“Multipotentialites can’t stick with anything long enough to build successful careers.”

“Multipotentialites can’t stick with anything long enough to build successful careers.”

Written by Emilie

Topics: The Basics

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about multipotentialites. Today I’d like to address one of the biggest: that multipotentialites can’t stick with anything long enough to build successful careers.

It’s true that multipotentialites sometimes have fleeting interests. We love to explore and we can be passionate about a subject one day and lose interest the next. And yes, multipods need variety in our lives to be happy. But here’s the thing: it’s possible to have variety and financial stability at the same time.

Here are just a few ways that multipotentialites meet our need for variety and make a living at the same time.

1. We Build Careers in Interdisciplinary Fields

One way that multipotentialites “stick with it” long enough to thrive in a career is by picking a field that is inherently multifaceted. This means that the job requires you to have an understanding of, and possess skills in, several areas. Multipods with jobs like these often find that no one day looks alike and that they frequently wear different hats and shift between projects.

Being an urban planner requires an understanding of architecture, transportation, environmental issues, agriculture, economics, design, landscape, civil engineering, and law. And to be a good instructional designer, you need to be well-versed in areas like education theory, neuroscience, technology, psychology, storytelling, communications, gamification, visual design, and technical writing. (I would put entrepreneurship in this category by the way. Owning a business involves wearing many hats.)

There are many interdisciplinary fields out there, from bioethics to artificial intelligence to science communications. Multipotentialites often gravitate toward these fields, and yes, we sometimes stick with them for the duration of our careers. We’re able to do this because there’s so much variety baked into the work that we remain fascinated year after year.

2. We Choose Not to Tie our Income to Our Multipotentiality

Some multipotentialites have what Barbara Sher calls a “good enough” job. This is a job that provides you with a stable paycheck. It may not be your DREAM JOB, but you do enjoy it well enough. Most importantly, a good enough job leaves you with enough time and energy to pursue your multiple passions on the side.

I interviewed a 74 year old former surgeon while doing research for my book (surgery is highly specialized and sooooo un-multipotentialite, right?! Hang on a minute…) This person had a long career in medicine, but when he wasn’t at the hospital, he would paint and play music and write. He dabbled in all sorts of artistic media and was very passionate about his creative life outside of work. Best of all, his good enough job allowed him to explore his passions free of financial pressure.

This approach doesn’t work for everybody, but some people find it liberating to explore their interests without having to worry about monetizing them.

3. We Have a Few Well Established Revenue Streams

Some multipods work part-time in a few different industries, and develop careers in each. I know someone who works at a non-profit a few days a week. She does freelance marketing for a handful of clients and she is also paid to do aerial silks performances. She has slowly developed thriving careers in all three areas, and the variety she gets from moving between them keeps things interesting so she can stick with them longterm.

I know someone else who is a college instructor/creative lead at an advertising agency/entrepreneur, and she is doing tremendously well in each area.

4. We Reinvent Ourselves Every Few Years but We Do It with Care

It’s true that some multipods start over in a new industry every few years. But most of these phoenix multipotentialites learn to transition smoothly, so as not to risk their financial wellbeing.

Phoenix multipotentialites will often begin exploring a new domain, develop their skills, look for clients and seek out opportunities long before making their transition.

Designing a Multipotentialite Career can Take Time and Experimentation

Whatever work model you choose, it can take time to get the pieces in place and figure out exactly what areas you would like to build a career (or careerS) in.

Sometimes we explore, drop things, explore some more. Sometimes we never stop moving from one field to the next and we learn how to transition gracefully. Other times, we eventually settle on one or a few fields that provide us with enough variety. But this process can take time and experimentation.

And by the way, specialists do this, too. Even people who devote their lives to a single narrow subject sometimes need to jump around a little before they find their niche.

The Safe Approach?

The world of work has changed and continues to change. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American changes jobs every 4 years.

In this new, unpredictable and quickly evolving economy, getting comfortable morphing between identities and skills may actually be the safer bet. That is, assuming we learn how to do many things while meeting our financial goals at the same time. But it is possible. Thousands (millions?) of multipotentialites all over the world are crushing it in any and every field imaginable.

*If you’d like more tips on building a multipotentialite friendly career, keep an eye on the blog next week. Some big news is coming out on Tuesday… *wink wink*

em_bioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites build lives and careers around ALL their interests. 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.

24 Comments

  1. Becky says:

    Hi Emilie, I have to tell you that your blog has been an eye-opener for me. I had been feeling for the past 10 years of my life that I just couldn’t stick to anything and that it meant that something was wrong with me! A few years back I was recommended a book called “The Renaissance Soul” by Margaret Lobenstine and it helped me start re-thinking this idea I had of myself. However, I kind of got excited and then just forgot about it until a friend who is a coach recommended your website and now I am taking it seriously. I have already worked in different fields: English teacher, environmental educator, environmental officer… and I’m interested in so many areas ranging from environmental education to waste management including horticultural therapy, ecopsychology and agroecology! I am currently working as a waste management professor in a Costarican university and have decided to leave and create my own portfolio career, one that allows me to work in projects from different fields but which can be interconnected. Very exciting but I am also a bit weary about how it will turn out. Any advice will be most welcome! Thank you!

    • Melissa Bettcher says:

      I found the same thing in that I had heard the idea of the multipotentialite awhile ago and it resonated but I was focused then on helping someone else figure themselves out. And then one day…..Bam!!! This is me too!!! And it is ok to be me!!! I myself am stuck in a J-O-B (and am happy to be for now) but I would love to do what I think you are alluding to and become a consultant/instructor/writer in all of my interest areas. If you could come up with the “umbrella” of what you are interested in doing then it may make the transition easier. As you progress through that you may find some areas are more in demand than others and that’s ok. You can adjust your offerings as the market demands while still keeping your knowledge and skills fresh for those less asked for interests. Good luck!!!

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Becky,

      That’s great! Environmental issues are very multifaceted, so I’m not surprised that you ended up exploring that realm (among others).

      In my research I noticed that there were some multipotentialites who moved from a slash/portfolio career to a single job in an interdisciplinary field because they wanted the security. But there were also many multipods I spoke with who had moved from a job like that to portfolio work, often because they wanted the freedom and flexibility. It’s just a matter of what works for you, I guess (I’m similar to you. I’m pretty self-directed. I also don’t do well with hierarchy or being told what to do. :)

      Good luck, and enjoy!

  2. Thank you for your insight. I soon will finish a 35 year career in campus ministry, a very multifaceted calling. Before this I was a biologist and rural sociologist, and I aspire to be an author of books about deplorables. Even as I approach retirement I still find myself evolving in this setting, i.e., I/we have always been very progressive and now I/we find ourselves moving into the interfaith realm with some enthusiasm. (I don’t believe it is uncommon for a “multipotentialite” to speak of her/himself in a plural sense.) What a delight the journey has been and will continue to be.

  3. Robert says:

    Hi, Emilie. It is my first time to leave a comment. But I tried to leave one during the Christmas but failed by using my smartphone. So now I am at home and have a lot time to edit my comment. Just as others’ comments, I am also the one who is not sure who I am until reading your website. When in the high school, I was different from other students who worked all only for the good grade. I spent most of my time reading different kinds of books to strong myself. So my mom also say,”If you also learn what is not related to the school knowledge, you will fail your college entrance exam.” I still insist to be myself anyway. I have tried many things, being a journalist, performing in the stage(with the Chinese traditional instrument Erhu), making cocktail in a bar, concentrating on the academic research, playing soccer etc. Yes, I am young now and studying in France. I am not sure what I really want to do in the future. But your opinion really helps. I will keep going and find my truth.

  4. Issa Zaruk says:

    Thanks for the post!

    It got me thinking of the American Composer Charles Ives who made a career in insurances while working nights and weekends on composing!

  5. Ezequiel says:

    I feel so identified with your post.Im an industrial engineer that belongs to group 2, with a comfortable job but frustated as I dont see the path to explore other areas of interest and free my jailed creativity, while keeping my incomes I mean. This make me anxious and unhappy and your post helps to clarify ideas and thoughts, and hopefully to find the path to Group 1 ? Thanks and saludos desde España!!

  6. Ever since watching your TED talk I’ve considered myself a multipotentialite. It seems I’ve always been one I just never had a name for it. Even after watching and subscribing to your blog though, I suppose I never considered the nature of my career as multipotentialite until reading this post; picking a career that’s inherently multifaceted. I’m a firefighter/EMT, so during any given shift i’m a chef, a janitor, an “ambulance driver”, and at any moment I can be a firefighter or EMT, depending on the call. I know how to repel on ropes, understand building construction, and know how to use an abundance of different tools from Jaws of Life to 100ft ladder trucks. This doesn’t include the many side projects I tackle outside of work though, like a fitness blog, supplement company, and an online paramedic study course. Awesome post!

    • Emilie says:

      That’s awesome, Christian. I think we often don’t realize how multifaceted a particular job is and that leads to us not noticing multipotentialites in our daily lives. On a wider scale, it also leads to the misconception I wrote about in this post because people only assign that label of multipotentialite (or worse, “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” “dilettante,” etc. to people who are often still figuring it out.

  7. Aashay Mody says:

    Really enjoyed this one. I am in the experimentation phase right now and at times it can be discouraging and frustrating. Something I keep hearing is that I need to find my purpose, which I struggle with given my varied interests. Any suggestions on how I can get around this problem?

    • Emilie says:

      Don’t worry about “finding your purpose.” That’s specialist talk. ;) Instead, follow your curiosity, reflect back, and work on uncovering some of your Whys.

  8. Really interesting to read this after returning from a day doing temp work at my old 9-5 workplace. People were asking me what I was doing now and as I listed all the different projects I’m working on I was so often met with baffled expressions. Reading your post has reassured me that it is possible to meet financial goals doing what I’m doing.

    I will continue on along my multipotentialite journey. Thanks Emilie!

  9. Moshe says:

    Hi Emilie, hi everyone,
    Thanks for the post!
    Regarding point 1, does anyone know of a “list” of interdisciplinary professions? That would be of great help.
    Many thanks, Moshe

    I am facing now a job search, age 52, and it is very challe

    • Emilie says:

      Heh. There’s an appendix with a list of interdisciplinary fields and their various elements in my book. :D

      But here are a handful:

      – Design
      – Artificial Intelligence
      – Event Management
      – UX
      – Sustainable Development
      – Bioinformatics
      – Human Geography
      – Creative Coding

  10. Joe Beauchamp says:

    Hey Emilie, hey everyone!
    I wanted to thank you for opening my eyes, my life has been quite complicated and confusing but after watching your TED talk and reading your site I have found some clarity to many of my frustrations. Really I was afraid of life because I felt like a leaf drifting about… But now I can finally focus on my next steps. At first I thought it was just because I have A.D.D. but now I see that I am also a multipotentialite. Although I am still searching for my next step I feel that I am no long walking through a thick fog.

  11. Nela Dunato says:

    As a creative business owner, I concur that it’s a perfect multi-potentialite path, if you’re the sort of person who can deal with the stressful aspects of it, that is.
    I used to be quite bored in my agency career in design, since my role in the team was pretty narrow. If I were a creative director, things might have been different.

    Now I get to not only do parts that concern design, but also consult people, teach workshops, write marketing content, make business plans… I find that many freelancers hate the non-design aspects, but I actually enjoy them because it gives me quite a bit of variety.

    Not to mention, I get to evolve my career in any direction I want as my business grows.

  12. Emiiie. I remember corresponding you when you first started your blog. It’s brilliant. I thought then, and still think now, that you totally “get” me. What a relief. Someone actually understands my unpredictable multiopotentialite personality! Thank you…

  13. Pouya says:

    Hi Emili
    Im from Iran.after i saw your talk about
    Multipotentialist i was to realize that i have this ability.but the question is how we can manage and use that.all people say that you must stick to one thing ,finish it and do next one.but its not my way.
    Thanks

  14. Carlisle says:

    Hello Emilie,
    I was looking for content to download to my iPhone today and I came across your Ted Talk…I have to say that the words you spoke resonated with how I’ve been feeling for awhile now! I’m in the military and I am about to retire after 20 years of service in a year, but I think i was mentally done 10 years ago (Talk about sticking it out huh!?). I don’t want nothing to do with the current job that I’m doing and despite the myriad of things I’ve done while I’ve been in the service, I want to do something completely devoid of the military…but I don’t know what! :) My current plan is to move back to California (I lived out there once upon a time) to live closer to my daughter and I plan on going back to school, but even the task of deciding what I want to study is a cumbersome task. I cant decide on what I would like to study at this point in my life, but I definitely want to go to school that I’m sure of. I hope your site can give me some insight on figuring the “Phase 2” of my life. I’ve done so many things in my life and not one thing has kept my interest long enough to say that I want to do it for the rest of my life. You have touched on a topic that is familiar to me and probably millions of other people worldwide! Thank you Emilie!!!

  15. Gibby says:

    You always give me hope Emilie! Thank you

  16. Jonathan says:

    Hi Emilie,

    I came across your TED talk yesterday and a now checking out your blog. I’ve known for most of my life that I didn’t fit into the “norm” of specialization. I’m 47 and have never had a job longer than 3 years and they have covered construction/hardscape landscaping, IT work, sales in various tech industries, teaching, personal trainer, admin work, film industry work (acting/production), online marketing & web design, event planning, hospitality, network installation, project management… the list goes on. I have also had a number of extended periods with no work and have managed to travel to 28 countries so far – something I love doing. My issues are that I can’t seem to find a job that keeps me satisfied and that I tend to have to “create” a resume that is not exactly accurate when applying for work. Do you see a shift in the job market toward recognizing multifaceted work experience over a more narrow career? Obviously this will depend on whether the position would benefit from this or would require specialization but I’d like to hope that multipotentialites are getting more recognition for what they can bring to the table rather than it being seen as a negative (I.E. “can’t hold down a job”). I am currently without work and at a loss as to what to do next. To further complicate matters – and I don’t know if others can relate to this also – I am torn between living a very simple life (such as when I taught scuba diving in Thailand and lived in a hut on the beach) versus seeking a well-paying revenue stream and living comfortably in the city with all it’s trappings and luxuries (I live in Vancouver, which ranks as one of the least affordable cities in the world). I really feel at a loss as to how to proceed from here. I’m glad to have found a resource of like-minded people and hopefully I can find some insights here that help. Thanks for this.
    Cheers,
    Jonathan

    • Steve Z says:

      Jonathan, I’m always in that position. I think that’s why a discussion on multipotentialites resonates with me. I have a place in Belize and in St Johns Newfoundland Canada but live and work in New Jersey. Wasn’t sure where I wanted to spend most of my time so I did all three with wife and kids. What motivates me is realizing how many seconds I am expected to have left to live and regardless of the place, I want to enjoy life. I’m just a dude that wants to take every experience I can out of life without missing too much of my family in the process. I have no answers, but Thailand sounds pretty darned cool. Maybe 1/2 and 1/2 time in each place? Emilie can coach you. All my best!

  17. Steve Zengel says:

    Emilie, I’ve been invited to present at TEDx Traverse City on March 2. In preparing my bio/intro, I laughed at what I had written. Steve Zengel, a multipotentialite from New Jersey who thrives on meeting new people, having fun, and helping others… Thought you’d get a kick out of this! Hope you’re having a great time in life! Z