9 Ways to Explain Your Multipotentiality to Non-Mulitpotentialites
Photo courtesy of Alex Brown.

9 Ways to Explain Your Multipotentiality to Non-Mulitpotentialites

Written by Joanna James-Lynn

Topics: Puttytribe

Most people struggle at certain points in their lives, with being asked what they want to do or what they want to be. As teenagers, we get used to fending off questions from well-meaning friends and family about the career we want to pursue.

But for multipotentialites, the struggle doesn’t stop once we get our first jobs. Time and time again, strangers, friends, and colleagues tilt their heads to one side, look at us, confused, and ask us once again to explain what exactly it is that we do.

I’m traveling around Europe at the moment, seeing new places and visiting old friends. It’s exciting seeing how everyone has and hasn’t changed over the years, but I keep finding myself dreading that “so what do you do these days?” question.

How do I explain to them that, since I last saw them, I’ve completed my first degree in French, German, and Slovenian, completed a second degree in sociolinguistics, worked in event management, been a seminar teacher, helped my dad start a weight management business, interned as an education worker, worked as a support worker, freelanced as an illustrator, and who knows what else?

Oh, and that I now do none of those things and instead work as a content coordinator and run my own website, helping shy girls become confident? How do I explain all of that without sounding like I’ve lost it?

The Solution: Come out about being a Multipotentialite

While it is important to be able to summarize what you do with an elevator pitch, sometimes that’s not enough. If you haven’t yet figured out your overarching theme, or if you’re just spinning a lot more plates than normal, it might be the time to come out about your multipotentiality.

If you can get your confused relative to understand that you like trying different things and that having lots of projects on the go at the same time is who you are, maybe you won’t have to justify your love of crocheting or your newfound sushi-making addiction. And maybe next time, instead of asking what you do, the person you come out to might ask what you’re working on.

So, how do you explain that you’re a multipotentialite? We’ve had many discussions about this in our global community of multipotentialites, the Puttytribe. Here are the best tips we came up with.

9 Ways To Explain Your Multipotentiality to Non-Mulitpotentialites

1. Spread the word

If we want our multipotentiality to be accepted and celebrated, we mustn’t hide it. Those of us who are confident in the value of pluralism must make the decision to help others see that the world needs generalists as well as specialists.

We can do this by being open about our multiple interests when we meet new people, in interviews, and in everyday conversation. Instead of keeping quiet about our latest projects and obsessions, we can share them. Online, we can share Puttylike and other pro-multipotentialite articles to our friends, families, and colleagues, using social media.

2. Pick your words carefully

Jon Knepper uses language to reveal his multipotentiality:

“I also think people get an idea that my interests range/I do a lot based on the terminology I use – I’m always exploring, dabbling, etc.” – Jonathon Knepper

By using verbs such as “exploring”, “dabbling”, and “dipping into”, and the continuous present tense (“I am studying hieroglyphics” rather than “I study hieroglyphics”), we can imply that our interests are temporary rather than permanent parts of who we are.

Emma McCreary suggests using a label you’re comfortable with. For her, that’s “deep generalist”. For you it might be “multipotentialite”, “generalist”, “renaissance person”, “polymath”, or “scanner”. Ensure you pick one which you feel conveys who you are and which you think your non-multipotentialite friend will understand.

3. Tailor your approach

As a multipotentialite, you know that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work. Try to relate your interests to those of the person you’re talking to or focus on a benefit of multipotentiality which you know the person you’re talking to will appreciate.

For example, if you were being interviewed for a position at a small business, you could explain that being interested in many different topics means you’d be happy to take on tasks outside of your main area of focus. If you were being interviewed for a position in a large organization, you might stress that your dabbling in design means you’ll be better able to communicate with the design department.

4. Explain the benefits

Just as businesses should promote the benefits rather than the features of their products (“With this course, you’ll learn how to relax” rather than “With this course, you’ll get an audiobook and access to a private forum”), multipotentialites should explain why multipotentiality is good rather than just what it is.

To get you started, here are some articles on the benefits of multipotentiality:

5. Use concrete examples

Illustrate your explanation with examples and stories to make multipotentiality less abstract. Talk about the time you put on a French play and the week you did nothing but decorate cupcakes.

6. Be confident

“Enthusiasm and confidence and having a completely doubt-free relationship with your own multipotentiality goes a long way.” – Emma McCreary

If you value multipotentiality, you’ll be in a better position to persuade others that it’s a positive trait and that society needs both specialists and generalists. Don’t apologize for your multipotentiality; be proud of it.

7. Use your overarching theme

Explain the patterns and themes in your multipotentiality instead of on the individual interests you have. Rather than talk about your love of rock climbing, website design, and orienteering, talk about how you love to challenge yourself.

8. Don’t be negative about non-multipotentialites

If multipotentialites are to be accepted, we need to be making friends, not enemies. Recognize that society needs both generalists and specialists, and that neither type of person is better than the other. Make sure your specialist friends feel appreciated and don’t think you’re boasting.

9. Pick your friends

If your attempts to explain multipotentiality are consistently met with scornful looks and misunderstandings, it may be that you need to surround yourself with more open and understanding people. Obviously this approach is not a replacement for education, but if you’re craving acceptance, this might be a healthy option for you.

Hopefully these pointers have given you some ideas on how you might broach the topic of multipotentiality in future. Thanks to all of the great puttypeeps in the Tribe who contributed to the discussion.

Your Turn

How do you explain multipotentiality? Do you have any tricks that you’d like to share?

The Puttytribe is a safe space for multipotentialites of all ages and levels. Come get help with your projects and collaborate with other people who understand your multipod nature:

em_authorbioBattling her British social awkwardness, Joanna L K Moore (Jo) runs Twisted Sleeve, where she helps shy girls get the confidence they need to do whatever they dream of doing. A multipotentialite through and through, Jo’s also a content coordinator and a writer who’s just finished the second draft of her young adult novel. At the moment she’s traveling round Europe, wondering how to pick up her Slovenian, German, and French, and start learning Swedish, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian at the same time. You can find out more about Jo here.


  1. Colleen says:

    For language, I tend to use “I’m currently…,” as in “I’m currently working as a project manager.”

  2. So simple but effective! Just a little tweak in the language you use can completely change what you say and how people understand it.

  3. Natalie S says:

    These are so helpful… I especially love #4!

  4. Clint Moar says:

    Pick your words carefully…After reading my Linked In homepage description which listed things that didn’t pertain much to my employer’s company, my boss gave me a good talking to. Rather than reword to corporate/company standards I just chose leave it blank for now. Don’t think they value Multipotentiality.
    Can’t wait to put in what I really do!

    • Jen says:

      Clint, I empathize with your experience. Luckily my supervisor is very supportive. The rest of my workplace doesn’t “get” me, however. (I’m a white person working in a native american tribal government and that adds an extra layer of complication.) I tend to generate a lot of ideas at work–many of which are completely outside the scope of my work–and it is soooo hard resisting the urge to share those ideas. When I do, I tend to be perceived, at best, as a snooty self-entitled know-it-all, and, at worst, as a yet another colonizer trying to force my worldview on a people who have their own way of doing things, thank you very much. I used to work for a federal research agency where having lots of ideas was appreciated, so this is an especially difficult clash of workplace values for me. Unfortunately, as a single person (and a homeowner) I really need a steady full time job and this is the best job I could find in the rural area where I live. …sigh…

  5. Milena says:

    Hey, awesome post! I have recently written about multipods on my web site. Anyway, I like to use phrases like: “I am very interested in….”, “I also love doing/exploring/playing with……”, “My newest obsession is….”, and I have noticed that people react good to that language. They see you as curious and opened person, rather than inconsistent.

  6. Michael says:

    When I’m asked what I do, I reply “I’m multipassionate. I do a dozen things at once.” Then I mention something I’m currently involved in, such as, “This summer, I’ve been working with autistic kids in an elementary school”

    • Jennifer says:

      I really respond to your choice of ‘passionate’ as it rings true for me. It’s also easy for others to understand and accept in a positive light. While totally in agreement with the definition of Multipotentialite I’m concerned that others may view it as being superior. Passionate resonates for me. Thank you.

  7. Hi,
    great post. I have made the experience that mostly people find you interesting when you have more balls in the air.
    So, I see no issues telling people what I am.

    Take care

  8. Jay says:

    This post really stimulated my thoughts about the topic.

    If I had to put a label on myself, I think “renaissance woman” seems dated, “scanner” or “generalist” seems a bit passive. “Multipotentialite” exudes that I have the potential to do a lot of things but I am actually proficient in a lot of the things that I do – no horn tooting just accounting years of “time wasting”.

    So, after some thought – and digging through a thesaurus – I officially label myself as a – drum roll – “poly-proficiencite” lol… or just poly-proficient individual/woman. That’ll do for me.

    Thanks for sharing this post, now that I’m done digressing – by taking the time to come up with this label for myself – I have a website design to complete! ;-)

  9. Karen says:

    How about, “Like Xena, I have many skills…”

  10. Syrena Ogden says:

    Due to having a smorgasbord of diverse, and ongoing, major listings, I tend make a note of it in my cover letter:
    “With an abiding sense of curiosity, I also developed a broad approach to my studies as a life-long learner…”

  11. Marta says:

    I like to say I’m a Jack-of-all-trade. I’m a creative, but I have also a math/logical mind and I have great interest in all fields of science, expecially biology. I work most in the fashion industry, but I have a strong love for theatre and literature. I’m good with software and even mechanical problem of any kind, but I’m not REALLY good in anything.

  12. Wendy says:

    I have just found out I am one of you and it explains so many things. I am still at the stage where I am unsure about what this means and if I should tell me family and friends because I have always been looking for a place to fit in and feel “normal”, which is funny because there is no such thing as normal. To me my life still seems like a mess and I still tell people. If I see two paths and one has lights and a nice path and the other is dark and you can just see the path. I seem to chose that path every time.
    Maybe in time I will be ok with who I am but at this point, I feel I will be judged again.

  13. Michele says:

    I always thought this was adult ADHD in its worst form! So awesome to have another label and some allies!

  14. Nadia says:

    Great points! How do we make sure that it is indeed a genuine strive for knowledge and excitement versus being perceived as the one that does it all but does nothing good or in depth after all? Also sometimes people think we are liars/over selling, how to not shovel those areas of interest down just to avoid justification? Thanks

  15. Nanuraya says:

    Hey there.
    I love the first point. It seems so like “of course” but it is not. I only now started talking about my various passions and not constantly feel bad about it. I often experienced different reactions on honesty about multiple interests, it varied from “yeah, so you do everything and nothing right” to “I don’t like you anymore beacause you can/do more than me”…But talking about it and don’t feel bad about it really helps. Most of people normally get passionated with you if you show off your passions… like the question: “Which book did you last read..?” And if you talk passionated about the 5 you are reading right now, they like it…. I am a systmic consultant and I work a lot with perspectives as a chance to gain new sights on a problem. So I sort of use it to help others (in B2B) and somehow it fits :)

  16. Jason J says:

    25 yrs prof. experience, always trying to find the thing I’ve not done yet. 2 Fortune 500 companies, state, Federal Government, founded 2 companies, many different industries. MBA finance, 1st 2 yrs med school but disenrolled 7 yrs ago due to too much requirement to only do one thing for too many years. 4 current positions. (1 FT 3 PT).

    “I work in finance and operations”. But that question always stumped me “what do you do”. I enjoy my consulting role, as I work with different clients every week in very varied industries, and don’t have to hold back as they can assume my cross-knowledge is just something consultants have. And only my family is aware of all of the pieces. No one at my jobs is aware of the other positions I hold. It would set me to far apart from the others.

  17. Tom Eakin says:

    Yesterday, I was asked by a recruiter, “So, which role are you looking for? Plant Manager or Director of HR?” I understood her question. My resume has one foot on both sides of that “fence.” If she looked farther into my past she’d see I’ve worked and led successfully in construction, law enforcement, engineering, chemical processing, construction-manufacturing, food manufacturing, financial services, operations, and human resources roles in various military, industrial, and corporate environments. She’d have noticed my MBA doesn’t appear to line up with my BS in Physical Education. I’m so glad she didn’t look back that far…she’d never have called me.

    What I told her was, “I have a uniquely varied background and each experience on my resume has in some way led to the leadership and management skill set that has made me successful later on. Because I’m mission-driven, excel at courageous leadership, enjoy the pressure of being tied directly to the value-stream, am great at project and performance management, and love creating high-performance teams with multi-functional groups, I’d generally be best suited in a Plant Manager role…and, in the right circumstances with the right company and culture, I’d be a great Director of HR too!

    I hope that cleared things up. We’ll see what happens next!

  18. Erfan says:

    It was wonderful
    After four years of college graduation, I saw all my friends who focused on the work they were interested in and made the way for success, and I constantly ask myself what my own success story is. What am I interested in Why, so far, when I was 25, I did not get the result I wanted, why do any other person with passion and determination define their work, and I have in my mind hundreds of different thoughts and I like to see them all.
    I am now a nurse and at the same time a hardware and software engineer and building painter and boxer and lover of the Internet business and at the same time looking for a great way to achieve world renown …
    Thank you for having turned on my mind
    I would be very happy if you have any comments

  19. Laura S says:

    After listing what I’m currently doing, the conversation invariably travels to the many things I’m involved in and have done in the past. This always leads me to feel self conscious (as if I’m suggesting I’m some kind of genius) and I can tell the person doesn’t quite know what to make of me so to brush it off I often say playfully, “I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up!” I’m happy with that. :)

  20. Tolu says:

    As a Physician, Epidemiologist, Published in Scientific journal, Youth mentor, Consultant, Creative Writer, Speaker, Life Coach, Businesses woman, Singer….and what else. I find myself divided on how to introduce myself in various settings. In medicine, people want you to be one thing. I remember in medical school always feeling different and fearing to voice what I thought and how I saw the world (I ran a business for 4 years in medical school by the way). If you aren’t one thing, you are viewed as confused; the more I get this vibe, the more I move away from that group. I currently don’t have close Physician friends. I mostly have around enterpreneurs, artist of various kinds. In some friend settings, it’s hard to say all I do and can do; I remember someone commenting once “what don’t you do again?” It was said with such emotion (INFJ perceiving here), that she was either scornful or jealous because years after I still remember the come to and facial expression. Being of a rare personality type ( INFJ) and of a superior skill set (multipod) doesn’t make life easy because with that combination, hard to find people like me which sometimes makes me feel “fake”. Forcing myself to focus on one thing also hasn’t worked, so with deep intimate relationships, I can let them know. I often find myself introducinf myself differently in different settings. I hope to be courageous enough to identify instead of hide; something that I have gotten used to after many years of rejection, and bullying. Alas! I am who I am. Multipod for sure!! Thanks for the post and tips.

  21. Hugh Evans says:

    My first read of a blog post in this puttylike zone – a true kaleidoscopic view! There’s much to comment on and like in the post. I am most drawn to the question ‘what are you working on now?’ as opposed to do ‘what do you do?’. In addition to the present, it opens up the possibility of people sharing what he or she has worked on in the past, what he or she has planned for the future? It evokes a sense of action and energy, or not I guess.
    In answer to how I describe me or what I do, I guess I adapt the answer to the audience and the nature of their question. I don’t think that is disingenuous, it’s more to offer a hook that might be of interest to the person I am chatting to.
    What I do find in multiple formal and informal social occasions is that people are very limited in asking questions and also being that curious. May be it is where I currently live – Calgary, Canada – which is quite insular.
    My research work is in individual values – ‘what makes people tick’ and we know that populations can be segmented into 3 worlds not one with 3 very different needs – belonging, esteem and learning. Today 60% of the UK working population are in the first 2 groups (belonging, esteem). These people will see the notion of multi-potentialities from weird / bizarre to deranged to scary. It does not fit their world view. Whereas the 3rd group is all about multi-potentialities because learning, being curious (for a whole bunch of reasons and outcomes) is a deep motivational drive. It is both bliss and a kind of mental torture (the more you know, the more you know you don’t know!)
    If you are part of this community, then your worldview is likely to be distinctly different to many of the people in your world / community / town. As others have said, express this judiciously. It helps to be chameleon like. Have fun with it!

  22. Rachie says:

    I’ve always known I have many interests but didn’t exactly know where I really belong. In high school, i was a science student but had friends in art class we read novels together, acted drama and the likes. I went on to study statistics in the uni and I surprisingly excelled at it while I did other stuff like fashion,art, public speaking, event planing, interior and exterior decorating, singing, volunteering, traveling, teaching…
    Now I’m done with uni and fashion doesn’t resonate with me anymore but as a Nigerian you’re looked at as unserious and that’s my plight right now. I really want to go into finance and explore my options while I do other things. It’s such a relief finding this blog post. I hope i get to do the many things in my heart

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