Is “Multipotentialite” a Real Thing? Is it Really Okay to Be this Way?
Photo courtesy of Kamilla Oliveira.

Is “Multipotentialite” a Real Thing? Is it Really Okay to Be this Way?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

Emilie,

I found Puttylike today while searching the web for advice on how to settle down and focus on just one interest in life. I’ve struggled with this ‘problem’ for as long as I can remember– having varied, multiple interest and goals and cycling through them on a regular basis. It’s has caused me much anguish throughout my life, since I thought there was something truly wrong with me. I just never stopped to think that there were others out there like me. Nor did it ever occur to me that maybe it was okay to be this way.

Just reading the website for 30 minutes has made me take a huge step back and reconsider all of this. But I’m skeptical. What ever gave you the idea (and the courage) to consider that having multiple interest was okay? I’ve been married for almost 20 years and my wife is finally getting to the point where she accepts me for who I am. I believe she still see’s it as one of my defects, but she accepts it. If my own wife only tolerates me, what chance do I have in this world?

– A multipoltentialite… If there is such a thing

**

Thanks so much for your question, “A multipotentialite…”. I’ve decided to turn my answer to you into a blog post because I have a feeling the discussion will be helpful for other people too.

Is “Multipotentialite” a Real Thing?

Well, the word itself was invented by a friend of mine and popularized through Puttylike. But the idea of the multipotentialite isn’t a new one. There are several other terms that are used to describe people with interests ranging multiple disciplines. Some terms that come to mind include:

Dan Pink has written about the importance of synchronicity in his book A Whole New Mind. And Fast Company has even published a series of articles on how beneficial necessary it is to be flexible and multitalented in our economy.

My Spin on the Idea

The word multipotentialite is my own spin on the idea. But even multipotentialite comes from the real word “multipotentiality,” which is a term in psychology used to refer to people who have aptitudes in multiple disciplines.

The idea of the Polymath goes back to ancient Greece though, and the term has been applied to figures ranging from Aristotle to Leonardo Di Vinci to Ben Franklin, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Jean Cocteau, René Descartes, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julia Child, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are many modern figures that I would call polymaths. Names like Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Martin, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Tim Ferriss, and James Franco spring to mind. Most entrepreneurs, mixed-media artists, writer/director/producer, singer/dancer/actor combos are also multipotentialites.

It’s not only prominent cultural figures who do many things either. If you start looking around in your life, you’ll likely begin to spot people who runs more than one business or has two very different jobs, each of which they love for different reasons. Most people with careers in multidisciplinary fields (architecture, environmental policy, art therapy, etc.) have several different backgrounds and areas of interest.

So yeah, it’s a thing. There are definitely a lot of people out there who are unable to devote their lives solely to one area (I’ve heard from thousands of them at this point). The way to make it work is find ways of integrating your multipotentiality into your life.

Is Being this Way Okay?

Let’s tackle the second question in your email: is being this way okay? I guess that depends on what you mean by “okay.” If what you mean is: can someone with many passions have a successful career, make a significant positive impact in the world, be happy and healthy, then yes, it is “okay.”

The proof is everywhere; in our history, in our culture, in our communities.

However, if when you ask whether it is “okay” to be this way, you are asking whether it accepted, then no, multipotentialites are not widely accepted or understood– yet. For a long time, it wasn’t “okay” to be gay either (this is still true in many places). It was pathologized. In order for it to be “okay,” society had to change.

Obviously, these two issues are very different. But there are some similarities, namely that the problem lies not with the people who have the trait, but with the rest of society’s lack of awareness, acceptance and education.

Most of us grow up in a world that pressures us to specialize, so it’s all we know. But even this pressure comes from a specific point in history: the industrial revolution. We don’t think about it that way, we think of the requirement to specialize as some innate truth. But it’s rooted in culture, not biology. (If anything, you would think that biologically-speaking it would make the most sense to be able to adapt and have a wide range of skills to draw from– from shelter building to hunting to child-rearing.)

In my opinion, being this way is not simply okay, it’s a tremendous advantage. There are huge strengths to embracing your plurality (here’s a list of some the super powers I identified, and here’s a great article by Tim Ferriss on this topic).

Being Accepted by our Loved Ones

I’m sorry that your wife doesn’t see your multipotentiality as a strength. Perhaps once you start seeing it that way, she will begin to as well.

My guess is that she loves you and is trying her best, but just doesn’t understand. She too grew up in a specialist-centric culture. She probably hasn’t noticed all of the people in the media and in her own life who are doing many things because she hasn’t looked at the world through that lens. Maybe you can point these figures out to her. Maybe you can explain the notion of the multipotentialite to her, send her a link to the terminology page, or give her a copy of Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose.

Here’s a whole post about dealing with disapproving family members. A lot of that applies to partners as well.

I hope I’ve answered your questions, A multipotentialite... I also hope you feel better about being a multipod. It’s who you are, and like the Drama teacher in the critically-acclaimed teen drama, My So-Called Life told Ricky in the “Self-Esteem” episode, “Nobody should hate who they are…”

Your pal and fellow multipotentialite,

Emilie

Your Turn

What advice do you have for the letter-writer? How do you know that “multipotentialite” is a real thing?

em_bioEmilie 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 carpenter. Learn more about Emilie here.

41 Comments

  1. Lauren says:

    Just before Christmas I had a tutorial with a lecturer to discuss dissertation ideas and what kind of approach we take to research. Most people seemed fairly definite on their approach (natural science, social science or something a bit more ‘out there’), and sort of knew what their dissertations would be about. When it got to me, I proudly said I had lots of interests, and would never stick to one research approach but would instead bounce between social research and more ‘out there’ stuff. To my surprise, my lecturer launched into a big speech about how we need more people who can bring lots of interests and ideas into research from a much broader knowledge based of many disciplines. It’s only because of Puttylike that I felt confident to admit my differences, but was thrilled to discover that my differences were applauded! Hooray! Maybe people are slowly getting the message :)

    • Margaux says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Lauren! It’s always great to hear another example of how interdisciplinary approaches are appreciated for bringing fresh ideas to the table. Awesome! Doesn’t it feel great to be able to be who you are without feeling as though it were a defect?

    • Emilie says:

      This made me so happy! Good for you! And what a rad teacher. Do as much work as you can with her.

  2. Reeta says:

    It is a real thing AND it’s the most natural thing in the world. It would be weird if you liked music but refused to acknowledge your partiality for cup cakes too.

    If people can enjoy music and skiing lessons and food and horror films all in the same week, why wouldn’t their brain be capable of wanting more than one thing out of life?

    I would say to the letter writer, your wife has no idea how flexible and versatile her husband is. It’s a quality that breeds tolerance and acceptance… both of which are pre-requisites for love.

    Your wife is loved even though she only tolerates your multipotentialateness. And even though she might not acknowledge her own multipotential, she still has it. You see it and are drawn to it.

    It’s a normal quality. People like boxes more than they should.

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Reeta. I agree, multipotentiality is so natural. It’s most evident in kids, who are curious about everything. But at some point we begin to orient ourselves toward one thing (though clearly many of us cannot do this).

  3. Sarah says:

    I definitely love the term “renaissance man/woman”.

    I personally think that having multiple interests and abilities is very beneficial, and something that should be intrinsically valued more than someone who only develops their abilities in one thing.

    I think that is one of the reasons why I decided to be an entrepreneur, and why many of the community not only make the same decision, but why many of them succeed.

  4. Mei says:

    Hey Emilie!

    Great post on the topic. I believe it’s also a cultural thing. I grew up in Malaysia and forever, the education system and the social expectation is for people to be all-rounders. Going into college, getting a scholarship, getting a great job – you need to have participated and mastered all sorts of different disciplines to be successful.

    Then coming here to the US, it’s flipped. You’re not valued if you’re a “Jack of all trades” (totally agree, I don’t like this one and it sounds like it has negative implications).

    Anyway, interesting points!

    • Emilie says:

      Wow, Mei. I had no idea Malaysia was like that. That’s amazing!

    • Nicole says:

      I guess this is what I was trying to get at with my comment, below. :)

      It is definitely a cultural thing, and I think ‘we’ (by ‘we’ I mean the multipotentialite community that has grown around puttylike, for example), could be accused of being just a teensy bit insular.

  5. Margaux says:

    The fact that there are so many people who have found Puttylike and other sites for multipods and felt the exact same relief that you felt means that this is indeed a thing. There are many people like us who, for years, have been told we need to pick one thing and stick with it.

    Pshaw.

    Don’t despair, AM! There are actually many more people who can accept people with multidimensional knowledge and skills.

    Who Won’t Appreciate A Generalist: Any mid-level people in a large corporation or bureaucracy. So basically, anyone in HR at a publicly traded company or organization with more than 150 people. Definitely includes academia, medical care facilities, and government agencies.

    WHO WILL APPRECIATE A MULTIPOD: Small businesses! Entrepreneurs! Entrepreneurial companies with fewer than 100 people. Start-ups! Yes, people who can do more than one thing and turn on a dime, fill in for other team members whenever necessary, learn new things fast, borrow solutions from other experiences, and so on, are hugely valuable to have around and much appreciated—especially those who can proactively find problems they can solve and solve them creatively and effectively.

    If you feel underappreciated, you simply haven’t found the people who need you most. They’re out there. And they’re looking for you. I promise!

    How To Get Your Wife To Appreciate Your Talents

    Actually, this is pretty much the same no matter you are Multipod or Specialist: You create value for someone else using your knowledge or skills. So, although it’s self-satisfying to research the history and art of Japanese sword making, no one really “gets” it until that knowledge comes in handy for something practical for them.

    As a simple example, knowledge of Japanese sword making might make you the family go-to guy for sharpening knives. Sounds stupid, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to properly sharpen a knife or tell the difference between using a sharp knife and a dull one. You can show off a bit of knowledge while you’re sharpening a knife, then amaze them with a before and after test, but as long as you’re not annoying or boring people with useless information, you’ll cement a reputation in that one area of interest.

    Keep doing that for other interests. Help someone by using something you know and slowly, all of those separate reputations builds into one general reputation as someone who knows a lot about a lot of different things, and before you know it, people are coming to you first for random information as though you are a walking reference book. (This has happened to me with my boss, who thinks of me as a BS detector and emails me to verify random facts other people have sent her.)

    So, to reiterate, people only appreciate other people’s talents (or knowledge) insofar as those talents are DEMONSTRABLY USEFUL to them or other people. (“Useful” can include entertaining, too.) Find a way — even a small way — to use your interests in real life and I assure you, your wife will start appreciating your interests.

    • Emilie says:

      Jeez Margaux, I’m tempted to re-publish your comment as its own blog post. So helpful, thank you! I especially loved the “who will appreciate a multipod” vs “who will not” distinction. That makes so much sense.

    • Mel says:

      Wow! “Help someone by using something you know and slowly, all of those separate reputations builds into one general reputation as someone who knows a lot about a lot of different things, and before you know it, people are coming to you first for random information as though you are a walking reference book.”

      When I read that line I started crying; not in a bad way but in an OMG that’s me way! Family, friends and even strangers have often approached me for random information. They’ve always know that I could help answer their questions, give advice and direction; even when I couldn’t answer my own questions. I’ve always been confused about what they saw in me that I couldn’t see in myself.

      Then I found your site last week and I’ve been floating on air ever since. A whole new world of understanding has opened up for me.

      I’ve always known that I was intelligent and knowledgeable, but at the same time I’ve never been “successful” in my work life. I’ve had jobs & been great at them but the longest I’ve ever stayed in a job is 4 years. After a while I just begin to feel like I’m going crazy; I have so many friends that have been in the same career for years and years and are happy. I’ve NEVER understood that; I get bored so easily and have always thought that something was wrong with me for not being able to fully commit to a single career. I’ve been a tutor, telephone operator, printer, graphic designer, computer repair tech, imagery analyst, tax preparer, cashier, bookkeeper, receptionist, dance & fitness instructor, public speaker, helicopter pilot, assistant property manager and salesperson!

      But now I know, I need to stop fighting my true nature. There’s nothing wrong with me & I’m not alone. Lol! We are Multipotentialites! :-D

      • Oh2seeMist says:

        Mel, I can totally relate to your post. I’m onto my 5th career change, and my family thinks I’m crazy. But I’m happy, nay EXCITED, to be studying something new!

    • Maria says:

      Interesting take, Margaux. I especially like the part about becoming the go-to person where areas of interest and people’s needs overlap. (I live with a person who collects pocket knives and is indeed a fabulous kitchen knife sharpener.)

      That said, I’ve found the corporate/small business distinction not to be true in practice. I’ve worked for small businesses where, yes, I wore several hats — but they were usually not all hats that particularly fit me or that I wanted to wear. When there are only a few employees, you do what needs to be done. I’ve also found micromanagement to be a problem. If there are only a couple of employees it’s easy to get controlling, whereas it’s exponentially more difficult to micromanage a large group and produce work at the same time.

      I think the corporate landscape is changing. Budgets are tight and companies need to hire people with more than one skill set. The corporation I now work for needed more than one niche filled, so they looked for someone with a variety of skills who had worked in different fields and therefore had proven the ability to adapt and learn (as opposed to someone who specialized in any of those areas they were looking for but might not be willing or able to learn the other aspects). Essentially, probably without realizing it, they searched for a Multipod.

      And I can’t tell you how much I enjoy not being the telephone-answerer, client-greeter, coffee-brewer, and photocopier-fixer while I’m trying to focus on juggling my multiple projects. I am able rotate between my projects at a deadline-oriented pace, or a ME-oriented pace. Of course, I’m also an introvert, so your mileage may vary! :)

      • Wenke says:

        While I agree that being multitalented can be a good thing in a work environment, and I thoroughly enjoy solving problems for the whole team, I have also experienced that because I can do well several different things the boss might expect me to do all those things at the same time. I then explain that he/she has to chose the priorities for me. What should I do first, second, etc. Or they must get someone else to do tasks C, D and E, as I was hired to do task A and B and have deadlines to meet.

  6. shreen says:

    Where I work, being a multipotentialite is more than okay. It’s absolutely *essential*. If you’re not willing to turn your hand to anything and everything, you simply won’t survive.

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Shreen,

      Any chance I could interview you about your work for the site? I think what you’re describing is a “group-hug job,” i.e. a multipotentialite’s dream. Shoot me an email at emilie@puttylike.com if you’d be up for an informal interview over Skype or via email if you prefer. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Steve Reed says:

    Hey Emilie.

    I found you after a referral, and, although I know that I am a multi-potentialite, I always considered that I had just not found my true calling. I am pleased to announce that I no longer think that, and it has really allowed me to focus on the new business ideas I was working on.

    I have spent so much time trying to find ‘the thing’ that I’d be happy to focus on, but taking that line scared and confused me. I have so many things I’d like to pursue, both in business and in my personal life, although, of course, I don’t want these aspects to have a line drawn between them.

    I’ve been a professional firefighter, a National Parks Field Officer, a Police radio dispatcher, a personal trainer, a nutrition coach, an internet marketer, worked in a cafe, built websites, I now write books for kindle, and work as the promotion manager for an online book promotion business, a couple of hours a day, and I love it!!

    Multiple income streams, diverse work, being able to jump between different things as you want to, what an incredibly interesting life.

    Been listening to your podcast today. I think I am a ‘specialist’, I love to really get my teeth into things and learn as much as I can. BUT, my interest often wanes, but by then, I’ve built some valuable skills.

    It’s all good, and I really hope your Puttylike community goes from strength to strength, as I am sure it will

    Thanks

    -S

    • Julie Robbins says:

      I completely agree that finding this concept completely removed the idea that I needed to keep searching for my true calling. It was as if a cloud simple dissipated. Recently I did an exercise where I listed all of my careers/jobs and ended up with thirteen over the course of almost 30 years. To say that I was starting to panic is an understatement. Since listening to Emilie on Thriving Artist Summit I have been able to stop stressing and just start creating. I have more faith that it will all come together.

  8. Em says:

    Great post! For me it is a very real thing and to find a website and community that is devoted to it kinda saved my life so I hope the letter-writer will find a whole new way to look at him/herself thanks to this place, too, like many others. It helps to name the problem but to find out that it’s not a problem at all but a real thing, that many people have, that’s a miracle and puts everything in a whole new light if you accept it. To teach your close ones to see it the same way might be a tougher task but it is certainly possible, too. My parents (and life) were always harsh on me through my puberty because I couldn’t choose the university, didn’t see a point in it, couldn’t find a good job, tried many things, failed or got exhausted from hard work for little money. When I stopped trying to fit into the normal expectations and left my home to live mainly as an expat and to do whatever I like at the moment without trying to find the one thing to settle at, that’s when my life changed completely. Now I know it’s perfectly alright to live your life whatever way, to be whatever way you are. Just explore it, find a name for it if you need one (I think most people do) and live it. No appologies, just explain it and find examples in the history or present as Emilie pointed out. It’s much easier to get people on your side when you show them you’re not the only one. Refer your wife here and maybe things will change even in her head :) There’s plenty of people just like this and we’re perfectly happy with it. Many of these have businesses standing on them being multipods, designed perfectly for their hobbies and interests and changing anytime they’re done with the particular interest. It is totally alright.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I’m older than most of you who have posted comments, nevertheless, I connect with your experiences.
    The term for those like us was once “multidisciplinary,” which suggested the same idea as multipotentialites.
    As a MP and a tail-end member of the baby boom generation,finding the right workplace has been, for the most part, been difficult. I love the challenge, the learning curve and being part of a workplace dynamic, but then the powers that be slot you into a position where rules, routines, limitations, etc… dampen creativity and interest. I think the world is opening once again to this whole brain and exploratory way of thinking, being and doing.
    I must say, though, that being a MP has been of great value to me as a single mom, homeowner and self employed person. Never for a moment did I think I couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that. Instead, my MP qualities lead to thinking about HOW I could do/complete something. When I look back to the compliments I received about being “creative,” having a strong work ethic, getting things done, being an idea-person, etc…I realize that people were seeing in me the multi potentials they lacked.
    Thanks, and good luck to all!

  10. heidi says:

    I just wanted to leave a quick comment. I told one of the girls at Uni about this site, she’s been so confused lately, judging herself as ‘different’ and all these things with bad connotations. Until she came onto this site, she was so relieved the next day, that she found a community of people that were LIKE HER and it WAS OK TO BE THIS WAY! I’m the same, so we have so much in common, isn’t it funny how you just wait for someone ELSE to give you the validation and acceptance to be you…..

  11. Zarayna Pradyer says:

    Thanks for this article. We are just marking Sir Winston Churchill’s 70th since he passed – an artist, author, journalist, orator,soldier and Prime Minister who motivated and inspired half the world to stand together and defeat fascism.
    My nominal contribution is to note that we all like to stereotype from time to time. It is convenient, particularly when we have our hands full or if it is an emergency situation. However, many people only seem able to think in those narrow, stereotypic terms. And, they very much resent people who occupy multiple categories – they don’t understand the flexibility and even think in terms of disloyalty.
    (I have spent some of my life trying to bridge differing situations and, instead of being appreciated by both sides, have attracted suspicion and resentment from both!)
    Nevertheless, whatever my many shortcomings, that is their problem, not mine.
    Kindest regards to all.

  12. Angele Freeman says:

    Em, I love your response to his email! Reading this gives me such an appreciation for my many interests and talents even though Im still working on amalgamating my different passions. I know as I gain more clarity on life and myself that one day it will all come together. May we all live up to our true potential! I am so proud to be apart of this group. Embrace your mutlipotentiality, its truly a gift! ?

  13. Calluna says:

    With my spouse, it is not so much that he finds my multipotentiality (if there is such a thing ;-) ) to be a flaw that he dislikes – it is more about the uncertainty and instability it adds to the household which he dislikes. He very patiently and kindly showed many levels of support through years of multiple jobs, pursuits, classes, and even some total career transitions, before putting his foot down. And that is when we got to the root of the issue – it is stressful to him to pay bills when our household income is unpredictable. My job may change but our bills do not. Normally, with a job change, as many of you know, there is at least a temporary setback in income, or some schooling required, etc. Even if you have savings for this, after the savings are gone and the income is replaced, then you have to rebuild the savings. So we reached an agreement. Until the mortgage is paid off, my income must be stable or in the upwards motion. After the mortgage is paid off, I can take a career path or educational path that causes a dip in my net income. This seems reasonable to me. Spouse is happy. After a few years of extra bill payments, we both will be happy.

    The moral of this story is: Maybe it would be helpful to discuss what exactly it is about your ‘multipotentiality’ that your spouse dislikes, and then, if it is possible, seek to address that specific issue so that they are more comfortable. That is what worked for us.

    • Em says:

      I think this is a great reply because you hit the nail here. I think it’s exactly about the uncertainty of income that scares not only relatives and other close people but also us multipods. It’s a good advice to discuss this with these people and if possible, compromise somewhere. I really like how you dealt with the issue, Calluna. It’s not always the option to just follow your callings, especially with the mortgage on your back. I think a lot of people are and always will be unsure about whether this multipotentiality is a good thing because they will be scared about the income security. It’s an issue where we need to discuss more options I think, hear more stories from people who live like multipods and made it work. If you are single and minimalist, it will be a lot easier than if you have a family and everything.

  14. Julie says:

    It is difficult, if not impossible to change our basic natures and having an understanding of that nature helps us and others accept our gifts and limitations. Having language to describe ourselves and an overarching theme or story of our lives also helps others “get” who we are.

    My husband and I (both multipods) have been married 25 yrs and it has been a struggle to accept our Multipotentiality. The saving grace, especially economically, is that my husband holds a day job as a professional. It’s a love hate thing for him but it allows him/ us the resources to do our research, art, writing and adventuring. My work life has been (in spite of an eclectic education lol) largely as a full time mom and of the minimum wage variety. At this point I am launching a second career that I hope will embrace my multipotentiality but it is a strain for my husband who, though supportive feels the pressure of keeping our finances afloat. We found that compassion and understanding of each others experience and a practical realistic plan for how to both contribute to the fullest expression of each others gifts and talents is a good start. The pressure of financial reality can be debilitating and a huge source of pain and resentment. We found that if we can’t support something financially we can still support it by doing things to free each other up so there’s time to be/create.

    I don’t know if economic resentment is part of the emailer’s partners difficulty, but hope some of you find these comments helpful.

  15. Christina says:

    This is such a great post! And it’s true that sending a link could be helpful. I had so many people asking me why I’m so “flaky” and can’t just stick to one project for a “long enough” period of time… I think that on the spectrum of multi potentiality I am more of a plate spinner than a serial scanner because I don’t switch interests after a while, but rather I take a break to learn a new one or I try to fit a bit of EVERYTHING in my schedule. It does get a little overwhelming so I’m trying to slow down so that I can get a few priorities accomplished before tackling other big goals head on. I do give myself a tiny bit of time though todo the stuff I love even if it isn’t important. It keeps me feeling “in shape” (like with playing at least one guitar song a day). I’m really starting to love habits and routines because although I fall off of them, I realize how they can help us be a better version of ourselves in theing run rather than just hit sporadic goals. As for what I started out saying, I sent web links from here to some people and since then they’ve actually atarted more so encouraging me instead of badgering me about my life choices. So thanks for this reminder!

  16. Lena says:

    Multipotentialites are getting things done and shaping the future! Yesterday I came across John Maeda’s TED talks (from a few year ago…I like to joke that I’m a few years behind on the internet) which address the intersections between Technology, Art, Design, and Leadership. He talks about big ideas that support the purpose of this site and creative leaders. http://www.ted.com/talks/john_maeda_how_art_technology_and_design_inform_creative_leaders I’m an elementary school teacher (on hiatus), former flight attendant, serial community volunteer, mom, gardener, knitter, sewist, person-who-likes-to-draw-and-make-things & illustrator-in-progress. Haven’t made up a business card or logo for that one yet! Keep on keepin’. Use your multiple interests and talents to shape your unique voice and contributions to the world!

  17. Rene says:

    I can certainly commiserate with the person who wrote that e-mail, and I’m glad I’m not the only one in this situation. I always knew that my breadth of interests and (if you want to call it that) skills was wildly unlike most other people I know. I never thought it was a problem myself, but it is frustrating when I realize that I can’t focus on just one thing forever, I get bored after doing just one thing for too long, and that society just can’t understand why I can’t do what it demands from me. Even after I clarified to her what being a multipotentialite means in terms of my personality, abilities, and limitations, and what it means to me, my wife still seems to take is as if it’s just a phase or it’s just a whimsical thing I call myself. She does notice the positive results of it, but she doesn’t understand why it’s hard for me to commit to one thing for the rest of my life and so on. I’m always encouraged by seeing the accomplishments of famous people who have accomplished amazing things in their life with their multipotential-fueled skills, but it is a little discouraging when your loved ones doesn’t take it seriously. It was great to read this from-the-front-end article.

  18. Nicole says:

    Heya. I am ‘new’ to this scene, and this is my first comment to this site (I don’t post comments, often, anywhere!), so please be gentle. And I am not trying to ‘troll’ the post, even if it sounds like I might be (!), just making an observation.

    So, I am (white) Australian… like in the US, we have loads of communities from all over the world, here. While reading this post, it occurred to me really early on that (*realising* – as in, making real – one’s) multipotentiality is essentially THE way of life, in places like Vietnam, for example – one of Australia’s near neighbours. It seems to be the same with many migrant communities – ethnic Chinese, for example – for individuals to acquire several areas of expertise, either simultaneously, or sequentially, or both, built up over a lifetime… I mean, I guess in many cases, it might be out of necessity more than natural inclination: out of unpredictable circumstances, the sheer necessity of being adaptable becomes more evident.

    When I have done a little reading on the ‘net about “multipotentiality”, I keep seeing North American examples of successful ‘multipotentialites’ listed. I feel like, in a way, we are doing ourselves a disservice – potentially, as you point out, pathologising rather than embracing – in not looking towards the example of other cultures, particularly migrant cultures, where it is *totally* normal – THE norm, in fact – for people to “run more than one business or have two very different jobs”, etc.

    I mean, I guess it *is* a relatively new concept in the modern, industrialised West… but mainly because the West has got itself stuck in the whole paradigm of “you do one thing your entire career/working life”. That has been the case both for blue and white-collar workers, I would say. And it was/is a way of life that has a place more in the 1950s than the current era.

    I think as Asia rises as a world super-power, it will become way more common and acceptable to live another way (i.e., realising one’s innate multipotentiality), and I guess I just feel someone needs to point out how, whether good, bad or neutral, in terms of a “way of being”, it is pretty much standard, in other cultures. Another ‘lens’, perhaps, through which to view the topic, and further discussion. :)

    Thanks for carving out this positive discussion space, Emilie!

    • erin says:

      I for one think that is a really good point concerning other cultures tendencies towards multipotentiality. Just recently I moved away from a larger metropolitan area back to my rural hometown. Ironically, I am meeting so many more people who understand the need to be diversified here, than I ever knew in the bigger area. I think in the struggling economy here most people have to be able to fix their own stuff (maybe even raise their own food) and not be too specialized in order to survive. It is really exciting to be around so many accepting folks who are thinking outside of the one career mindset.

  19. Jocelyn says:

    Great read. Let me ask you this, Emilie:

    As a multipotentialite, do you choose one career that allows you to touch on different aspects of the world (e.g. if you’re a lawyer, you can handle various cases, if you’re in advertising, you create ads for different clients, etc.), or do you have completely separate and multiple jobs? I’m in my late 20s and have just been “floating” for years now because I can NOT DECIDE. I am afraid of making the wrong choice in my career and it cripples any progress. I am also very indecisive, so that doesn’t help. And to be honest, I have SO many interests that I am overwhelmed. I am becoming happier and happier with who I am and I do look at this as a positive thing at times, but when I still haven’t figured out what I want to do as a career and I am just going job to job at things that do not inspire me – it sucks! Any thoughts?

    Jocelyn

  20. Oh2seeMist says:

    Hi Emily,
    Finding your site was a huge relief to me! I’m not alone; I’m not crazy. I use my Google calendar to schedule all of my interests per week and I cycle through them: maths, languages, programming, knitting, writing. I keep a note book for each subject and the accompanying books, each in their own stacks, and grab one stack/subject when I have time. So nice not to wish I could follow a passion or find the time for an interest. You have been a great inspiration to me.
    Keep up the awesome work!!

  21. Cyrus says:

    To “A Multipotenialite…”

    I’m not sure if there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said in other comments, but if I’m repetitive then it means that we all share a collective vision for ourselves as multipods and our hope that you will find camaraderie here.

    Earlier today I told a coworker that I’m on the verge of moving into a new home rent-free in exchange for handyman work. She said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were into that.” I asked her, “What do you mean?” She replied, “I thought you were just a geek.” I couldn’t help but grin.

    It’s hard to communicate with the Specialist-mind once they’ve already “pegged” you as one thing or the other. Yes, I’m a proud gamer and all-around nerd and I’m certainly not Bob Villa, but the idea of fixing something and making it my own fascinates me. I’m more excited about learning how to work with tools than I am intimidated by the fact that my current knowledge of DIY stuff is lacking. Plus the idea of finally living on my own provides added motivation…

    You are definitely not alone, AP. I promise that once you learn to love yourself and embrace all that you are, your wife will have no other choice but to see the world your way. Confidence comes from within instead of without.

    To Emilie:

    I know you’re not a big fan of the Jack-of-all-Trades moniker. I feel you there, but I’m on a mission to reclaim that term at least on a personal level. I’ve taken to embracing it as a badge of honor. One of the many topics sitting in the writing queue of my blog (aka my brain LOL).

  22. Joy says:

    I can not believe there are other’s out there like me with such a diverse range of interests. I am so glad to find that there are and I am not alone. My career has taken an interesting path because of it and because I get bored easily and loose interest quickly. In my career I have gone from bookkeeping to mechanical engineering to systems development to business owner (flower shop) to product manager. And my whole life I have been doing art – drawing, painting, mixed media, scrapbooking, etc. I started a blog about a year ago to document my art and my journey. When I read your blog I felt such a sigh of relief and had an aha moment. I don’t know why we are brought up to believe we have to decide. I like the idea of combining interests, but have not yet figured out how to combine art with my other interest. I am just glad to find that there are other out there like me and realize that I don’t have to choose, I feel like a weight has been lifted. I can enjoy my art and work in a field I am happy in and not feel like I have to choose between them or be concerned that one has nothing to do with the other and realize it doesn’t have to. Diversity is what makes life interesting as far as I am concerned. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us and helping us to realize this same truth.

  23. Eric C says:

    I was extremely excited to figure out there’s nothing wrong with me. I like to call my work history ‘well-rounded.’ I’ve sold everything out there, project management and I’m looking to add entrepreneur to the list.

  24. Paul says:

    Hi everyone

    When I found out that I was different and couldn’t stand any “boring” jobs I decided not to seek any such jobs at all. All jobs that had a hint of being “every day as yesterday” I never looked after any more. It was almost 50 years ago. My work history is like so many other histories from running errands for shop keeper to VD and gardening flowers in green houses to DJ, horse driving to IT. 50 years is a long time. I always looked (tried) to find a job which has potential for change. When I had learned the job I usually found ways to move on looking around me and seeing if someone had too much to do or something they didn’t like. I went to them asking: Can I help you with that? Many times I created a new job for me. It’s wonderful to see this site and understand that I am a multipotential person and there is nothing wrong with it. If you are struggling between the many choices you have in front of you I have one, in my opinion a important, advice: Skip every job, every direction you are not interested in. I did it once! After two days I quit. I took it as a lesson. Never made it again. And if you chose something you are interesting for you, it’s never wrong because every job, every course gives you new inspiration and maybe shows you a new direction you newer knew was there. As you now know you can change when you have learned enough. It’s OK. There is always many paths to explore.

  25. Marie says:

    This relates to Barbara Sher’s books about being a “Scanner.” Basically another word for it.

  26. Aseem Das says:

    Hi Emily,

    I am so happy that I found your TED Talk.

    When I was a kid, people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d say everything – I want be in a new profession every single year of my life, learn everything. They thought it was cute.

    As they years passed, my response didn’t change but their opinion gradually changed from it being cute to a sign of being unfocused and lost and in time I also started feeling the same way. That I was lost and unfocused.

    Now it feels different.

    Thanks Emily.

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