Multipotentialite Money Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)!

Multipotentialite Money Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)!

Written by Guest Contributor

Topics: Work

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Kristin Wong.

Recently, I discovered a few termites around my house. And then a few more, and then even more before I finally realized: uh oh. I have termites.

For weeks, I tried to ignore the problem. I guess I figured, if I pretend they’re not here, the problem will somehow work itself out. Of course, that’s not how termites work, and when it rained particularly hard one week, they swarmed my yard. Finally, I called an exterminator and handled the problem like an adult.

“You can’t just ignore termites,” he warned. “They’ll destroy your home.”

You’re probably thinking, No kidding! Everyone knows that. Don’t you realize ignoring a problem only makes it worse? It’s so obvious. Yet it’s a habit so many of us develop with money. We hate dealing with it, so we pretend it’s not there, hoping that somehow, the problem will work itself out. Of course, like termites or any other problem for that matter, ignoring your financial situation typically only makes it much, much worse.

Money and Multipotentiality

Money and multipotentiality can feel like conflicting subjects. Multipotentiality is about your interests, after all, and money is about paying the bills. As a multipod, you may even be torn on how to make money and still do things you enjoy.

Which is why my heart did a little dance when I discovered the four approaches to making money as a multipotentialite. These approaches outline exactly how people like me typically earn a living. You can have a single job that suits all your interests, you can spread those interests across a handful of jobs, you can have a “survival” job, or you can pursue a job that suits one interest at a time. None of these approaches are easy, but this is how we multipods usually approach our careers.

Dealing with money as a multipod can still be a challenge, though. And that’s simply because money is, well, challenging. Each multipotentialite work model comes with its own unique set of financial challenges, too. Here are some that I’ve faced with each approach.

The Einstein Approach

For years, I worked as a technical writer while I pursued other interests in my spare time: screenwriting, video editing, and journalism. I made a few bucks with each of those things, but my full-time job paid the bills and kept me afloat for the time being. It’s what we call “The Einstein Approach.”

When I took this approach, I faced an interesting financial challenge: I always prioritized money. I was reluctant to leave the job and pursue my true interests because I was so afraid of losing that income.

To remedy this, I surrounded myself with other journalists, screenwriters, and video editors, and this helped keep my interests front of mind. These were my people! I joined a writers group, made friends with videographers, and found a mentor in a freelance journalist. It was harder to neglect my interests for money when I had inspiration all around me. I also had to get clear on my goals. What did I want to do, eventually, with each of these interests? Why did I worship money so much? Did I want to stay in my Einstein job forever? These are deep questions with complicated answers, but my answers lead to a clear goal: I wanted to save enough money so that I could switch careers without worrying about making ends meet or moving back in with my parents. I started a “career switch fund” and planned my transition.

I left my Einstein job, that’s not the solution for everyone. Maybe you’re perfectly fine pursuing your interests while you have a standard 9-to-5 that pays the bills. You have to do what works for you, but that means getting clear on your goals and your values in life. Corny, but true.

The Group Hug Approach

One of my favorite approaches is the Group Hug approach. You get to explore all of your interests in a single job or gig. What’s not to love about that? Maybe you work for a small startup and you get to design brochures, take business trips to meet with clients, and write pitches. Writing, travel, and design: not a bad gig for a mutipod interested in those things! However, there is a potential money issue to watch out for. Not having a speciality can make it hard to negotiate or get a promotion.

People love to stereotype us multipods as “masters of none” (ugh) and that label makes it hard to move up the ladder. Your employer might see your gig as dispensable because you’re the “extra” person: you simply pick up the extra tasks that fall to the wayside. That’s how they see it, at least. It’s hard to get that promotion as Lead Designer, for example, if designing is just something you do because they haven’t yet hired anyone else for that task.

However, this can also work in your favor. To beat the “Master of None” label, position yourself as the flexible, versatile, quick-learning worker rather than a jack of all trades. Do this by quantifying the value of your responsibilities. For example, if you design a digital brochure to send to a mailing list, quantify the number of clicks or buys it gets. If you pitch potential clients, quantify the conversion rate. Once you have some impressive numbers, bring them to your employer and position yourself for a raise. Of course, this requires being skilled at these tasks, but since they’re things you’re interested in, you should be open to building your skill in these areas anyway.

Take a tip from Renaissance Business, which encourages us self-employed folks to pick an “overarching theme” for our business, or a motif that weaves together our many interests. For example, you could tie together your many tasks at work as “Operations Manager,” and then pitch this to your employer as a new job title. (With a new salary to match!)

The Phoenix Approach

With the Phoenix approach, you switch jobs every few years as your interests change. It’s a fun approach and you’ll never be bored, but it does come with some possible setbacks to your income. Namely, each time you switch careers, you start over. And when you start over, your salary typically starts over, too. The remedy for this? Transferable skills.

In other words, use the skills you learned in your previous job to help boost your resume in your new one. When I switched from being a technical writer at an oil and gas company to writing for media, I positioned myself as someone who could “break down even the most complicated topics.” After all, if I can write a 200+ page manual on how to put together a mile-long drilling tool, I can cover just about anything. What I lacked in experience with journalism I made up for with communication skills.

When you switch to the next thing, find some overlap in the skill set required in the old job versus the new one. This way, you don’t have to take as big of a salary hit. It also helps to transition strategically. Let’s say you’re a web designer but you want to start a photography career. In your final few months as a web designer, as you begin to transition out of it, maybe you could pitch new clients a photography package to go along with your designs.

The bottom line is, rather than forget about your old job completely, leverage what you can from it to succeed in your new one so you don’t have to start your salary from the bottom.

The Slash Approach

With the Slash approach, you have a few gigs, jobs, or businesses that you juggle. Maybe you teach yoga part-time and build websites part-time, too.

With the Slash approach, you get your income from multiple revenue streams, which is a great way to diversify your income. (Lose your yoga gig? Hey, you still have your web gig!) However, with this approach, you might find that your income is irregular. Part-time work often isn’t guaranteed, and you might take on more work one week and less the next. Plus, this kind of work is typically freelance, which often means variable income.

With a little planning, though, you can manage. For example, I “pay” myself a salary based on my average income from each of my jobs. It’s sort of like getting a regular paycheck from an employer, but the employer is me. With a paycheck, I know what to expect every month, even if my income varies. So if I earn more than average one month, I save that extra money, in case I earn below average the next month.

I also have what I call a “consistency client.” This is a client that provides a consistent work schedule month after month. They aren’t the best paying client, but knowing that I have a “guaranteed” amount of income each month helps keep my budget intact. Come to think of it, it’s sort of a combination of the Slash approach and the Einstein approach.

We’ve all got to make ends meet, and that includes us multipods. And any of these approaches are a great way to pay the bills. Of course, with any career, there’s always the possibility of a financial setback. But if you know what to expect, you can minimize that setback. It’s the exact opposite of ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away. Instead, you’re preparing for it and setting yourself up for success as a multipod.

Your Turn

What is your biggest money issue as a multipotentialite? What have you done to overcome money obstacles in the past?

neil_2017_2Kristin Wong is a freelance writer and journalist at the New York Times, New York Magazine’s The Science of Us, and Lifehacker. Her book, Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford is available now.

27 Comments

  1. Andy Murphy says:

    As a freelancer (forced into entrepreneurship by a disability), I found that my mainstays were either sporadic or seasonal, I used my multipotentiality to open up other streams of income (we multipods have the advantage of catching more fish by being able to fish out of both sides of the boat). From my experience, though, I agree with Kristin about the volatile nature of income; so I used a sort of averaging that Kristin suggests.

    My main challenge has always been how to gain enough activity to make ends meet. Specializing is no problem; however I see my immediate challenge as learning to add enough value to people to justify charging a high enough rate so I can meet the needs of my family. This is my objective: to command higher fees.

    • Kristin Wong says:

      That’s a great objective!

      And you make a good point. On the one hand, we multipods have a leg up because we’re prone to multiple income streams. On the other hand, that can make it difficult to focus on the earning potential of one. I’ve had a hard time commanding higher rates in one area because of that “jack of all trades” mindset. I think you’re right on the money (no pun intended) in adding value to justify higher rates. For me, learning the ins and outs of negotiating has been crucial, though.

      I think a lot of us undervalue ourselves because of the nature of multipotentiality, and it doesn’t have to be that way! I started forcing myself to ask for more because clients can usually afford to pay you more than the initial rate they throw out. I’m surprised at how often I get a “yes” when I simply ask for a higher rate. I know this won’t be the case for everyone, but I think negotiating skills are a must for mutipods either way.

  2. Liz says:

    Great article!

  3. Dawn Nguyen says:

    Dear Kristi:

    Thank you for the wonderful article! I think I am stuck in The Einstein Approach. It’s a 9-5 type of job, so I’m restricted to a schedule. I find that I am constantly looking for new things/hobbies to keep me interested outside of work. My job so far has enable me to take up pottery, which is something that I’ve always wanted to learn; studied tax law and am now a certified IRS tax preparer. I’ve been spending ever Monday at the community center preparing taxes for low income families and the elderly. That’s been fun because every client is a new case. I do find though, that because I lack in skills, I tends to take up jobs that do not pay very well, but just enough to make ends meet. Again, thank you for sharing your article.

    • Kristin Wong says:

      Thanks for sharing your story! And that’s a very noble thing to do re: the tax help. So many people need help with that.

      I know what you mean about taking on low paying gigs, though. I did that for a long time, especially when I was in my Einstein job. I felt like I didn’t really deserve to get paid well for it since it was a “hobby.” The best advice I got during that time was not to undervalue myself. If someone was willing to pay for my work, it meant that I was competent, and that meant I had value. So it took a while, but I gradually started learning to ask for more.

  4. Susan says:

    Dear Kristin,
    my solution is the Einstein Approach. I have a very save job as a civil servant. As I live in Germany, this means, I can’t be fired and I can change my amount of working hours every two years if I want. I had 20 hours per week for several years because I am raising kids. Now I thought my children are old enough to do their things on their own. So I changed to 32 hours per week. In addition with a 2 hours of commuting every day, I got depressed. I had an very interesting job now, nice colleagues and my boss is more than ok. I had enough time to do my housework and cope with the family problems. So what was the problem? Why didn’t I like my life? Well, I found the answer in Emilie’s talk. So now I decided to go back to 20 hours and look for a job near my house at the next possible moment.
    So the Einstein Approach is great. But it has to leave you enough time for everything else and it helps if you add the Phoenix Approach. If you open your eyes, you can find an interesting new job even if you stay a civil servant. But you need the patience to wait until an opportunity comes along. In the mean time, find thrilling things in your spare time. Funny as it is, most of my hobbies pay me money.
    A great hug to all who contribute to this blog

  5. Catherine says:

    This should be drilled into every multipod’s brain. It is the full quote that is often misquoted:

    Jack of all trades
    Master of none
    Oftentimes better
    Than master of one

    A Jack of all trades was a prized employee on a sailing ship, from where the term comes from. If the crew had a Jack of all trades on board, they would be delighted as he could take on any project and solve any problem.

    So we aren’t so bad after all.

  6. TANYA says:

    I am trying to end my Einstein job now. I am working to get my employer to pay for my new Master’s degree in Data Science. I am hoping this new degree will allow me to get a group hug job or to try a Phoenix approach because I will be able to leverage my skills in multi-disciplinary ways.

    Fingers crossed and I am so glad I found people like me.

    • Jamie says:

      I would be excited to hear about your progress with this. I am also interested in data science but have narrowed down to focus on autonomous vehicles. I just started my masters and also taking courses at Udacity.

  7. Laura Jaimes says:

    “As a multipod, you may even be torn on how to make money and still do things you enjoy.” The story of my life! Having gone through several political and financial crisis in my country, Argentina, I had to reinvent myself (occupationally talking) many times. I recognize that being a “multipod” (until few months ago I didn’t know the concept but I feel totally identified with it from having known it!), facilitated my transitions and adaptability in the different jobs I had. I am an anthropologist by profession, and although I was never able to work in research, which is what I’d have wanted at the beginning of my career, my preparation and my “multipotentialite condition” allowed me to adapt to many activities. I felt very identified with that of being the “extra person”, and I could narrate each of the strengths and weaknesses of that role.
    Great article Kristin, thanks!

  8. LB says:

    I just finished my taxes (huzzah!!!) and discovered that I had actually set more money aside than I needed over the last year. A happy error! This is one thing that I had to learn the hard way – for every freelance gig, setting aside at least a 3rd, to cover taxes later on. I know that freelancers can also declare themselves a sole proprietorship business and pay taxes quarterly, but for me, this hasn’t made sense yet and was honestly, too much annual paperwork for the amount of freelance work and varying types I do throughout the year. I’ve actually streamlined my various freelance income streams (W-9/1099), and have a steady part-time job (W-2). I’m curious though, what is your take on income that a freelancer would not receive a 1099 form for. Do they have to declare it? This might be too specific a question for this post, but Multipods should also be aware of options and pitfalls around taxes if they are doing freelance work! This could be a whole other article. ;)

  9. Silvia says:

    I tried the Einstein approach, didn’t work as my day job wasn’t a “good enough” job (hated it). I am currently “slashing” (online consultant/ pet therapist/ dog sitter) but I would love to tie it all up in a Group Hug business, togheter with other big big interests of mine, such as reading… it’s just not easy to come up with the right idea. thank you for the tips though, very useful.

  10. Susan says:

    Hi Kristin–I really enjoyed your article, but one area that I think was overlooked was planning for the future: Retirement! One of the biggest problems with switching jobs every few years (or being self employed) is that it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to build up a retirement fund. For many years I took the Phoenix Approach. I loved my life, I loved meeting new people and taking on new challenges, and I made pretty decent money. But I did NOT save for the future, and changing jobs often meant that I was never vested in a retirement plan. Fortunately for me, I made a decision to go back to school (and if I could have supported myself as a student forever, that’s what I would have done) and earn a degree that would allow me to take the Group Hug Approach. For the last 22 years, I’ve worked at the same organization, but with a job that has been diverse and continually satisfying. And NOW I do have a good retirement cushion…which is a good thing, because I’m retiring in June. BTW, retirement can be heaven for a multipotentialite because you have time to investigate (or play with) all the things that interest you!

    • Mary says:

      Susan, you make a good point about saving for retirement, however you don’t necessarily need to work for an organization to have a retirement fund. I’m not a retirement expert by any means, but I know for a fact that you can open a Roth IRA independently to start saving for retirement. I’ve heard a recommendation that you can roll over your 401K into a Roth IRA any time you switch jobs. This keeps you from having to maintain multiple 401K accounts and keep track of the one retirement account instead. I haven’t tried this yet, but anyone who is curious about this option should check with a financial advisor to learn more.

  11. Melissa Bettcher says:

    What a great article! I have been feeling a bit crummy because I am stuck in a 9-5er and I would much rather do something that gets me charged up in the morning. I know what I want to do but I need to go back to school to do it and working the 9-5er does hinder that. However, I can’t leave the 9-5er because I am the sole supporter of my kid and she still has a few years at home and it really is a great job(nice place to work, nice people, great pay, great benefits etc.)I plan on getting my BA in Humanities with a focus on History and English and then my Masters in Library Science. I would love to work part time in the public libraries here and then do a research/information consulting business on the side which is much more multipot than my current situation.

    What I really loved about this article was the term Einstein Job. I had not heard that before. I feel a bit better about my situation knowing I am in the same boat as Einstein!

  12. Yostina says:

    Hi Kristin, honestly my biggest issue is that I need financial security but at the same time I need verstality. I am trying to find employers who view multipotentiality as an advantage and are actually looking for it. I heard in South Korea employers are looking for people like us and I am trying to find a job there as I very fond of Korea. I think asian employers in general are looking for multipotentialites.

  13. I have a part-time stable job which has been working out well with having more time to spend with my daughter (now 2) before she’s in school. I’m also doing the slash approach and have picked up a side gig that I work on when she’s napping. I’m not sure how this will look in the future but for now this is great. I like the side job because it’s some extra money, but doesn’t take me away from her more or require any extra child care since I can work it around our schedule.

  14. katherin says:

    Wow, i felt really identified, specially because I just got a job as technical writer and it pays well but it’s not my passion. However, I have debts to pay.. You inspired me to discover and pursue my passions alongside my job, maybe in the future i will be ready to make a switch

  15. Tim says:

    I am definitely Phoenixing it. I have yet to figure out how to make money on the internet, and because I like immersing myself in new cultures and languages, as an American, you MUST have a reason to be in someone else’s country long term. So, when it comes to work, it’s almost always teaching English. But, every time I move to a new country, I have to teach for a new company and start at the bottom.

    It’s a sacrifice I’ve willingly made, but I would prefer to be a Slasher or, if may add a term, Webbie (someone who makes all of their income online, even if it’s from different sources). Both of these mediums would allow me to travel and restart my life without having to teach English just to live in the country.

    Thanks for the great article.

  16. Zion says:

    So odd that I have discovered an awful lot about myself from this website. So much so, I even mentioned in the book I wrote.

    After 20-odd years in a touring rock band, when I quit that I didn’t know what to do. I wrote a film or two. I directed a film or two. I wrote a book or two. I set up a business or two. And I am still scratching my head. Do I want to deal in more art or perhaps create an archive of wartime memories?

    Until I discovered this site, I thought I was a clueless, aimless individual that couldn’t make up his mind about anything. Then I realised I wasn’t alone in this rather wonderful personality trait and I felt so much better about myself.

    Money has never interested me much. I’m ashamed to say I have NO idea how much money I earn. Thankfully, my partner does the maths in this house, so I guess she knows. I just buy stuff until I am told to stop buying stuff.

    I’ve created – and continue to create – several income streams, so that makes me a slasher. If it weren’t for the fact that “having a slash” is slang for “having a wee”, I would proudly wear my slasher status!

    Great article. Thanks for sharing it on this site and for opening my eyes ever wider.

  17. Miguel says:

    I have quite different approach to money subject. I have a day job, Einstein approach, but at the same time I spend part of my time on trading. I’m planning to switch day job to a trader in that I can have more freedom to do my interesting things.

  18. Chris Renee says:

    What a fabulous, long-needed article. I am 39 years old and I’ve had about 20 different jobs over the last 20 years! What I do best is teaching, and I’ve done lots of it with students of all ages in different places. I find teaching to be really varied, multipod-friendly. However, I just moved to a new country to become a permanent resident, and it was a (really slow and quiet) 9-5 job that enabled me to move here. I am entitled to work, but my spouse isn’t, so I am the sole bread-winner at home. I feel I should be grateful to have a 9-5 job that pays the bills, but honestly most of the time I’m at my desk wondering why I’m letting the best years of my life go by staring at a computer screen with almost nothing to do at all. My husband says I can use the spare time at work to develop my own projects, but I don’t even know where my energy goes because I feel like I can’t even think properly in this walled environment. Anybody have good advice on “surviving” a surviving job for immigration purposes?

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Chris
      Can totally relate: had to land ‘any’ job to start my new life as a fresh immigrant. I was very quick (to this organisation’s work culture anyway) and finished the backlog in no time so I asked after 6 mths if I could have a 4-day working week and that was agreed (OK less pay but also less tax so net income not too bad). I also started to add tasks I liked that belonged to other depts who welcomed my help so that made my job more varied. Then with this experience I found a higher level, more challenging new job after 2 yrs. Again full time at first then agreed to work 5 days/4 days a fortnight. So suggestions: request part-time and ask or initiate new projects, preferably ones that require time away from the computer eg organise workshops how to teach staff or clients xyz if possible on location ie travel option. Hope this helps!

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