Hello, my name is Mel and I’m the wrong kind of multipotentialite. Or at least that’s what I thought until I dared myself to write this article. You see, I’m an overachiever. Type-A. People-pleaser. Morning person. Clearly, a person who takes personality tests.
But a multipotentialite is supposed to be a person who can never be defined by one thing. That’s why I feel such kinship with all of you! So how did I end up with a case of multipotentialite imposter syndrome, where I’m slightly afraid that when you know the truth about me, you’ll revoke my credentials? Why have I chosen this as my first article to introduce myself to the Puttylike community?
The truth is, as much as I love being a multipotentialite, the way it can manifest for me looks like a relentless compulsion to keep achieving. That may be what it looks like, but that’s not the whole story of who we are, and why we are that way.
I want to offer hope for people like me who’ve had bad boyfriends deride their list of passions and projects as typical of a soulless “striver.” For those whose diverse interests start out innocently but before you know it, you’re Vice-President of the club or you’re starting a new Certificate in the field. I am with you. I am you. Here’s why.
How my multipotentiality shows up for me
I am a dancer, singer, pianist, public speaker, educator, and activist. I think those are the main ones.
How I ended up with multipotentialite imposter syndrome
I was coming to terms with my identity as a serial overachiever until a bunch of people in a social media group I respect started sharing their Enneagram numbers. All of them were noble, caring, thoughtful, world-changing types…except for one. Me. Enneagram Three. Let’s do some reading about the Enneagram Three together, shall we? Psychology Junkie says that an Enneagram Three’s worst fear is being worthless: “Threes, also called ‘the achievers,’ are driven towards success and accomplishment. They are very goal-oriented and determined – working hard to achieve accomplishment and recognition. They tend to be enthusiastic, confident, and ambitious. On the downside, they can be overly image-conscious, impatient, and obsessed with status.”
WHAT? Who me?
Yes you, Mel.
Am I a multipotentialite because I’m trying to outrun my fear of being worthless?
I mean, the article indicates it’s a possibility, Mel.
Could I be another kind?
Am I saying that because I care too much about what others will think of a Three?
It’s literally in the description of a Three, Mel.
After that thrilling round of self-talk, I started taking other assessments. My Top 10 CliftonStrengths include the double A’s: I am both Activator (“You can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. You want to do things now, rather than simply talk about them”) and Achiever (“You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive”). Because I am a sucker for punishment OR because I believe in data triangulation, I then took the Saboteur Assessment. My top two saboteurs are Pleaser and Hyper-Achiever.
Can you relate? No seriously, I want to know…because I am a people pleaser? Ugh.
Are you an Overachieving Multipotentialite? Here’s how to feel better about it.
If you can relate, it’s my goal to write something that makes both of us feel better. Other people may tell us that our multipotentiality stems from the need to achieve—instead of an intrinsic motivation to endlessly explore our passions—but a wise person once told me to “invite myself to the party.” So let me tell you why you are invited to this multipotentialite party, even if you are the wrong kind. And if you can’t find anyone to talk to at this party, come sit by me.
If people make fun of you because you’re a multipotentialite with a resume as long as your arm, tell them (a) to mind their own business, and (b) there is a method to your madness.
But mostly, tell them to mind their business.
Your achievements are artifacts
What if your epic resume is a way to see your complexity and magic reflected on paper? Maybe for you, looking at a record of the things you’ve explored over the years is a way to savour those experiences, giving you another little boost of joy as you remember what it was like to be in that headspace. It allows you to look back fondly on the way a particular passion consumed your mind or gripped your heart until you felt compelled to bring something into this world. Be proud of that multipotentialite yearbook.
Maybe having a record of things you’ve done in the past helps you to let go of old pursuits and clear up some headspace to pursue the new passions you encounter. After all, you can always revisit them later. If you’re like me, you’re into narratives. So you might enjoy the way you can choose from your past projects to tell the story of who you are today and how you ended up there, knowing that you’ll probably be somewhere (or someone) else tomorrow. Looking at all that I’ve done in the past gives me the courage to be even bolder every day about showing my authentic self to the world: “Wow, I forgot that I was a collections agent for a year. Talking to adults used to fill me with fear, and now I use my voice every day without (much) trembling!”
Overachieving multipotentialites are leaders
I define leadership broadly, as simply being what’s needed when it’s not already there. That’s certainly how a lot of my volunteer and work accomplishments ended up on my resume. Embrace it. We need more visionaries like you who see how the world could be different, communicate that glorious vision, recruit others to join your cause…and also get down into the mud and do the work that’s necessary to change the world.
The shadow sides
If we can be real for a second, sometimes multipotentiality can feel like a hunger that can never be satisfied. There are two factors I had to work through to find peace again about who I am and my drive to keep adding accomplishments to my list. I am not a clinician, so I’ll preface this by saying that it is so important to seek out professional support if you are feeling this way. I did.
I know, I know. I was skeptical too. Deep breathing? How’s that going to help? But there was a point that I was so anxious that I stopped being able to sleep for a month. When my new therapist suggested mindfulness meditation for my “anxiety”, I corrected her to tell her that I actually had already been diagnosed with depression. She gently encouraged me to try it anyway.
I started taking the time to breathe and pay attention to my thoughts without judgment. This allowed me to coexist with those thoughts, without them ruining my day. Here I’m referring to the thoughts that try to trick me into pursuing another multipotentialite passion that is more about fearing a lack of credentials (see my next factor) and less about loving my ever-curious self. Now I can meet those thoughts with kindness, and wave goodbye as they fade out without affecting my decisions.
Raise your critical consciousness
The second factor I had to understand and work through was the constant pressure I’ve felt since first grade (seriously, I almost failed junior kindergarten) to have the credentials to earn my place in society as a BIPOC living and working in predominantly white spaces. So often, people with marginalized identities are taught that the reason we are denied opportunities rests with the ‘fact’ that we don’t have the right credentials: “I would give this to you – I really would. It’s just that you need a…” So, a lot of my life has been a never-ending quest to earn the right to exist alongside others who have access to the opportunities that I dream of. What’s interesting, though, is that once I finally get in the door, I am often the most qualified person in the room. Can you relate?
Know that it’s not you. It’s racism. And sexism. And homophobia. And mental illness stigma. And so many others I know you could name because you’ve experienced them more than society acknowledges. It is discrimination. If you are reading this and cannot relate, be an ally to those of us who are kept out of the room, even as we become ever more overqualified to be in the room.
You belong in the room. So celebrate!
So my ever-achieving multipotentialite friends, take heart. It’s not you, it’s them. And even if it is a little bit you, be proud of the contributions you make to this world. If the hunger for more never seems to be satisfied, reach out for support. You are not alone. Find people who lift you up and value your authentic self. (I know a place like that…) Name and celebrate your own value. Only you get to define what your multipotentiality means. What will yours be?
Have you ever worried you’re the wrong kind of multipotentialite? What techniques and concepts have helped you name and celebrate your value? Share your experiences in the comments!