In Case We Forget: What Being a Multipotentialte Means
Photo courtesy of Gabriel Rojas Hruska.

In Case We Forget: What Being a Multipotentialte Means

Written by Joshua Lundquist

Topics: Confidence, Multipotentialite Patterns

There may be doubt in your mind at some point, about whether you’re a multipotentialite or not, and what that even means.

“So is it supposed to mean I’m somehow quicker at getting good at stuff than everyone?”

Unfortunately maybe not.

Specialists deserve credit, they’ve achieved a ton for civilization and for the furthering of the arts (including technology), and advances in culture and communication that make it easier than ever to be a multipotentialite.  The tools for creating and sharing your work have never been more accessible.

Maybe you’ve heard that Steve Jobs, now becoming to millennials what John Lennon was to baby boomers, wasn’t an amazing programmer.  I would venture to say that he was not a specialist even, I may venture further to say that he was more like us multipotentialites.

Okay maybe I can’t claim that, nobody gets to claim Steve Jobs’ legacy or his “type” anyway…

But if you are having a moment where you find yourself surrounded by mastery, by specialists who you see as more talented or more hard-working or more masterful of their style, and you’re cursing your multipotential nature/gifts or you’re just feeling envious, then you need to take a step back.

First of all, if you’re here, then rest assured you are one of us, just accept that now.  You’re not alone.  And many of us know that feeling of being surrounded by specialists, grading their talent on levels of mastery.  We’re tempted to think “They’ve made it!”

Now just for a second, let’s look at what it is that truly makes us tick.

A Multipotentialite’s Mind

I’ll set a quick scene: There’s me and I see or hear something really amazing, then I have this thought: “I want to do that.  I could do that.  Doing that would make me incredibly satisfied.  I will learn how to do that.”

And maybe I tell someone.  Next scene, six months down the road, and I am doing that thing, or learning how to at least.  Maybe not perfectly, maybe not getting the results of a master, but I’m fine with that.

“Wow you really do what you set out to do!” our most positive, friends might say in a matter of words, inspired by our diving into the unknown.

Being Misunderstood

“Oh, what is it this time?” might be another reaction, perhaps implied from more cynical people, transferring their own dissatisfaction with not finding “their thing” onto you.  If only they knew…

We Are Driven By Desire

The difference between your healthy desire to pursue new things and the way the cynics may see it as “the indecision of a dilettante” is a major one, imposed by the lens of a society obsessed with specialization, craving simple romantic myths about people who were “born to (insert interest or skill here)” and became “the best” as a result.

The competitive mindset we are exposed to from a young age takes over, we need to know who’s the best, and often debate who’s better than who.  We’re obsessed with the #1’s in society.

But isn’t that kind of ridiculous for artists?  Aren’t we supposed to be the ones who live outside this hierarchical way of seeing things?

Competition Obsession and My Beef With #1

The backlash of this “number ones only” mentality is that it discourages innovation and creativity in newcomers to any genre, medium or discipline.  Of course, one can just ignore this, and ubiquity and recognition aren’t everything.  I’m only bothered by the #1 obsession insofar as it encourages the amateur to give up.

It also means that the majority of people around us who do specialize, even in the arts, likely aren’t as familiar with that zone of uncertainty as we are.

It’s lonely there, scary to not know what’s next–painful, even, dancing on the edge of the unknown. What’s next for us?  We truly often don’t know, and that’s what we deal with!  I’d say if we’re masters of anything, it’s dealing with that!

People start cloying for attention and followers and “likes” because they fear being unknown or unappreciated.  That to me isn’t a fear worth entertaining.  Why worry about ubiquity when you could be pushing the envelope, trying new things, living in the uncertainty.

Pushing The Envelope Is What We Do Best

Our society is obsessed with showering the best with rewards and fame, always at the exclusion of those of us who are heroic in our ability to start over, over and over again.

Seth Godin mentions in his new book that what we love to do may not always make us money or would even make us happy if it was a career. The truth is that society may not always reward us for being who we are. While society rewards mastery in any given medium, it does as readily reward the multi-talented, since there needs to always be a “best.”  I personally don’t want to be appraised by the medium my work is in, since that is not my identity!

What Makes Us Multipotentialites in the First Place

We don’t give up until we’re finished.

“Finished” may not be defined as “complete,” as much as “I got what I needed.”

Whether it’s to get good enough at graphic design to copy some amazing master’s style and use it to make our own album cover, or to learn how to do public speaking despite zero experience, or just to prove to ourselves that we can do something and then using the conceptual framework of that on everything else in our lives, the fact is that we can’t help it. We do it out of pure desire.

Many times it means putting that thing we made out there and saying “Look, I made this!”  People, unaccustomed to the amateur may not know how to react.

Obsessed with overnight success and drama, we forget the purity of the amateur and the newness they bring.

The artist can’t expect more, even though more might happen one day.  Sometimes art only makes a small sound.  Are you ok with that?

Of course we’ll get the blues, nobody said it would be easy, and this isn’t a recipe for amazing business success, nor is it a sign that we’re all amazing entrepreneurs–it’s just our way of life.

So you can take all the business and self-help tips in the world, but none of it will make you happy unless you accept who you are and love it.

Make sure your expectations are in line with what you really want to be doing every day / week / month / year, and not the residue of expectations collected from traditional standards of mastery or the ubiquity of doing one thing only.

We all want to shine and be known for what we do, and for multipotentialites it’s going to take a while, because nobody like us has come before to give us an example of what it’s going to like.

Your Turn

What does being a multipotentialite mean to you?

joshJosh does music, web design and comedy in Tokyo living with his wife and 3 year old daughter. While there is a word for “multipotentiality” in Japanese (Tano), Japan is the land of taking interests and hobbies to extreme levels of specialized knowledge (see “Otaku”). Josh hopes to raise awareness about the “Tano one way or another. You can find Josh online at anincrediblewasteoftime.com and on Twitter @lundquistjoshua.

8 Comments

  1. shreen says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for this. It really raises my spirits and gives me confidence as I have just started my own art shop (I’m self-taught and multiple career changer) and find it surprisingly terrifying to put my work out on public display! All hail the amateur!

    • Josh says:

      Hey Shreen, glad we were able to raise your spirits!

      You have some awesome taste for sure, great that you pursued it and taught yourself everything, too.

      I think being self-taught is pretty common amongst us multipods, for sure.

  2. Annie says:

    Great article! This really struck close to home. Often I just wish that I was a specialist. I believe, in all modesty, I would be good at being a specialist since I am focused and dedicated. However I know in my heart I am a multipotentialite and this article has made me more aware that I just have to face that fact and learn to accept, and maybe one day learn to love it. I am someone that always wants a plan for everything, and am happier that way. I hate the way I can’t controll my multipotentiality. I feel as though I work just as hard or even harder than many people my age that will grow up to be specialists, only my energy is spread over so many different things that constantly change. I often wonder “How will I ever be really good at anything?” I feel as if I have failed before I have began. In ten years when people ask what I have done, I will have nothing to answer for; I will of completed nothing. This article really reawoke the fact that completing things doesn’t have to be my aim. Thanks for writing an article that will help me on my path to self descovery, self worth and my goals.

  3. Josh says:

    Annie, I think I know what that specialist envy is like, and often it’s looking at others around you that maybe enforce that status quo that causes it.

    But nobody says we can’t be focused and dedicated, too, and it’s great that you are–you’ll probably end up mastering several things!

    “In ten years when people ask what I have done, I will have nothing to answer for; I will of completed nothing”

    – A perfectly viable concern for people like us. We discuss this worry in the Puttytribe pretty often.

    To that I’d answer with this quote:

    “It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect”…” -Tim Ferris

    And yes, we do often end up working way harder just to match the specialists in a specific area, don’t we? Where’s our credit? haha…

  4. Sarah says:

    Great article, I was fist-pumping the air in agreement with many points.

    Something that came to mind was how, sometimes we might envy the ‘specialist’ not just because of the recognition/understanding they receive from wider society, but also because it can appear like they have found ‘the thing’ that brings them joy, that they funnel all their passion into. I used to get hung up about that, because i prefer to enjoy many different things, and as soon as i tried to pick just one to make ‘my thing’ i’d freak out. It made me doubt that i really loved what i was doing enough – ‘if i really loved dancing/writing/playing the tuba i’d want to do it 24/7 for the next 10 years’.

    So what works for me is being absolutely 100% passionately giving it my all on whatever it is i’m doing (even if i’m just dabbling for a week). Passion and devotion doesn’t have to come as an accumulation of time (eg ‘i love it so much i do it all day every day since i was 7′) – it’s literally about what you bring to something while you’re doing it in the moment.

    I’d actually advocate that being a multipotentialite could mean we’re more committed (in the moment) to what we’re doing than someone who does something for yeeeeears, where there’s potential to get bored, start to lose concentration, or starts to simply ‘go through the motions’.

  5. Josh says:

    “it can appear like they have found ‘the thing’ that brings them joy, that they funnel all their passion into. I used to get hung up about that, because i prefer to enjoy many different things, and as soon as i tried to pick just one to make ‘my thing’ I’d freak out”

    You nailed it. I couldn’t have put this better, and how you wrote it here I think sums up what I’ve been trying to put into good words forever. Thanks for reconfirming how I have always remembered feeling about being a multipotentialite.

    It really is about that feeling, when you notice a difference between your own internal experience from those of people whose stories you’re told all day/week/year long and you even grow up hearing from your own friends and relatives your whole life.

    Turns out we don’t get to be passionate about one thing. And it’s genuinely hard to accept for awhile, I’d get this feeling of longing like you might long for some distant place or person you can’t be with.

    “Passion and devotion doesn’t have to come as an accumulation of time.”

    -beautiful quote! I’d like to pay a sky writer to paint that for people to see.

    We really are truly passionate in such a way that the status quo can’t really contain us.

    “it’s literally about what you bring to something while you’re doing it in the moment.”

    Yes!

    Thanks for happening by this post, Sarah, you just inspired my next post, if not a few of them!

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you so much for this lovely comment, put a huge grin on my face! Look forward to reading more from you :)

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