Labels: When to Use them, When to Shed them and the Paradox of Identifying as a “Multipotentialite”
Photo courtesy of John Meyer.

Labels: When to Use them, When to Shed them and the Paradox of Identifying as a “Multipotentialite”

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence, Featured

“I don’t like labels,” is a sentiment I hear a lot. As a queer person, it’s one I understand well.

Nobody, let alone a multipotentialite, likes being categorized or put into a box.

I generally prefer to live without labels, too. However, there are some instances when labels can actually be freeing and you can use them to your advantage. Lets talk about how to use labels to make progress on your goals. Then we’ll talk about when labels are unhelpful and when to ditch them.

What about the Label “Multipotentialite”?

Before we discuss how you can make use of labels, I want to address the elephant in the room. “Multipotentialite” is a label. I know this.

However, the difference between “multipotentialite” and say, “writer” or “computer engineer”, is that multipotentialite is an umbrella label– it’s extremely broad. It says nothing about what someone’s particular interests are, only that they have more than one. Each multipod looks different from the next, but using the term is a way of saying that you are not a monopath. That’s all it says. Anything beyond that is going to require a conversation.

Labels Can Help Us Feel Less Alone

This gets to one of the most powerful things about labels: they can make you feel less alone. If you know that there are other people out there who are wired this way, it’s extremely comforting and freeing.

Labels allow us to find each other, come together and get support and insight into ourselves and where we should be moving in life. They make us feel as though we are a part of something bigger, that we belong.

If adopting the label “multipotentialite” gives you a sense of purpose and belonging, like it does for me and many other people in this community, then use it. However, if you no longer feel like you need the label or that term even strikes you as too restrictive, then ditch it. That’s fine by me. Do what works for you. You’re still welcome here.

How to Use Labels Strategically

Beyond bringing people together and providing a sense of community, the conscious and strategic use of self-labeling can help you move forward in your projects and goals.

Lets say you want to start exercising, but you’ve really struggled with getting yourself to the gym in the past. In addition to getting some outside support, you might also try consciously adopting the label “athlete”. Just to yourself.

What would happen if you began thinking of yourself as an athlete? Would you be more likely to work out? I bet you would. Because what do athletes do? They work out.

Similarly, if you are starting a business, one of the best things you can do is begin thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur. If you take on that identity, you will feel a greater drive to hustle and create. Because after all, that’s what entrepreneurs do.

Want to write a book? Start thinking of yourself as a writer. What do writers do? They write. Bam, you’re off and writing.

How Other People Mess this Up for You

The technique I just described only works if you assign the label to yourself. It doesn’t work when someone else assigns it to you and you don’t believe it or embrace it.

In fact, I would leave other people out of this process entirely, or make sure that the people you share your label with understand your multipotentialite nature and respect it.

Problems happen for multipotentialites when OTHER PEOPLE begin labeling you. Calling myself a writer is very helpful for me at times. It helps me take my writing seriously and motivates me to write my book, but when I hear someone else describe me solely as a writer, I cringe. I am NOT just a writer.

When to Ditch Labels

When is it time to ditch a label? Simple. Ditch a label when it is no longer in alignment with what you want to be moving toward. That’s when labels become restrictive.

A slight word of warning. One of the most devastating things about being a multipotentialite is when you identify too strongly with a label and then find yourself losing interest in that field. Suddenly, you don’t know who you are anymore.

It’s really tempting to do this, to think to yourself, “Yes! I found my true calling, finally. This is it. Forget all those years of jumping around, I found it!” And then get so wrapped up in this vision of yourself that when the boredom comes, with it comes an identity crisis.

I experienced this identity crises several times before knowing that I was a multipotentialite. I felt it when I lost interest in music (“But I’m a musician! I’m so good at this.“), when I lost interest in film (“But I made all these great short films. I was at the top of my class!“) and when law no longer sounded like fun (“But I spent 3 years studying this stuff!“). Each time I was left feeling like I didn’t know who I was anymore.

The key is always keeping in mind that you are, in your heart, a multipotentialite. Know that learning and expanding your mind is always valuable, whether or not it leads to a particular outcome.

As you consciously choose to adopt labels and drop them, keep your multipod nature in the back of your head. That way if you do lose interest in an area, you aren’t losing your whole sense of self.

Your Turn

How do you make use of labels? Do you use them strategically, deny them entirely or use them in some other way?

15 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Great article. I’m not big on labels either, if they put you in a box and limit your options. I just joined a “careers” networking group. The first thing they wanted was for me to name a desired job title. That limit me, doesn’t fit my personality. How can I name something like that?
    On the other hand, when my friend first told me “You might be a multipotentialite.” it set my world on fire. Now, instead of being some goofball who can’t make up his mind, I’m a powerful person with a variety of interests. I see the rainbow where others stare only at their favorite color. And I’m not alone! I’m part of an identified group. That changes m world more than you can imagine.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Michael, those are great examples of two different ways you can interact with labels. They can be the bane of your existence but also so freeing, when they fit and don’t feel restrictive. Thanks for sharing!

  2. James Denyer says:

    The Myers-Briggs test popped back into my life at a team event at work last week. I like the idea of Myers-Briggs as it helps me to understand who I am and how I tick – at least, that is the theory.

    This time I was an ENFP. Previously I’ve been an INFP, INTP & ENTP. These are all labels, except I don’t appear to fall into any of them (ok, so I’m always an iNtuitive Perceiver).

    I find that my Introvert/Extrovert & Thinking/Feeling label depends entirely on the situation in front of me and I can switch between them as I see fit or as my state of mind allows me.

    So, once again, I feel like my situation is different from everyone else’s and that I don’t fit into any of the usual social profiles. Not a bad thing, you say? Maybe, but sometimes I just want someone to tell me what I’m all about.

    • Emilie says:

      Heh I can relate to this too! I don’t feel like I fit particularly well into just one of any of those profiles either. At least not at all times. I think maybe you’re too interesting to be told what you’re about (maybe a lot of multipods are). But that also means that it’s up to you. :)

      • MichaelKelly says:

        The MBTI people themselves struggle with this “labeling” tendency in their inventory. It’s perhaps better to see ourselves as all 16 types, with a preference (as opposed to an identifying label) for one or a combination of dimensions. It’s like a house where we prefer to spend most of our time in one or two rooms – though this doesn’t mean we don’t visit the others.

        The labelling aspect that has become so popular is – I think – a function of its ubiquitous presence on the net. Too many unqualified and uninformed users and interpreters can or may easily default to the labels that conveniently judge. Some employers, for example, hire or design operation or project teams according to MBTI labels. This is not only unwise, it’s illegal in many respects. Remember, as an example, I am not an ENFP … rather I prefer ENFP. This doesn’t mean I’ll be a great HR worker and a poor project manager. It just means I might approach these disciplines differently than others might.

        It’s also interesting how restricting the MBTI instrument is relative to other aspects of humanity. MBTI is chiefly a behavioural instrument … it does not consider good or bad, cognitive psychology or the intelligence indicators embedded in Mood Modes.

        In the end the heuristic value of MBTI is great … just dangerous when used to label.

        Loved this article Emilie.

        Regards

  3. Quiana says:

    Great post. I too don’t like when people assign me to a “group” (label) that I don’t feel I belong too. Another touchy area is when people say things like “oh you’re different than other __label__, as if they had negative views of the people in the same label.

    I think the bottom line is to not assign people labels if they don’t first assign themselves that label.

    Really like this post!

  4. Isabel says:

    Hi Emilie,

    I just want to thank you for the post and your work. I’m really glad I stumbled upon your blog and read on multipotentiality.

    I experienced everything you mentioned in this article and was still stuck in this identity crisis trying to find that one path until this.

    And being an Asian in early twenties, expectations of roles and duties is just…

    A big thank you on creating this community that makes us feel less alone being the lonerwolves of our society. =)

  5. Zsolt says:

    Emilie this post is spot on. I wondered a lot about labels myself and realized that much as I don’t like them, labels are essential for our brains to function. We know we must not generalize from individual experiences, and yet that’s the basis of all learning. If we touch a red rock and it hurts, we’ll be cautious of all red rocks for a long time…

    So what I’m trying to say is I agree with you, I think labels are essential, but we mustn’t let them limit us in any way.

    I’ve recently had a discussion with the new director of Peace Corps Ecuador. She is definitely a multipod, although she refers to herself as a generalist… I’ve learnt a lot from that conversation, will be publishing it soon.

    Keep the awesome stuff coming Emilie!

    • Emilie says:

      “labels are essential for our brains to function”

      You’re absolutely right. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Zsolt. I look forward to reading about your conversation.

  6. Christina says:

    Emilie!!!!
    you are an amazing author AND so much more than that! I probably sound like a creeper but I e been telling people about you >.<

    however when ppl ask what/who you are I go through the whole story…
    " she is kinda like a life and business coach and blogger; owns her own website… studied a lot if things. teaches ppl how to do what she did and does-a modern day renaissance – she calls it a renaissance business" I reallyyy love when you used that turn because I feel like nonmultipods understand what a renaissance is to some degree so it's cool that way. I cringe somewhat with labels too cuz there's so much I wanna do lol thanks for your posts! I never get enough of reading them ^_^ God bless!!

    • Emilie says:

      Aw thanks Christina! You’re so sweet. Don’t worry, I have a hard time describing myself too. I prefer to just redirect people to my website, if I can. I feel like that does the best job of explaining what I’m all about. :)

  7. Frank says:

    Hi Emilie!

    Newish reader, first time commenting :)

    Great post! I really agree with your ideas of strategic self-labeling, or what I think of as consciously choosing a paradigm. This can be a useful filter to see the world and how you choose to relate to it. If you don’t think of yourself as a writer or artist (at least in the moment of creation), writing and creating artwork can be damn near impossible, right?

    Personally, I like to use my labels or paradigms as metaphors for other, unrelated matters in life, so that I can process what’s going on in a way that I feel more powerful.

    So, let’s say that someone labels themself an artist. Great! Now think of your life as a great surface on which to make your life a beautiful piece of art.

    Even beyond that, each of us is a fluid collection of labels and the intersection of those labels. Someone who has had life experience in say, military service, and who labels themself as an artist will approach their art in quite a different way than another self-labeled artist who grew up on a farm.

    Both are artists, right? What I’m suggesting is that perhaps specific labels can be umbrella terms as well, merely describing someone who does that activity.

    • Emilie says:

      Very interesting point, Frank. I think you’re right. It’s all about how we see our labels and whether we appreciate our other identities rather than shun them. I think this makes a huge difference.

      Nice to meet you! :)

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