edit a novel. Finishing a picture book, creating art for a gallery and next an etsy shop with pendants, my designs. I wonder why it takes me so long to finish anything. I had so many jobs when I was younger and was liked by most of my peers. I am a chameleon and not afraid to learn new skills. Thank you for this post it helps me understand why I have so many projects going at once and now I need to focus. I can accept that I have many interests and thats okay.

  13. Janet P says:

    Love this line Emilie – “being bad at something is a prerequisite to becoming good at it. It’s not a sign that you’re a failure, you just need more practice.”

    Am a classic multipotentialite, perhaps a serial one? (not read all your posts so not sure exactly you define things). But I’ve never lasted more than 3.5 years in any job and I’m 50 next year. In fact, the first time I lasted as long as 3.5 years was only in the noughties.

  14. Mark Neu says:

    “Think about crafting your day, as opposed to being swept away by it.”

    This phrase really jumped out at me. I write and draw and make craft items and the possibilities of what I can do sometimes mount up and prevent me from accomplishing as much as I want. I’ve been thinking I need to regiment my time more. The idea of crafting my day hits it right on the head and is a nice turn of phrase. Good work!

  15. Shilpa Garg says:

    The concept of ‘multipotentialite’ is something new to me. Thank you for an enlightening post, Emile, it is good to know that I am not alone and I can do so much better with the various things that I am doing! :)

  16. Simon says:

    I found this site to be very exciting and inspirational!
    First i must say that i have a job where I get to explore a wide variety of interessts. I build apartments and refurbish houses from mostly “scrap” material. This way i can carve wood, paint, do plumbing, electricity etc. ever single day. I work mostly alone. Sometimes i hire a friend if needed for extra muscle. Do any of you feel like you suddenly get more energy, more innovative and basicly happy when you are with like minded people?
    I sure do. And also sometimes I get a kind of a “high” when I get to lecture or talk to people about a new passion or interesst. Is this egocentric or normal? Thanks for this site! (and to anyone who would like to comment)

    • Emilie says:

      Totally normal, and awesome! I love teaching people about something I’m interested in. It’s so inspiring, being able to pass that along. And I know they appreciate my enthusiasm.

      Want to come to Portland and help me restore my vintage trailer? ;)

  17. Nick says:

    Without even knowing it, I have been developing these skills. Skill 3 is definitely something that I can work on. Self knowledge I feel is the starting point of it all, discovering more about yourself helps you achieve that self directedness and forge the path you want to forge. Great post as always.

  18. Janet H says:

    Hi Emilie! I fell in love with your TedTalk.
    I have spent my adult life agonizing over what my “purpose” in life is and trying to pin down that one career thing that is mine. I feel like everyone around me knows what they want to do and are doing it and that I am some how floundering and drifting wondering why I can’t find my thing.
    It is like a breath of fresh air to know that others out there feel this too and that being interested in many different things and needing change as interests change is okay.
    Still working on the self directedness that will allow me to pay the rent and have food in the fridge, but just hearing that having many interests is okay helps open up my quest and give it a little more sense of fun, rather than being some dire thing that must be determined immediately to be a functioning adult!
    Thanks :)

  19. Kerrie says:

    Emilie-I just watched your TED talk and I’m so glad I found you. I’ve always thought something was wrong with me. In college, I jumped between wanting to be a physical therapist or wanting to specialize in exercise science for aging adults. Then, I switched to graphic design artist, and finally (in a panic), I chose Communications because I always excelled at writing. Seemed like a safe bet. I started in journalism, went to corporate communications and now I’m a copywriter. I’m 38 and feel totally stuck in this profession (read: bored). Looking forward to learning more about my newly realized superpowers as a multipotentialite. Thanks for making us all aware that there’s nothing wrong with us!

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  1. Great article about developing as a ‘Multipotentialite’

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