“An educational and psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals. [Multipotentialites] generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions, they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.”
Also Known as:
Note: I use these terms interchangeably on Puttylike. And yes, the fact that we can’t settle on one term to describe ourselves is fitting.
A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life.
Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both).
Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers.
When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information.
The aspect of multipotentiality that worries multipotentialites the most is the tendency to become bored. Boredom usually hits once we’ve learned what we are meant to learn on a particular topic, and instead of moving on, we try to continue down a path we’re no longer interested in. Boredom is our body’s way of telling us that it’s time to move on to something new.
Multipotentialites don’t define “finishing” the way a specialist (and indeed, most of society) does. We learn what we came to learn and then move on to the next interest. This may not always look like “finishing” to the outside world, but it is.
Modern Society Doesn’t Understand Us
Unfortunately, mainstream society tends not to value or recognize multipotentiality and labels this sort of “jumping between interests” flaky, immature behaviour. For a specialist, that might be true. But for us multipotentialites, saying goodbye to one passion to explore a new one is how we’re wired. It’s our gift.
Multipotentiality was the Ideal in Renaissance Times
Multipotentiality was not always frowned upon by society. Back in Renaissance times, it was considered the ideal:
The common term Renaissance man is used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. The idea developed in Renaissance Italy from the notion expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472): that “a man can do all things if he will.” It embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance humanism, which considered humans empowered, limitless in their capacities for development, and led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. Thus the gifted people of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts.
Multipotentialites Change the World
Here is a short list of some of the most famous multipotentialites throughout history:
- Leonardo Di Vinci
- Thomas Jefferson
- Benjamin Franklin
- René Descartes
- Isaac Newton
A few modern day examples include Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs and Tim Ferris.
Note: There is a notable lack of women on the historical list, due to most of history being written by men. However, here are a few examples that were suggested to me by the Puttylike community:
- Maya Angelou
- Gloria Steinem
- Jackie O
- Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Hedy Lamarr
- Eleanor Roosevelt
- Beatrice Webb
- Beatrix Potter
- Julia Child
- Geena Davis
- Elizabeth I
- Dorothy Dunnett
- Hildegard of Bingen
- Trotula of Salerno
- Maria Gaetana Agnesi
- Anna Maria van Schurman
- Queen Christina of Sweden
- Queen Margrethe of Denmark
- Olympe de Gouges
If you can think of any others, please email me.
Specialists have tremendous value for what they contribute through their life-long commitment and focus. However, multipotentialites think outside the box. A multipotentialite who embraces their multipotentiality and implements their ideas can inspire widespread movements and mindset shifts in society.
The TED Talk
To learn more, be sure to check out my TED talk about multipotentialites: