The Science of Being an Authentic Multipotentialite
Photo courtesy of vicenmiranda.

The Science of Being an Authentic Multipotentialite

Written by Emilie

Topics: Work

A few years ago, I was contacted by some Canadian researchers who were studying “people with multiple work identities.” They wanted to interview me for their study, in order to learn about my personal experiences as well as what I’ve observed among my multipotentialite community (i.e. you guys).

I jumped at the opportunity. There isn’t much formal research out there about multipotentialites. We don’t need science to validate our existence, but having academic sources to point to always helps. And more importantly, the more multipods are studied, the more we learn about ourselves and how we thrive.

Brianna and her team interviewed me three or four times over the course of the last few years, and I was thrilled to learn that their research was finally published a few weeks ago in a top journal!

“From Synchronizing to Harmonizing: The Process of Authenticating Multiple Work Identities”

The whole article is pretty long—43 pages—but they kindly wrote up an executive summary of their findings for me to share with you guys. I also had to giggle because it begins and ends with a quote by yours truly. But anyway…

Executive Summary for Puttylike –  Caza, Moss, & Vough (2017)

The changing nature of the economy and the advent of technology and platforms that enable workers to take on multiple jobs has made it more possible for multipotenialites to be everything they want to be (Wapnick, 2017). Yet, despite the increased frequency with which workers are holding multiple jobs, many still struggle to feel and be seen as authentic when they wear more than one occupational hat.

Because one’s occupation is such a core part of one’s identity, those engaged in multiple jobs may find themselves struggling with authenticity: who am I if I’m all these things at once? How do I develop a sense of coherence when I am being pulled (or have pushed myself) into so many different directions?

We talked to 48 individuals who held between 2-6 jobs simultaneously over a five-year period to get insight into how they developed a sense of authenticity while exploring multiple careers. What we found is that multiple jobholders grew to feel more authentic when they:

1) Developed practices and routines that protected each of their work pursuits. Early on, it was essential for our multiple jobholders to segment and focus on each of their jobs individually. Doing so helped them to establish role legitimacy within each of their jobs separately.

2) Learned to accept all of themselves, especially the paradoxes. Sometimes we feel we have to sacrifice some parts of ourselves in order to pursue others. This may be because certain characteristics or work roles seem paradoxical or even antithetical to others. But, if we step back and think about why we are drawn to each of these jobs, we are likely to find that the roles we are drawn to are actually perfectly shaped puzzle pieces that define our true multi-faceted nature. It may take a while to fully understand the complementary nature of our roles, but the synergy we gain from doing so pays off in dividends.

3) Gave themselves permission to selectively share pieces of themselves. So often we feel pressured to “be our whole selves” to everyone. However, it turns out that sometimes people are not fully ready to see the “whole” you, especially when it can be considered counternormative (like holding more than one job!). However, because the roles we inhabit are true slices of who we are, we can still be authentic if we connect to people within the confines of a single role.

The bottom line is that being authentic does not mean being the same across time and context. People often assume consistency is a marker of authenticity. But, in fact, attempting to be consistent to a single self can actually become a barrier to authenticity. As Wapnick (2017) and James (1980) explains humans, by nature are many things, and working multiple jobs over the course of our careers may bring us closer to understanding and expressing our true selves.

Your Turn

What do you think of these findings? Do they resonate?

Emilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites build lives and careers around ALL their interests. 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 the author of How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up. Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. Bianca says:

    Über-interesting! I’m happy to know that multipotentiality is entering the academic field, and I can’t wait to see further studies like this one:) The article has already been saved in a special folder for reading later, but so far, the first finding is the one that intrigues me the most. Habits are essential to me for working on longer projects, but I had never thought they could also help one feel more secure about one’s experience in a field. Mmmm, now I know what I could do the next weeks…

  2. Hearing others struggle with feelings of being inauthentic when sharing only parts of themselves was a relief. I thought I was being dishonest if I didn’t share everything with everybody. My numerous abilities can be offputting to some people; maybe they don’t believe I can do all of those things or maybe they feel intimidated. Whatever the reason I found it difficult to connect with others. I’ve learned to tone it down. Now I don’t have to feel sneaky and dishonest!

    • Harald says:

      There is no need to feel dishonest or sneaky. My own strategy is to ask “I do many things. I am not that easy to describe. Do you want the simple story or the complete story?”. This takes the sneakiness out of it because the other person decides. Most people go with the simple story because they do not want to know me that well or with that precision. This, of course, is perfectly ok – better than intimidating somebody. :-)

  3. Gabriela says:

    I am so reading this, when I get a few minutes free. Selective sharing is very important. Coworkers in one work world really may have no connection to a second work world, even though you do. Then of course people will pipe up randomly when they have found out about your other thing you do! It catches me by surprise sometimes. I feel like someone has outed my secret since it doesn’t come up normally. Excited to read more.

  4. April says:

    I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately, in relation to building business relationships and marketing my skills. I’ve always felt misrepresented when someone labels me as just part of what I do, but I’m learning that building a good reputation is simpler (and harder) than people knowing what I do. Quality, kindness, intelligence and creativity cross all job boundaries; I can be consistent in those things and know that my reputation is accurate even if not everyone knows my whole story. It’s a work in progress!

  5. Beth says:

    I like the phrase “Body of Work” by Pamela Slim when I talk about the things I do that don’t readily and obviously connect with each other.

  6. Lyrae says:

    Thank you Emilie for participating and sharing– and to those people who are studying this subject. It’s so nice to be understood and learn more about why we’re the way we are.
    I found out a long time ago that my enthusiasm for many subjects and how they all link together in my life and life choices is not something I should talk about with others. I end up being stressed because they get stressed just listening – especially when everything is not perfect in my life. Even my family members, who love me, roll eyes, or ask questions about “why” — and there is no way to justify adequately, my choices. And why should I have to justify anything to anyone? Family members mean well. I figured out that they believe they are helping me by conversations to force narrowing my focus to one thing…and I just can’t do that. LOL

    It’s hard to keep my mouth shut in talking with others because I’m a happy multipod…I like sharing things I’m excited about. I have to remind myself to work at reining-it in. If I’m at an accounting job–we talk accounting. If I’m working on an art project, we talk art, etc. Speaking of art, I’ve found a similar problem–perhaps it could even be characterized as a prejudice, within the art community about style. I am a realist painter, but I also like surrealism and more abstract multi-media art work. Just like conversations with non-multipods, I get push-back when I show various styles of work together. I think non-multi’s have a hard time processing or maybe simply embracing seemingly dissonant information (visual and otherwise) – what multipods typically consider “normal” gear shifting. For me, nearly all of the things I do and have done, are connected and flow one to another pretty easily. They are different, but I see the whole world as connected by small jumps and not big leaps. I’m curious and thrilled by all the wonders of the world and the fun of discovering new mysteries. I’m proud to still be a wide-eyed kid who’s excited about learning and exploring at 64. :-)))

    • Kath says:

      There’s is so much prejudice and compartmentalisation in art! Which is hilarious because artists often purport to buck trends and not fit into boxes!! I am trying to ‘find my style’ and even medium in art, but I am fascinated by so many. Oil paints, acrylics, pencil, prints, etc I love them all! In fact (here’s a multipod part), having been an intuitive healer for a few years (after training as a scientist!), I ‘sense’ the intentions and energy behind a work, regardless of style. I can sense if it was done in a rush or just for money, or if the artist felt joy and love while they created. I have no idea if it’s true, they are just ‘hits’ that I get.

      Good on you for exploring! I will too. I think it’s true that some people just cannot get their heads around our talents and practices. I am now surrounded by people who understand me and don’t get in my way. My partner loves my multitalented nature and boggles at how my brain jumps around. When will the work world catch on to this!?

    • Emilie says:

      Well said, Lyrae! I always try to think about my audience. If I’m with people who just don’t get it, I usually won’t bother going into everything I’m about. But if I feel like I’m in the presence of another multipod? Then I’ll often go for it, and that encourages them to open up about all their things too, which can make for a really beautiful exchange.

      I feel like I should just give a quick plug for the Puttytribe here… If you want some friends who WON’T roll their eyes and will actually be really excited about your projects and cheer you on, check it out. :)

  7. Tom Anderson says:

    This is very interesting and I have very rarely seen myself so easily described as I do here. My life has been incredibly rich and every facet of it, very complex which makes it difficult to share or describe any part of it to satisfaction/accuracy to people. Each time I tell a story new facets emerge making the story evolve with the telling.
    I am fascinated with this research and I wonder how other aspects of the multipotentialite life, outside of occupation, compare. Relationship satisfaction perhaps.

  8. Elise Glickman says:

    Thanks for sharing Emilie! I am reminded of my first job hunts—I had a different resume and a different job objective for each employer! I was forever trying to keep my stories straight and even today, feel more than slightly inauthentic.

  9. Monika says:

    Happy that “multipotentiality” starts to be a subject of research-it has to, as it will be more and more obvious that this people are the hope for future progress of humanity … not those who concentrate on earning money and buying their success through marketing tricks ….but those who work hard and those who know how to adapt and create in any conditions no matter what they have to create..this article is filled with hope !!!! Thank y Emilie

  10. Karin says:

    Thanks for this article and putting attention to this research. I am in the same position and still juggle around with multiple cv’s for jobs I want or can do, and than there are jobs I can do but have no cv for. It is annoying and as self employed person I still have to make several plans to cover what I can offer as services, because people do not take you seriously if you have so much to offer. Even how to build a website around that is difficult. Not for me, but for possible clients. I studied music, graphic design, BA, MA cultural studies and now working on my PhD. Made music theatre for children, played, taught, tutor, develop courses, illustrate for books and covers, design covers, have designed websites, am editor of the journal of michael jackson academic studies, record, edit and co host a podcast etc. etc. I am so glad this is recognised now, because putting us in a limited box doesn’t serve us at all. Putting artists in a limited place is not working anyway, but it certainly doesn’t serve us.

    • Emilie says:

      It’s crazy to me that people would look at the things you’ve done and be anything less than wildly impressed. I look at that list and think: “DANG! THAT ALL SOUNDS AMAZING!” :)

  11. Zen Dexter says:

    Thanks for sharing Emilie. It is awesome that multipotentiality is being studied in an academic context.

    I haven’t read the full journal yet, but I notice that the exec summary was written in first person. In particular, the “we”s and “our”s in points 2 and 3 jumped out. Does this mean one of the authors (or perhaps all three?) are multipotentialites themselves? :)

  12. It’s nice to be recognized (via Emilie FIRST to acknowledge the Multipotentialite phenomena)in the academic world as being okay to have more than one passion that one pursues, or more than one talent. In a culture that influences one to “specialize” one could specialize in a field that, due to constant modernization, the field becomes obsolete. Also, in our current work culture where jobs are shipped overseas, one would think educational institutions would catch on and encourage students to consider a double major, or encourage a minor field of study along with the major choice. Also, some are pressured by parents to go into a field of study to ensure economic success, though understandable that parents want their kids to be financially solvent, this pressure should be met with opportunities for the student to pursue other courses reflecting their own talents and passions. More in-tune students know to do this, but many don’t.

    With the academia stamp of approval, perhaps there will be more Multipotentialites cropping up in the future.

  13. Paulette Eaton says:

    I like the word Multipod. I guess that is what I am. I have always felt guilt related to my fascination for “starting over.” I have had so many career changes, that I envision myself as a chameleon in life. I think it’s a survival technique I adopted early on. I get a rush when I start something new or change my landscape. It is a thirst for moving on that is never satisfied.
    I see now that I can accept my need for change and embrace my fascination of the thrill of uncertainty.

    I look forward to learning more about everyone on this site. Thank you, Emilie!

  14. Isabel says:

    I recently used the term, Multipotentialite to describe myself on a job application. I did so quite proudly ;-)

  15. Kim says:

    Thanks for sharing this great article! The results really resonate with me. One thing that has been a problem for me for quite some time though is that while I don’t want to share “the full story” with everyone and I feel fine about that in a professional context, with some people I would really like to do so!
    I actually want people that are close to me, like e.g. parents, to fully know who I am. But often they seem overwhelmed by the many facets and simply seem to ignore parts of me that I told them about (especially when things are changing fast or when they seem complicated). I feel sad and a bit angry about this, but on the other hand of course I’m expecting a lot from them to “keep up” with me… This has lead to the situation that I don’t tell them about recent developments anymore because I don’t feel that they “can take it”. I really don’t know what to do about this. Sure speaking to them about it would be the best, but even that I feel hesitant to do, because I’m scared that they won’t understand…

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