I just finished outlining the A, B and C storylines of my Bored to Death spec. My morning was spent sipping mint tea and pumping out a few hundred words of my (soon to be released) book at the Albina Press. I’m rounding the end of part four, which is all about communicating the overarching theme of your site through a title, tagline and design (basically branding for multipotentialites).
After that, I spent some time on a Skype call with my writing partner about the pitch strategy for our pilot.
Now I’m writing this post. But not because I have to (I actually have an inbox full of guest post submissions to read, so I really don’t have to be writing this), but because I was feeling inspired and wanted to blog.
Am I a “writer”?
It’s tempting to think of myself as a “writer” these days (as opposed to say, a musician, or web designer, or lawyer) since most of my current priority projects center around writing.
That’s certainly what it looks like to the outside world. If someone were to observe how I spend my days, they would think, “that girl’s a writer.” Without a doubt.
In the past, I probably would have fully adopted the label. I would have embraced the romantic notion of what it means to be a writer. I probably would have surrounded myself with writing culture and told myself that I had found my true calling: This is it. I know what I am. I am a writer! Sound the trumpets.
And then months later, when my projects were done and I was ready to try out a new medium, I’d probably have an identity crisis.
This sort of thing used to happen to me repeatedly. But that was before I knew I was a multipotentialite…
Does what you do equal who you are?
Herein lies the problem for multipotentialites: in our society, we are defined, not by our ideas, but by the form those ideas take.
Today it’s writing, but tomorrow it could be dance, or public speaking, or teaching, or juggling (though it probably won’t be juggling…)
Writing isn’t “who I am”, it’s simply the form my creativity takes at the moment. It’s how my ideas happen to be clothed.
This isn’t a problem for specialists, who are happy expressing their ideas in one form. But for us shape-shifters, understanding “what you do” and explaining it to other people can be a little tricky.
The importance of umbrella titles
Living in a new city and meeting new people, means that I get asked “what I do” a LOT. I’ve struggled long and hard, trying to come up with an appropriate answer to that question. The best solution I’ve found is to have one or two umbrella titles.
Lately “writer” has been my umbrella title of choice. I like it because it covers blogging, book-writing and screenwriting: three activities I engage in regularly.
Sometimes I’ll add “and web designer,” if I think whoever’s asking might be a little less open-minded about new models for self-publishing, the potential of blogging as tool for community building and business, etc. Tacking on “web designer” results in fewer followup questions (even though I’m not doing any design work at the moment).
The pigeonhole dilemma
Even with an umbrella title like “writer” – a title I’m fairly comfortable with – I know deep down that I’m not a writer.
Or I’m not only a writer anyway.
In fact, when I’m asked outright if I’m a writer, my immediate reaction is to reply with “among other things…” A simple “yes” feels dishonest because I know that my prime activities could change radically in a matter of weeks.
“Writer” also neglects other things that I do, like coaching (but I rarely introduce myself as a coach, since “what do you coach?” is an even harder question to answer).
How to avoid identity crises
As long as society insists on defining us by our medium, scanners will struggle. There’s no way around it. However, just because society defines things this way, it doesn’t mean you have to.
There’s no need to have an identity crisis every time your creativity takes a new form or you veer down a new path. Nothing’s changed. You’re still you.
Know that “what you are” is a multipotentialite. And sure, go ahead and adopt medium-based umbrella titles to make it easier for other people. But be careful not to intertwine your identity with those labels to where they become all you are. That’s when the identity crises happen.
And when it is time to move on, don’t be devastated or feel lost. Be excited and pumped for your next adventure. Despite what it looks like to the outside world, your identity hasn’t changed– at all.
How do you explain to others “what you do”? Do you ever feel like your answer is misleading or incomplete? Any tips on getting around this?