I try not to argue with my detractors. They occasionally email me or leave comments on the blog (which I usually block). Most are simply not my audience, and therefore, not worth my time.
However, today I’d like to humour them; or rather humour you by addressing their main claim. If you’re an out-and-proud multipotentialite, there’s a chance that you may run into this same criticism, so hopefully this post will help you address it if you need to engage.
The main argument of my few detractors goes something like this:
“Multipotentialite” is a stupid, pretentious, unnecessary word. And anyway, we already have a word for this: polymath.
If you don’t like the term, don’t use it. Also, you’re missing the point of my work (and TED talk). It’s not about the word.
I say right in my talk that there are several terms that connote the idea of the person with many interests: polymath, Renaissance person, scanner, jack-of-all-trades, generalist… I did not invent this idea, and you should feel free to use whichever term you like.
The reason I use the term multipotentialite, is that the other names don’t resonate with me, personally. They just don’t feel right. But please, use whatever works for you. If you like the term polymath and want to describe yourself that way, then you’re a polymath. If you say you’re a scanner, then you’re a scanner. Identify in whatever way you like, but let us do the same.
Slight Differences in Meaning
That said, I do think that multipotentialite suggests something slightly different than polymath. To me, multipotentialite evokes the idea that I could thrive in many domains, and that there isn’t one area that I am predestined to excel in. My potential is broad; it isn’t discipline-specific.
The term polymath, on the other hand, makes me think of the great figures of the past: Leonardo, Franklin, Jefferson… It’s a person who has excelled in many areas. And while a multipotentialite might eventually evolve into what historians would call a polymath, our accomplishments are not our defining feature. If anything, our curiosity is.
But this is just my interpretation. If you want to describe yourself as polymath, then please, have at it.
When it comes to the “you can’t invent a word, there’s already a word for this,” argument, I think what might actually be going on here is that certain people don’t like that someone (particularly someone who looks like me/is of my gender) might dare to invent a word. It’s just a hunch I have, judging by how deeply bothered the authors of these emails and comments seem.
Cause, you know, there can be multiple words that have the same meaning. Synonyms are a thing.
What Matters Isn’t the Word, it’s the Idea Behind the Word
This whole discussion about semantics is silly. More importantly, it misses the point.
The point of my TED talk isn’t to teach you about this amazing new word I invented. My message, in a nutshell, is that if you have many interests, and there are several things you want to do with your life, there’s nothing wrong with you. What you are is a multipotentialite (or polymath, or scanner, or generalist or whatever you want to call it), and that is a great thing.
Emilie 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.