Is It Arrogant to Call Yourself a Multipotentialite?
Photo courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simões.

Is It Arrogant to Call Yourself a Multipotentialite?

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Confidence

Some time ago, a friend asked me what I was doing these days – a question that’s always a joy to answer. I figured “it’s complicated” is a bit of a conversation killer, so I explained that I’m a multipotentialite. I finished by summarizing my current life plan as “make a career out of doing everything.”

After listening for a while, my friend sat back with a thoughtful expression, before saying something that surprised me: “Isn’t that a bit, y’know… arrogant? To assume you can do everything?”

This was an angle I hadn’t considered before. Was it over-ambitious? Perhaps. Foolish, maybe. Unusual, certainly. But it simply hadn’t occurred to me to call the idea arrogant.

I can’t remember how I replied, so it probably wasn’t with anything particularly clever. But this comment has stuck in my mind ever since.

And so, after stewing on the question for many months, in a spirit of definitely-not-arrogant humility, I can reveal that I have the 100% absolutely-correct answer to the question: “is multipotentiality arrogant?”

We’re All Individuals

First, let’s remember there are two levels at play here. It’s possible to be arrogant as an individual, displaying the typical behaviors most of us picture when we think of arrogance. And then there’s also the possibility that the entire idea of multipotentiality is itself arrogant, even if the individual is not themselves arrogant personality-wise.

On the individual level, it seems obvious that anybody can be humble or arrogant whether they’re a multipod or not.

(Going further, and purely anecdotally, it seems to me that most multipods are actually more humble than the average person, possibly because they tend to be aware of a million different disciplines they wish they were better at. I’m interested in further speculation on this…)

Is the Concept of Multipotentiality Itself Arrogant?

This means the remaining question is whether the whole concept of multipotentiality is somehow “arrogant.” Let’s explore this using the most uncharitable view of multipotentiality I can come up with.

Devil’s advocate: Multipotentiality is arrogant because it involves people believing they are better than others because they’re able to do “everything,” while claiming exclusive ownership of “loving variety.” Surely everyone likes variety, so maybe multipods are just being over-dramatic about this. What makes them so special?

Well, putting it like that, it does make the concept sound a little arrogant. But is this a fair assessment of multipotentiality? Let’s investigate.

Nearly Everyone Likes Variety, but Perhaps Only Some NEED it

As Emilie discussed in a recent post, you can divide the reactions to learning about multipotentiality into two main types:

  • “What?! Why on earth is that a thing?”
  • “OH MY GOD, THAT IS SO ME!”

These two main kinds of reaction suggest there’s a real phenomenon here. While multipods don’t claim to have exclusive ownership of variety, perhaps they’re simply at the extreme end of the variety-desiring spectrum. For these people, it’s a relief to meet others who feel the same way.

Still, just because it’s a real thing, that doesn’t mean it’s not elitist.

Different, Not Better

As far as I know, the only requirement of being a multipod is your own desire to identify as one. Literally anyone can do so, if it would make them happier.

It’s not about being better in any way. Multipods don’t struggle to fit into a world made for specialists because they’re “too good” (or even because they think they’re too good), but because they simply don’t fit.

Similarly, a square peg isn’t too good for a round hole; it’s just a different shape. Puttylike is a place where all square pegs can get together and share their relief that they’ve finally found somewhere to fit in. It’s not about being better than anyone who fits more naturally into a specialist world.

It’s Not Literally Everything

My final thought on this is that nobody can do “everything” (nor would they want to). Of course it might sound arrogant to claim you can, but nobody seriously claims that. If someone says “I do a bit of everything,” they aren’t being literal.

Perhaps the possible perceived arrogance of multipotentiality, and the premise for this whole post, is simply confusion over a poetic “everything” versus a literal “everything.”

It seems we’ve reached a conclusion: we can be arrogant if we want, but if we are, it’s probably not because we’re multipotentialites.

Your Turn

Have you ever struggled to explain multipotentiality to a friend? Have you ever wondered if it comes off as arrogant? Please share, agree, or disagree in the comments!

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

39 Comments

  1. Anna says:

    Indeed, I like this idea that being a multipod is a desire. Is what we would like to do because it feels like our skin and the way we most naturally go on in doing things – or the way we would do if not biased by prejudice about having a specialization -. It is not a “gift” or a superbrain that only some people recieved. Is another way of following your own stream.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yes! I think no matter what our passions are, living them out without judgement of others is what it’s all about :)

  2. Anna Weisend says:

    I struggle every day trying to answer the “what do you do?” question. I still have yet to come up with a good ‘elevator pitch’ but when I do try to explain, I get amazement (Wow, you must be really talented) or pure skepticism (you really do all that?). No one has ever accused me of being arrogant but I do get a lot of “seems like you are stretching yourself kind of thin” type comments. Sigh. Wish there was a script I could just use to explain and justify myself.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Definitely one of my least favourite questions (or it used to be – now I enjoy it, which is a nice benefit of doing what comes naturally). A script would be so handy!

  3. Susan says:

    I think non-multipods just can’t understand what it must feel like to us. I hope if I am ever confronted with the arrogant question that I remember to take the time to explore with the confronter and, obviously, non-multipod. Good conclusion – we can be arrogant, but it won’t be because we are multipods. Enjoyed the read.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Glad you liked it, thanks Susan :) I think that it’s hard for any human to imagine what it’s really like to be somebody else, but hopefully it’s something we can all get better at.

  4. Margaux says:

    I’ve only tried to explain in it the last 5-6 years — and it doesn’t ever sound right. I don’t think I come across as arrogant so much as flaky.

    But, if I talk about what I was like as a kid, then yes, it sounds arrogant. Because back then, I really was very good at nearly everything. HOWEVER, potential is always just potential. There’s not enough time to really turn everything one is excellent or very good at into something one is a master at. I certainly haven’t done that.

    I don’t think anyone I’ve ever met in my adult life has ever mistaken me for a genius. And I have never pretended I am one. So, I’m pretty sure, if I’ve been called arrogant, it’s not because of my multipotentialism but because I insisted I was right about a particular fact. (Which I was, by the way. ;) :p :D I’m slowly learning not to correct people when they bring up urban myths as facts.)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, I love this comment, Margaux :)

      So right about potential just being potential, and I laughed at your certainty that you were correct (a feeling I might occasionally share ;p)

  5. Mel says:

    Enthusiasm for exploring and developing multifaceted connected or unconnected projects may well be mistaken for arrogance by the non- multipotentialites who may not get the high levels of enthusiasm, excitement and diversity of interest so often experienced by us “flaky” “fickle” folks? Potential is EVERYWHERE – some respond, some don’t.

  6. thomas says:

    One of my best friends and I discussed my multipotentiality and we both agreed that it’s not so much, or at least not always a gift. It’s mostly a curse. Life seems so much easier for someone with an outspoken talent. So speaking about something I consider a difficulty, cannot be arrogance :-)
    Nice article!

  7. Katy says:

    In a rare moment of balanced self-confidence, I declared that I was a ‘multifaceted diamond.’ It didn’t seem to put off my future partner at the time who simply saw it as true! :) It did startle me when the words came out of my mouth! I think I am more likely to judge myself as arrogant and ‘hide my light under a bushell’, than for others to see me as arrogant.

    • sidtsara says:

      yep i know this one. I actually FEEL arrogant at times and keep questioning people. Most say not at all, but i still feel it and tend to dumb down or hold back. Not always great.
      Keep on. x

  8. odile says:

    Hello !!
    i love this post !
    and i love to see the funny face of the people who ask me” what are you doing?” that i have “today” (tomorrow might be different !!! :p ) 10 different works, all going very well, all giving me such pleasure and good time, some good monnies some other less monnies but all give me FUN !!
    and this is, for me, the only way to be alive and enjoy this beautiful life on Mother Earth !!
    multipotentiality or love of life?
    i dont know, i just love to be alive and do as much as i can do in my day, day after day!!!
    actually… i just add one more on the list !!
    thank you for your posts that have helped me a lot to be aware of my infinite abilities !!!

  9. Odile says:

    and by the way…
    i also feel so procrastinating when i “just” sit back and “think” about what could be my next fun of life….
    :) :p

  10. Suzan says:

    Interesting. I hadn’t thought about it, but yes I am a bit shy about laying out my history. When I do talk about all I’ve done, I notice that it sounds like I’ve lived 5 different lives, or that I must be hundreds of years old. How can you do all of that in one lifetime?!

  11. Suzan says:

    What a wonderful response! I hope you have continued to hold on to that perspective!!

  12. Phil says:

    I see this as just being insanely curious about almost everything. I read about almost anything and I want to try it (well almost everything). That doesn’t mean I want it as a career though. I may have just wanted to say I did it. I’ve found over the years that this trait has given me an opportunity to relate to a lot of people. Sometimes the activity tried is a basis for discussion.

  13. Nikki says:

    That’s exactly what I was going to say: it’s not “everything” in the literal sense, but more “make a career out of doing everything that I think I would enjoy” but that’s longer and life’s too short, especially for a multipod :)

  14. I can definitely agree with your statement, “it seems to me that most multipods are actually more humble than the average person, possibly because they tend to be aware of a million different disciplines they wish they were better at.” as a multipotentialite I do shy away from telling people all the things I’ve done in my lifetime and still plan to do. Either I get a negative response such as stick with one thing (that’s probably the most offensive) or theyre kind of upset at me to be good at a multitude of things when they can’t figure out one thing they’re really good at. As a person who loves to try and learn new things I can easily say I don’t do everything nor do I have an interest to do everything, just those I enjoy or have a passion for or those that come natural to me. I often feel the ‘imposter syndrome’ come over me from time to time because I always look at those who have mastered something and think to myself I’ll never reach their level of mastery., so it is quite humbling and frustrating to be a multipod… I wonder are there any mental disorders or issues associated with this? Em you should do a post about that if you haven’t already!

    • steph says:

      I totally identify with the “impostor syndrome”! I tend to shy away from people’s attention or diminish my own merits, just because I “feel bad”, because whatever little success I had, it was probably due to a stroke of luck (right? what are my efforts compared to years of dedication from a specialist?).

      Lately, I went back to dance and barre classes (after 20 years of doing nothing of it) and people (teachers and fellow students alike) come at me and declare, much more than they ask: “You’re a dancer!”
      You have no idea how flattered I am… but… PANIC… BIG…. TIME! I cannot begin to tell you how immensely I respect all the hard work, resilience and sacrifices dancers make every day, and I never worked nearly as hard as they do (in any field). Talk to me about feeling like an impostor!! But, wait… I’m not trying to deceive anyone.
      So I don’t reply Yes, which would be a shortcut.
      But, I have learnt not to answer No either.
      Because from my own experience, that’s when you take the credit away from you (when someone was readily complimenting you) that you do sound arrogant.

      So maybe multipods are humble AND talented, and maybe this precise combination is what makes them appear arrogant to others.

      PS: That being said… I am French. So people will always think I’m arrogant anyway! ;-p

      PPS: My theory is that multipods allow themselves to be multi-talented. I think quite a bunch of specialists could be good in many other fields, they just never gave themselves a chance to try. Hence, the theory that multipods are generally more humble, because they’re more open to novelty and challenges. Thoughts?

      • sidtsara says:

        I so know this one too. Its embarrassing to be told Im a natural when ive not done something before. It feels big headed and yes arrogant I guess.
        I love being near other Multipods as i dont feel the need to dumbdown and i love to celebrate others.
        x

  15. Sheryl says:

    Being a multipotentialite means having the ability and the desire to achieve “greatly” (not “greatness”) in a large number and wide variety of fields. Changing one’s inclination to being a multipotentialite is akin to changing one’s sexual orientation: It cannot be done. Sometimes, I tell people that I bore easily, and I struggle to find work that is both challenging and diverse.

    Thanks for a great article!

  16. The Velvet Bulldog says:

    I’ve started working for myself because with the broad range of skills I have, I couldn’t find a job. Employers want someone who has specialized in doing the same thing for 20 years. That definitely doesn’t make me feel arrogant, it makes me feel like kind of a loser who CAN’T excel in any one thing because it’s too boring. (BTW, I know I’m not a loser.)

    Even now, when I describe the multiple things I do under the banner of “Public Relations” people tell me “You need a niche.” I hate that. I DENY THE NICHE! I REFUSE THE NICHE!

    So no, I’ve never felt arrogant because I feel like while I CAN do many things, I’m not SUPER-EXCELLENT at any of them, and that feels like a shortcoming.

    • Emma says:

      Niche doesn’t have to be based on what you do–you can base it on who you serve and/or how your approach differs from other providers. Niche is primarily about differentiation, not specialization. Your diversity of skills can be a differentiating factor — you just have to word it like it’s a benefit. If people are responding that way, you haven’t adequately clarified your value.

      For example:

      “I do X, Y, Z, Q, R, and S …”

      vs.

      “I offer comprehensive PR for small businesses who need the breadth of expertise of a firm but at freelance prices”

  17. Keena says:

    Good article. I don’t think it’s arrogant – and like you wrote, people don’t need to know everything about me at once. But, that being said, how do you determine what exactly you tell people? Where to even start!? With just what your currently passionate about? I amy have to search the archives and see if you’ve written about this before :)

    PS: Multipod would mean I have multiple FEET! :D

  18. Calin says:

    Hey, you all !

    Isn’t it coming in all shapes ? Being arrogant, or better, boring, shy, multipotentialLITE or talented ?
    So, we just DO things with apparent ease , Ok?
    And sometimes we just won’t DO things (pretending at least that we have already understood how to DO and not interested).
    Gabriel Liiceanu (a Romanian philosopher, I am myself Romanian..) has a good point in the following definition “stuck in a project phase”.
    This defines stupidity…
    Don’t we all fall from self confidence to self doubt (but this really happens to everybody) or (this time more specific) from brilliant to stupid ? How many times have you discovered that your “brilliant” idea was just common knowledge or even worse just wrong ?
    So, doing a lot of different things comes with a bloody cost !
    You won’t be (that was a previous discussion) the absolute best in something.
    Might even be mediocre in some fields.
    How are you (really!) managing your time ? Your life ? Exhausting (and exhilarating) hyperfocus for a while, then staring at the void ?
    Missing chores for a “great idea” which just comes out to be “Ok” ?
    Being creative and “hard to follow”, and by that just barely (and only to the last moment) getting to the result when you have to (finally) get a job done ?

    So, alright we are different (but not so much) and we might have fun for some time, using some names to name us…
    It’s a nice tribe, here! I am staying, whenever I fell like, for a while…

    Emilie, I was asking for a direct, meaningful non-reply from you about half year ago. Which, I got.
    We seek meaning and hope for it in what we do and we crave for some new “story” to lead us on to some next level of control and understanding.
    There is somehow, something wrong, somewhere.

  19. Kaitlin says:

    This is something I identify with a lot! I’ll be talking to someone in a business context and mention that I used to be a makeup artist or work in radio or teach yoga and the reaction is sometimes skepticism. I perceive /interpret the tone to be saying “how is it possible for you to be your age and have done all of those things”? I fear they think I am bragging, exaggerating, or worse, lying. I’ve never really had a means for overcoming that except to not bring these things up at all.

  20. Erik says:

    I think there’s a fine line between being arrogant and being self-confident!
    But I do find myself monitoring my stories to a point! Is this right or wrong?
    After 30 years of great experiences I find people love good stories, But not to Much, The difference is you can choose to be arrogant or not! self confidence is earned.

  21. Rebekah says:

    Interesting topic, Neil! My 1st thought on this is of my own self-image… the more specialized I am, or the more experience I have in a subject, at least, the more I notice my own arrogance. I become more critical of others work in the same field, and more OCD on my own! So I tend to think the opposite of what your friend suggested, the more specialized you are, the more likely you are to reek of arrogance.

    It seems like, as a whole, the specializing culture is stuck knee-deep in the imposter sydrome, always believing that certain hobbies or professions are reserved for the elite. Multi-potentialites are just brave enough to overcome these beliefs and fears. We are adventurers! We thrive in the unknown. We enjoy the challenges that come with inexperience.

    In fact, I think your friend is a little arrogant… who is he to say you can’t do everything?!

    Thanks for all that you share here!

  22. I actually have two responses to this. (Surprise.) First, in social situations, I will usually be the first one to ask someone new what they are interested in. Being a multipod, I can usually keep up the conversation on most subjects. More importantly, if it is something I don’t know, I have a thousand questions to ask. People seem to always be more content talking about themselves, and for me it is an opportunity to learn something new.

    From a business perspective, being a multipod allowed me to be whatever the client needed. More importantly, it allowed me to see problems in ways none of my other colleagues could. In most places where I worked or consulted, there was a divide between the business people and the tech people. They literally spoke two different languages. I was the perfect go-between. Having started as a techie, I could always talk their language. Being a multipod, I could sit in on a meeting with the business folks, and walk away with an understanding of their language. Seeing both sides allowed me to short-circuit misunderstandings and explain each side to the other. It may not have been what I wanted to do at the time, but I was successful.

  23. Sidtsara Ross says:

    Great post and perfect timing.
    Ive been going through this whole arrogance things for a couple of years.
    The thing is I FEEL arrogant and it is an issue for me in that because i feel it with awareness I inhibit/dumb down to avoid seeming arrogant. I also project that people think im arrogant and so often feel judged and disliked. Not a great way to make connections or offer some of the qualities I am.

  24. Lia Rees says:

    Specialists often feel insulted when you mention that you’re not one. It’s assumptive, emotive nonsense. We *know* that different isn’t better. Fluffy cultural memes about “I’m different because I dye my hair blue” are all very well, but real psychological difference is still misunderstood.

  25. Dr Arvind Gopal Kulkarni says:

    NO, NOT AT ALL! It is not arrogant to call oneself a multopotentialite…

    It is just a grand -looking self expression…where is the arrogance ? Actually, arrogation is taking what one can see and work on…if many people cannot ‘see’, and therefore, they do not take or absorb…and keep feeling jealous about others, who can see and ‘take’…where is the question of being arrogant here ?

    Multipoentialites have a more broader range of what exactly life and living means compred to others… and are better compartmentalists of activities they undertake..this multiple view is a product of realisation that life and living has far more volume and space than what most people think…

  26. Suzanne Glazier says:

    Margaux’s comment about feeling “flaky” really resonated with me. Because I haven’t done “the normal” get married once, choose a forever career and set the cruise control, I often worry that the image I am creating is one of not being reliable or able to stick with something. I’ve experienced over 30 jobs in my life which gives me valuable experience in a ton of different career arenas. While those experiences can benefit an employer it’s not something I want to enumerate at my next job interview for fear of appearing flakey.

  27. Emma says:

    I find that some people have the attitude that to want “too much” out of life is arrogant because they believe “you can’t always get what you want”. If you have a limiting belief about your own life, it can feel challenging when you meet someone who doesn’t have that limiting belief.

    This reminds me of a time when I was in college looking around at the world and thinking about my future. The idea of working a 9-to-5 job sounded awful to me. I declared at a family gathering that my plan was to figure out how to not have to work for a living, or at least not have to do work I didn’t want to do. One of my brothers yelled at me for half an hour about “who did I think I am” and “everyone has to work”. I thought to myself, “Well obviously that’s not true–if anyone has figured it out, I can too.” But I realized even then his reaction was about him, not me.

    I think it’s arrogant to decide you know what someone else is capable of.

    Later I was dating someone and I expressed the same sentiment. He looked at me aghast and said, “Well, I just think there is work to be done!” – as if I was declaring my intention to shirk my responsibilities as a member of the human race. I was taken aback and didn’t know how to respond, but later I realized he didn’t value the kinds of things that I do in my “free time” as a contribution to the human project–but I do. I think artmaking, contemplation, learning, writing, and interesting conversations are all contributions, and yet I don’t enjoy doing any of those for money. What I was really saying was I wanted to choose my own contribution and be able to do those things independently of the need to earn a living.

    I’ve learned to take other’s opinions of my life path as reflections of their own beliefs. And I often have different beliefs, which I am happy with.

    I have great respect for specialists who are masters at their craft. At the same time, I also love being who I am, and appreciate my broad interests, diverse explorations, and willingness to dedicate a huge amount of time to learning entirely new things periodically. We can all be awesome if we do what is right for ourselves and appreciate and encourage each other to do the same.

  28. Karen Joslin says:

    Once upon a time (way before television and the internet), being a well-rounded person was considered important. Royals not only commanded armies, they wrote poetry. Even peasants knew how to dance or to play instruments. It was okay not to be an aficionado at everything, but rather to have enough knowledge and skill in a wide range of subjects to be able to participate in a spirited debate and/or entertain others. I doubt anyone ever accused Leonardo DaVinci of being arrogant. That’s part of the reason I prefer the term “Renaissance soul” (or man/woman/person) to “multipotentialite.” Because of the amazing achievements of people during the Renaissance, that reference carries with it an aspect of social acceptability. Who in their right mind would call DaVinci flaky for having many different interests? No one!

  29. Marilyn says:

    I’m arriving a little late to this discussion but I can relate to this topic because I have recently experienced some negative feedback from family and friends when I have shared the knowledge I have attained about a variety of subjects through my varied work and personal life. While I have not been called arrogant specifically I have been referred to as a “know-it-all” which is a term I feel is in the same neighborhood. I was a little shocked by this and have since been tempted to tone down my input to the discussion. I truly believe that my enthusiasm about a topic I know quite a bit about has been mistaken for arrogance. All I can say is, “Sorry, that was not my intent.”

  30. M. Vania says:

    Nicely written! I have had two reactions to answering this question. The first one is of utter amazement by friends and family. The second one is that I am arrogant and that they perceive me as thinking of others as less than me.

    In a metropolitan environment I excel being a multipod, but within a small rural town, I feel stifled and at times misunderstood.

    So, in reading all of these posts, I can now provide individuals with an answer that might agree with them (as it may not). The square peg I am makes me think I belong more in a mindcraft world than a call of duty world. I prefer the former.

  31. Laura says:

    I did feel kind of embarrassed while listening to Emilie’s TED talk (this is not a critic in any way, the talk in itself is not arrogant in the least), because I was definetely identifying to what she was describing, but I also felt like it was possibly arrogant for me to do so. I guess it could be because I’ve been used to be told when growing up things like “Wow, you’re talented in everything”, “you’re a genius” etc. and it always made me feel uncomfortable and slightly ashamed of being good at many things. Obviously there are worse things in life, but I assume you all get my point. It just pinpoints this feeling of being different, and it’s like people “get you wrong” – like it is not the right way to look at who you are and what you do.

    But I suppose that is why some people could find multipotentiality sounds arrogant. It implies that one defines himself as “skilled in many things” in opposition to people defined as a norm (specialists) who are “mostly good at one thing” and who “don’t mind being limited”. That is not the right way to look at it though. As you very cleverly wrote, everybody likes variety, but not everyon NEEDS variety. Multipotentiality is much more about what makes us happy than about skills – the definition of multipentiality lies in what causes distress and happiness before anything.