The Ultimate Guide to Dealing with Friends and Family Members who Disapprove of Your Multipotentiality
Photo courtesy of Hey Paul Studios.

The Ultimate Guide to Dealing with Friends and Family Members who Disapprove of Your Multipotentiality

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence, Featured, Parents

Every multipotentialite knows how it feels to share a new interest or endeavor with someone and receive a blank stare or a look of disapproval.

You’re studying to become a physiotherapist? But I thought you were happy working at that tech company? That seemed like a good career…

You’re in an art program. Why would you want to take a math class?

When are you going to stop messing around with all of these different things and commit to something?

The negative responses we receive range from genuinely confused but well-meaning, to outright nasty and critical.

Here are a few strategies to help you deal with people who don’t understand (or even disapprove of) your multipotentiality.

Know Your Audience

Who is this person? How much does your relationship with them matter? Are they a good fit for you?

If the disapproving party is a parent or close friend, it’s worth trying to reach an understanding. If they are a passing acquaintance or someone you don’t care much for anyway, it might be easier to NOT explain or seek their approval. It might not be worth your time to open up a discussion with a person you don’t want in your life. Try these tips if you’re dealing with a casual acquaintance.

Help them Understand

It’s difficult not to feel defensive when someone makes you feel as though you have to justify your life choices. If you feel up to it, explain what it means to be a multipotentialite. If not, passing along resources might be your best option.

Send them to the terminology page, give them a copy of Refuse to Choose,  The Renaissance Soul, or my new book, Multipotentialite (once it’s out).

Share examples of famous multipotentialites like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou or James Franco. If you know anyone in your family or local community who has many careers or projects, use those examples as well.

Know that the people who love you only want the best for you. Most parents who question their children’s choices are simply worried. They want to ensure that their child grows up to be self-sufficient and financially stable.

Explain that in the 21st century, and with the current unpredictable nature of the economy, it is more important than ever to be adaptable and to be able to switch gears and learn new things quickly. You can point them to the Generation Flux article over at Fast Company or give them a copy of A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. Pamela Slim’s new book, Body of Work, contains a section where she talks specifically about multipotentialites. If you don’t want to bombard them with too many resources all at once, Refuse to Choose is a good starting point.

Give them Time to Come Around

Family and friends will often back off eventually, if they see that you are happy and making a decent living. When I was interviewing people for my book, I heard this story again and again.

Sadly not everyone eventually comes around. There are still parents (it’s usually parents) who, perhaps due to cultural issues, are unwilling to see an unconventional career path as anything but bad. These situations are always painful. The best thing you can do is to create your own “family,” as it were, to seek out supportive friends and community who understand and accept your multipotentiality.

Ditch the Doubters

It is said that an individual is the product of her five closest friends. Who we choose to surround ourselves with profoundly impacts our motivation, our goals and what we believe is possible.

Don’t be afraid to step away from friendships and seek out new friends who have lifestyles and beliefs that are more aligned with the direction you want to move in. You aren’t obligated to hang out with anybody you don’t want to hang out with, especially people who are critical of your life choices or are negative in general. It can be hard to let go of friends you’ve had for most of your life, but sometimes it must be done.  Once you’ve ditched the doubters, it’s time to…

Seek Out Supportive Community

Consciously select the people around you.  Look for multipotentialites in your life that you could deepen your relationship with. Head over to meetup.com and seek out groups of artists, entrepreneurs, or other people who are doing their own thing.

Another option is to join the Puttytribe, where you will meet a self-selected group of multipotentialites who want to connect with other multipods. You can also reach out to people you see commenting here on Puttylike or on other blogs you enjoy.

Believe in Your Right to Be Who You Are

You can, and should, try to explain your multipotentiality to the important people in your life. They might get it after a little bit of explaining and some resources, or they might need more time to come around.

But whether or not your family and friends approve, you need to live your life and do your thing. Get out there, start pursuing the things that fascinate you, and find your people.

Your Turn

How do you deal with people who don’t understand, or even disapprove of your multipotentiality?

em_bioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. 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. Learn more about Emilie here.

11 Comments

  1. Em says:

    I get this a lot from my family – “When will you finally stop messing around the world and come home at last?” I’ve never been able to pick a career or a path, I’d try every possible riddiculous job that I had a bit of talent for or that seemed interesting enough but most of it was crap and I left it after a year or something. And they were all sorts, didn’t really have much in common. My parents, I guess, still expect me to find that one that will do, one that I could stick with for at least next five years, that would give me some career experience and option to go higher, probably in the same field. They want me to settle but I can’t change who I am. They’re like “you had your fun in England, haha, but when are you coming back?”. They can’t or don’t want to understand that I might not at all.

    But I believe this is mostly because they are afraid. They were used to having me around, even though we could eat each other’s faces, it is handy to always have your kid under your roof so that she can help with whatever needs to be done. First few years I was very defensive, mostly because I myself didn’t know what multipod is and I didn’t know that I am actually very ok. I believed they were right and that there was something wrong with me and it was driving me nuts, all those years not seeing any way out. How am I going to fit in this world??

    But I tried to avoid the confrontation and the hard answers like “yeah, that’s nice for now but what’s your long-term vision?” I never had one and I still don’t, pretty much. But I don’t mind anymore :) I went away, so that I don’t have to deal with those questions and also to explore the world and find out all other options. Now that I know I’m not alone, I find such question quite mindblowing because it always shocks me a little that there are people who still think picking a career is the only choice. It also became much easier to let go of nonsupportive people. When there is so many that understand, why waste time explaining yourself and feeling bad about not fitting in? There is a whole another world where you do fit perfectly, no matter what you do and what will you do next. Who needs a long term picture? Just do whatever interests you and keep yourself motivated and having fun. As long as you’re able to make money and make a good living, who needs a boring 9-5 job?

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks for sharing, Em. I think a lot of people can relate to your experience. Heck, even my mom will occasionally be like “oh that’s a really big speaking gig. I bet you’ll get job offers!” As though what I’m doing here with Puttylike is only a way to leverage something “real.”

      They’re generally really supportive though. But sometimes comments like this will slip out, and usually I try to take it as revealing my parents own ideas about what it means to be happy.

  2. As always, a fantastic article:)! Unfortunately for me, the ones who don’t understand are my parents and my best friend – all of them having a normal, 9-5 job. Not exactly the best situation to thriveXD!

    Up until now, I’ve found that having an alternative community supporting you is the best strategy to deal with dear ones uncapable to understand, less alone appreciate, your multipotentiality. I remember one research saying that it takes five positive things to balance a negative one, so as soon as my best friend tells me to “settle down and grow up,” I run to the forum and join a huddle, or spend a humongous amount of time on one of my creative projects or on reading articles like the one on the Generation Flux. Knowing that outside your everyday circle there is a *world* of people agreeing with you is a good cure against negative words.

    That said, if someone close to you is anxious about your lifestyle, it often makes you more anxious in return, and it doesn’t help you live your multipotentiality serenely. When it comes to your emotional well-being, I believe that the best solution is to just get out of that environment as soon as possible. Ditching “friends” feels awful, but we should put our emotional healt at the top of our priorities’ list. I was wondering if someone ever resorted to something drastic to stop naysayers from hurting you?

  3. Lauren says:

    I used to find it really hard to explain my fleeting interests until I found Puttylike last year, mainly because I wondered myself why I couldn’t just stick to one thing (because that’s what society teaches us). Now I just beam a big smile and say “because I feel like it” or “because I like to learn new things”, or simply “why not?”.
    I now find that because I’m confident in my way of life, others are starting to see it too :)

  4. Milena says:

    Great post Emilie! The idea that resonated with me a lot is the one from Chris Guillebeau’s book. When we were kids parents and other important people have always asked as: “If everyone jumped of the bridge, would you jump as well?” Nowadays, it seems as if they are telling us :”Hey, everybody is jumping of the bridge, what are you waiting for?” That “jumping of the bridge” is the metaphor for conventional life, doing what is expected of us,settling for mediocre life.

    I think it also relates to the multipod problems of not being understood. Becoming boring, conventional, just as everyone else, settling for one single interest, thinking linear approach,these all are certain ways to stay stuck, average or to jump of the bridge. If your life eventually looks like that, it doesn’t matter who approves of you, right?

  5. Believe it or not, my parents are more understanding than my friends! One of the biggest problems I’ve had lately is that I’m doing a number of projects to figure out which ones I want to commit to. In the past I’ve spent a lot of time and money on similar projects, all of which were worth it in the long run. But for the last year or so I haven’t felt that spark, so I’ve been experimenting a lot and trying to combine my multiple interests – which I didn’t do so much in the past. I get a lot of resistance from friends and other artists who think I need to just “pick something.”

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, artists in particular can be very touchy about their choices. My guess is that their trying to impose a specialist lifestyle on you has more to do with their own denial of their plurality and choice to work in one particular medium. And the feeling that that was and is the only way. Keep experimenting. It sounds like you’re doing everything right.

  6. Natalie S says:

    Thanks for the tip– giving loved ones examples of successful multis.

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