Do You Have One Why or Many Whys?
Photo courtesy of Stephen Brace.

Do You Have One Why or Many Whys?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

A few weeks ago, my friend, Jeff asked me what my “Why” is.

We’ve talked a lot about Whys here at Puttylike. They’re kind of like personal overarching themes; the force that draws you to your various interests.

Maybe your Why has to do with empowering people who lack a voice, and that has led you to pursue teaching, music, and non-profit work.

Maybe your Why is nourishment, and you aim to nourish others through your writing, coaching, and marketing.

Maybe your Why is about seeing people and being seen, solving problems or helping others heal. Each of these Whys might lead you to all sorts of different, unrelated fields.

When Jeff asked me this question, my response surprised him; not because of what my Why was, but because of how I began my answer:

“Well, one of my Whys is…”

One of your Whys?” He enquired.

Although Jeff was comfortable having multiple interests, it had never occurred to him that he could have multiple Whys, too.

It’s Okay to be Complex

As multipotentialites, we need to be careful not to reject the One True Calling myth only to embrace another type of singularity, albeit a theme-based one.

Yes, you can have multiple Whys– there can be several themes or values that matter deeply to you and draw you to different topics. You don’t have to tie a neat little bow around everything you’ve done in your life. It’s okay to be complex.

Identity and Purpose

This is all tied to identity. As humans, we want so desperately to matter. And in our culture, we typically gain this sense of meaning through our work. Having an expertise means that you have a reason for being here. This is why multipods often feel lost on an existential level. Without our Thing, what are we?

But you don’t need fit yourself into a box for your life to have meaning. And you don’t need to be able to explain your life in terms of one grand theme for it to have meaning. Your life just has meaning, period.

Here are some of my Whys:

Flipping things: making a negative a positive, or doing something that others say can’t be done, and rocking it. Helping others do the same (Puttylike fits in here).

Featuring the things that make one unique/weird, rather than hiding them

Empowering youth

Creative expression

Problem solving

Doing hard things

Smooshing (I love interdisciplinary projects)

These are just some of my Whys. They overlap in different projects, but I’m no longer obsessed with having my life stand for something. I’m more interested in producing a body of work over the course of my life that I’m proud of.

Your Turn

Do you have one Why or many Whys? What are some of them?

em_bioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. 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 an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist carpenter. Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. C. A. Hurst says:

    Hi Emilie!

    Great post.

    I’m guessing you’ve read “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek, but just thought I’d ask. Have you?

    • Emilie says:

      I have, indeed. Great book. :)

      I still think having one Why, or overarching theme, for a business is a very good idea. It’s just not necessary to have a personal Why that encompasses our whole life!

      Nice to hear from you, C.A. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Amy says:

    I found out about multipotentialites at such an amazing time in my life! I have been super unhappy with my career, am now pursuing another degree, and I’m so happy to be challenged again!

    And I’ve been getting a lot of whys.

    Which I reply… Why not?

    Thanks so much for the confidence boost in my super-focused, yet, highly curious brain.

  3. Lou says:

    As a frequent listener of TED Talk. I usually start my weekend morning browsing over different interesting topics. And your talk about being multipotentialte is just so timely. I’m at the point of my life asking what my purpose really is. Or why can’t I focus on doing just one thing. I woke up this morning asking myself my WHY’s. I’ve always have this feeling of not being great at something not because I’m dumb or what. And listening to your talk at Bend made me understand myself. Such an inspiring talk.

  4. Helen says:

    On a slightly unrelated note… oO congratulations Emilie!

  5. Mohammed says:

    A recently qualified dentist who was an energy surveyor previously. I’ve held many jobs in different fields such as warehouse operative and sports sales assistant. I’m really happy to have read this article because I have ‘closed’ my previous experiences thinking I have to concentrate on my new field. Learning to overlap existing with new skills is an excellent idea especially in idea synthesis.

  6. jimothi says:

    Good question, it made me think deeply.

    1. To satisfy my curiosity about nearly everything. Maybe that is just another way of saying “because it was there.”
    2. To provide spiritual support to others. This is my natural relationship with other people, and the one that I get value from. It means encouraging others to explore their place as beings in the universe, as members of societies, and as creatures of infinite potential.

    Thanks again for the great question.

  7. Ashley says:

    Funny – because when I started to read this post I started to try and connect the dots on all of my ‘jobs’ into ONE why, and then you opened up that I don’t need ONE why, either. We are so socialized to connect the dots…
    As most of your readers, your thoughts are very timely, and touch me deeply. I have been musician, singer, composer, college admissions/recruiter, seamstress/quilter/etsy-er, got a masters degree in french literature and am now considering a shift to health care. I also really love triathlon, which should appeal to most multipods…Above it all I’m “mom”, and that took me five years to use as an answer to “what do you do”, and promptly shut people up.
    Again, THANK YOU.

  8. Hi Emilie,
    I am an older multipotentialite from way back.
    Reading some of your writings and watching your TED Talk clip has been refreshing to see and hear, not because it validates my busy and ever changing life work, rather because I know there are other insanely gifted and creative individuals out there like myself who feel free to share those words, “It’s OK to be who you are…”.
    I believe in myself and I shed off all labels and live outside that box so many want to put me into. The freedom is what keeps me sane.

    You also hit on my one reason for many why’s in my life, empowering people who lack a voice, or in my opinion, already have a voice, they just need help in learning how to use it. Another note in my life sheet music, finding my purpose. I resonate with finding that purpose in all the things I do, where ever my life journey takes me.

    My life, it’s complicated, and I like it that way.
    I am a videographer, Social worker, writer, entrepreneur, retired carpenter, IT Consultant…and wannabe cultural anthropologist / sociologist.

    Thank you for sharing your window in time, your words, a blessing.

    G. Tomas Corsini Sr.

  9. Thank you for sharing your life window.

    G. Tomas Corsini Sr.

  10. Stuart says:

    The more I read your stuff, the more things seem to make sense for me.

    I guess my whys are:

    – learn and do cool stuff
    – make tasty stuff
    – help people solve hard stuff
    – be creative musically

    • Andreia says:

      It is all about collecting, creating, experiencing, giving, sharing stuff!
      And finally I found my “stuff” people. I finally belong!
      Thank you for the insight!


  11. Terri says:

    Where was this thought when I started my work life! It could have saved me a few dollars in therapy! But, every experience is a potential for learning and I did. My potential for being curious about me led me to various resources–yoga, meditation, church, coffee shops, shopping, painting, sewing, etc. Anyway, your Ted Talk helped my heart embrace my multipotentiality. I’m still working as a data analyst but I’m exploring with earnest and confidence, my creative side. And getting bored is ok. I can move on without feeling like a quitter. Thank you Emilie.

  12. Jeunesse says:

    How am I just hearing about you this morning? You tend talk was perfectly in my Facebook feed this am.
    I am 46 and I can tell you that I am thrilled to know you and your work (s).
    Jack of all trades, master of nothing, scattered, unfocused, confused, addhd, bi polar, names I have heard and that I have called myself.
    I have started soooo many things. Not one has felt a perfect fit. Well they do for a short period, then meh.
    There is a core theme tho, kindness, non judgement and connecting, just haven’t always treated myself this way.
    So a big big thank you for being YOU!

  13. Dawn says:

    Hi Emilie,

    I just watched yourTed talk today and Wow did the lightbulb come on. I wish I would have heard about Multipotenialite’s ,many years ago. I have always struggled with what my purpose in life was suppose to be. Trying everything I could, reading all about it, mastering it and them getting bored. I have searched and continue to search through my career to find the perfect niche. If I could put all my skills and talents into one job, this would be the jobfor me. Your Ted talk has given me hope and alot to think about. Thank you I now know that I am not different I just need to keep learning and mastering.


  14. Min Zee says:

    I am so excited to watch the Ted Talk on this subject. I guess that is who I have always been and I just learned the word for it. I thought something was wrong with me. I can take a deep breath, relax and go find something else to be and do. It’s going to be okay!

  15. Kristen Gill says:

    Thank you!!! I am a multipotentialite whose “why” is engagement…with the world, of my brain and to my work…even that may be felting acorns or making sales calls, writing or painting!!!

    Somewhere I wrote a blog on my being a “roundhouse’ as opposed to be on a single track. I had friends who did the single track thing. I was jealous of them, but I learned to accept and cherish the roundhouse from which I shot onto varying and differing paths.

  16. Michael says:

    1. The Relief of Ignorance
    One of the primary motivations to every personal interest that consumes me is to educate myself. For some reason, I always feel like I don’t understand enough, and I always look for more to learn. I usually like to listen and read on various perspectives, angles, and arguments.

    I want to share what I learn with others, either through brief (or not so brief) rants or by playing devil’s advocate. I’ve found that my goal in any conversation is not to be right or come out on top but to experience the moment when someone else says “Oh. I never thought of it that way.”

    2. Out With The Old
    My boredom knows no bounds, and I seem to project this necessity for change into my work, research, and social life. The only way I’ve learned to recognize my passions is through repetition. I’ll usually come back to a topic or idea I’m passionate about multiple times in order to explore it further.

    But I still get bored very easily. I can go through dozens of ideas or topics in a week. Depending on the type of job, I can get bored with my work in only a couple of weeks.

    My way of getting around this has been to change up my environment. I recognize problems where others sometimes do not, and offer completely new ways to do things. I like to change things up, throw out old traditions and build new ones, or create some new method or system from scratch. I’ve been told many times that I sometimes change things too much (understandable).

  17. Ashuman Chauhan says:

    Love what you are doing here…
    Just a thought, shouldn’t the comment box be above all the comments? To scroll down the page, especially one with lots of comments deters people from commenting.

  18. Hi Emilie, thanks you for the wonderful TED talk. I have a lot of “whys” which is why I’ve changed jobs several times in my life, each time taking on one that I had no experience in doing and becoming successful at. (that’s an interesting sentence:) I am still reinventing myself at 68 and don’t intend to stop. This TED talk comes at a perfect time for me as this month I will be talking to 8th graders on my own career path and eventual choice of Life Coaching. A choice I made for various “whys” such as empowering one to live a life of design rather than default. What I will focus on is not who you want to be in life, but how do you want to be in life. Your individuality, spirit and values can be integrated into any career or interest you have.

  19. Julie Kirk says:

    Goodness, like everyone else here I’m just happy to have found someone talking about the feelings I have too!

    A friend just recommended I come visit your site as she too found so much to chime with here!

    I’m constantly searching for ways to combine all my whys mainly so that I can eventually have a website that reflects who I am / what I do but which somehow feels cohesive. But … now I’ve discovered the notion of multipotentialites … maybe I need to rethink. Lots to digest!

    • Brooke says:

      Hi Julie,
      I’ve only come to the multi pod understanding table a few months ago and your comment, (well along with every other one here naturally), rang a bell for me as I’m struggling with the same conundrum around a website. So since you posted your comment about a year ago and I was wondering if you found the solution yet and if you’d be willing to share it with the class.
      Hope you found what you sought.

  20. Sean says:

    I had never considered to think there were others that only had one ‘why’ that drives them, but then again, I’d figured out a while ago that I’m not like my other team mates at work.

    Context: I’m a 31 year product engineer at a managed hosting company. My specialization is in networking security, and I work with hybrid networking (mix of traditional and cloud-based). I was previously a massage therapist, was studying for game design, and got into game design (and eventually network security) due to my passion for figuring out and reaping the benefits of game exploits. I used to be a boy scout leader, and also used to volunteer tutor in high school and college. I have no degree to speak of though. I’ve taken all that with me, and it’s been sort of a wild ride. In recent years, I used my insights from hobbyist research on brain theory, learning theory, and AI (specifically Jeff Hawkins’ On Intelligence), created technical training and documentation that people actually pay attention to. Long story short, I’m a bit of a nerd.

    My ‘why’s?
    – Understand completely to predict accurately – I love knowing my environment. If I know my environment, I can predict how something will interact with everything else. This includes understanding the personalities of those around me and how they affect me.
    – Help others to understand what they did not think they could understand – Look, we’ve all been there. That feeling of initial helplessness when confronting the unknown. I love to help those people because I so desperately needed the help myself once upon a time. Much like you said in your TED Talk, multipotentialites are great at being beginners because we’ve done it so many times. I also firmly believe that it makes us great teachers, coaches, and talent-spotters.
    – Consistantly challenge traditional approaches – Just because it worked great in 1980 doesn’t mean it’s the best way today. Let’s exploit inherent mechanics and solve for exactly what we want, exactly how we want it.
    – Be the glue – I love bringing the necessary ideas and partners together to create brilliant solutions that no one party could have produced on their own.
    – Fix all the things – I hate seeing anything broken, and instantly I want to understand why it’s broken so I can understand how to fix it and what that fix will be.

    I’m glad there are other people out there with multiple whys!

  21. Louie says:

    “I’m more interested in producing a body of work over the course of my life that I’m proud of.”

    Completely agree with that Emilie :) So much time is wasted thinking and doing nothing. I think we find the meaning of our lives once we stop thinking and follow our intuition and start doing. The combined body of work through actual action will reveal who we are as we keep on working on those projects. To put life’s meaning into words almost seems too pale because our meaning is always evolving and cannot be merely expressed by words.

  22. Rafa says:

    I went to a (good) career counselor who told me something similar instead of the usual lecture about needing to settle down. I came to the conclusion that I want something that mashes arts and science together, because I’m both incredibly curious (like most multipotentialites XD) and extremely creative. I want something unique that lets me escape but that will ultimately help and heal people more than I’m interested in fame and glory. I’ve even recently figured out that the people I want to help the most are not even human. X)

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