Note from Emilie: this is the first post by one of our new Staff Writers, Neil Hughes. Neil is a big-hearted, hilarious, and inspiring multipod from the UK, and I couldn’t be more excited to have him on the PuttyTeam. I think you’ll really enjoy this…
Several years ago, I went for a walk. Not a fun, leisurely walk. A serious walk. For serious thinking. I was unhappy, but I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. I needed time to think.
Was it my home? I doubted it. I’d just moved to a lovely cosy house with some of my favourite people.
Was it my relationship? This seemed unlikely. I was dating someone wonderful and all was well.
Perhaps it was my job. Ah. This could be it.
For a few years I’d been working full-time as a programmer. It wasn’t bad by any means. My colleagues were pleasant, the work was often interesting, and I was comfortable. You’d think there’d be no reason to be unhappy… except…
There Was That Itch…
I’ve had a powerful need for variety my whole life. As a child my least favourite question was “what do you want to be when you grow up?” It felt like it hid a message: “We need to permanently fix you in place, so how should you be labelled?”
While growing up I resisted the pressure to commit to an imagined future career. I fought to keep my options open for as long as possible.
After four years at university, studying physics (and nothing else, argh!), I lurched in the opposite direction, and became a youth worker. After two years of that, I lurched away once more and took a job as a programmer; it was my first “proper” job. This scared me! But it wasn’t about the work. It was the feeling that I’d finally chosen my fate, and that it was now inescapable.
But it wasn’t enough. I resented the feeling of having been boxed off, as if the world had sorted me into the pile marked PROGRAMMER, and that the end of the journey had been reached.
I tried to let off the pressure by exploring other interests outside of work – languages, evening classes, performing standup comedy – but it didn’t solve the dissatisfaction of just one of my interests taking up nearly all of my time.
And So, on This Day I Walked
And thought. I stopped in a cafe and wrote: What do I WANT to do?
For a couple of hours, I created an imaginary dream routine. Maybe I could program for one or two days each week. I do like it, after all. Perhaps one day could be spent writing those books I’d always dreamed about writing? And I love to teach… maybe I could tutor maths or physics?
Slowly, I planned a life that actually balanced my need for routine against my need for exploration. It was thrilling.
After I’d finished I looked at my plan with a rapidly sinking heart. It was surely impossible.
I Didn’t Know Anyone Who Lived like This
The concept of a “portfolio career” had never entered my world. Everybody I knew had a job, or was looking for one. I couldn’t see the possibility of getting paid for even ONE of these activities, let alone ALL of them.
As I walked home I decided to forget it and just look for a new job instead. Maybe that would scratch the itch. It didn’t.
Two years later I was on the other side of the world. Somehow I’d ended up enrolled on a master’s program in an Australian university.
Even by my usual standards, this was a crazy development. The new job had failed. Eventually, the same deep dissatisfaction had led me to move on. I’d become interested in counseling while living in Australia, and after some curious enquiries I found I needed to apply immediately, or wait twelve months.
So I enrolled without taking time to think.
Unfortunately, it felt wrong as soon as the program began. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it (I did, very much!) but spending two years focused on just one subject didn’t seem like the wisest choice I could make.
This was a Familiar Feeling
And once more I escaped to write and think…
An idea developed. What if I did some programming for a day or two a week? Alongside some writing? And some tutoring? I could even study part-time for a master’s. Once I qualify as a counselor, I could mix that into my weekly routine too!
I had long forgotten about that day in the cafe on the other side of the world. But I suddenly recalled it in a flash. I had reinvented my idea from two years before! This time, the idea didn’t feel quite so impossible. This time, I was determined to try.
Quickly, my determination turned into anxiety. Surely I can’t make this work. Unsure how to deal with it, I turned to Google: “career lifestyle doing everything.”
I Discovered that I was Not Alone
It turned out that multipotentialites Are A Thing. And immediately, I found that a community existed to help me figure out how to actually put together this crazy career. I was overjoyed that there were others who somehow balance multiple projects across diverse interests. Maybe it was actually possible to be a generalist in a world seemingly built for specialists!
Discovering this community didn’t change my life; it confirmed it, and allowed me to embrace it. I am a multipotentialite.
This excitement has remained with me ever since. I’ve plunged into life as a freelancer, writer, comedian, and more. Even when it gets difficult, I know I’m finally doing what I want to be doing.
It took me many years to uncover and fully embrace this side of myself. And now I dream of helping to build a world where multipotentialites are understood, celebrated, and even encouraged.
This is my multipotentialite story so far.
Neil 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.