Some people get really angry when they hear my ideas. Now, I have no interest in forcing specialists to lead multidisciplinary lives. Specialists should indeed specialize because it’s who they are. Multipotentialites, on the other hand, should not.
We should all design our lives in a way that meshes with who we are, and not prescribe our approach to other people who may be wired differently.
And yet many specialists seem to take the idea that you can do many things in your life very very personally.
Why So Defensive?
It’s possible that many of these critics are multipotentialites in their hearts, and feel resentful because they have long denied their plural nature. Perhaps they feel as though they had no choice but to adhere to the Specialist Life Plan. They knew no other way.
If it is possible to live differently, then you are forced to ask some hard questions. If doing many things is both okay, and possible (as evidenced by others who are doing it), then I must have the power to do so as well. But if I am not choosing to do so, what does that say about me? It says that I am choosing to stay put. That I can no longer blame anybody else for my circumstances. A very hard thought to digest. It is much easier to believe that things are out of your control, that life is hard, and that you are stuck.
(And yes, I realize that for some people life IS hard. But if you are reading this right now i.e. have regular access to the internet, a roof over your head, etc. then don’t disempower yourself and others by playing the privilege card. Too easy.)
Accepting responsibility for your own happiness is really scary. It might change everything, force you out of your comfort zone, place you in the line of criticism, failure, humiliation. It will certainly make you vulnerable.
But it will also lift you to new heights. It will give you a sense of purpose and excitement about being alive. The more empowered and impassioned we feel, the more of an impact we can have on others and the more we can improve the world.
Deeper Reasons for Resistance: a Jab to One’s Identity
Of course, not all of the resistance from specialists comes from would-be multipotentialites. Another reason that some specialists are so bothered by the notion that doing many things is okay, is that they have built their entire sense of self-worth around being an expert. Their expertise is not just what they do, but who they are.
It makes sense. We are brought up in a society that says that you are what you do. That you are your job, or your medium.
We are taught that we all have One True Calling, and that we must find the one thing that we are or could be the best at, and devote our lives to it. This is how we gain significance. This is what makes our time on Earth meaningful. When you take this approach, find your thing, and aim to become The Best in one area, you are taught to grant yourself status, confidence and most importantly a sense of identity.
Now if someone comes along and questions all the work you put in, all of the commitment and dedication, and years of focus, that criticism might go to the very core of who you are.
Of course I have no intention of questioning anyone’s sense of self-worth. But my ideas might be interpreted this way, particularly by someone whose identity is wrapped up in doing one thing very well.
The World I would Like to See
I mean no criticism toward the specialist path, only the imposition of it on the rest of us. My aim is to provide an alternative model for those of us for whom the dominant paradigm does not work.
I want to see a world where the smart kid with the background in theater, music, and writing, isn’t disqualified for the internship at NPR because they haven’t had years of radio experience.
I want to see a world where law firms see a class called “History and Sexuality” on your transcript, and consider you to be a stronger candidate because you have a greater understanding of the human experience.
I want to see a world where artists aren’t discouraged from pursuing their work, and where we aren’t threatened by acts of curiosity and exploration after the age of ten.
Have you faced resistance when trying to explain the concept of multipotentiality to others? Why do you think this is?