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, Featured, 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.

Rubbish.

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.

25 Comments

  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?

      http://puttylike.com/what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-11-lifetimes/

      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.

    • 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. ;-)

  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:

      http://puttylike.com/how-to-pick-a-college-major-when-you-have-a-lot-of-interests/

    • 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. :)

  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:

    Awesome!
    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:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/04/creativity-habits_n_4859769.html#
    I feel more and more comfortable with being a generalist in a world of specialists.

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  1. Great article about developing as a ‘Multipotentialite’

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