Are you an undercover multipotentialite? I used to be.
Growing up, I felt that I had to hide my multipotentialite identity. The fact that I was interested in, good at, and engaged with more than one thing at a time seemed to genuinely confuse people—or cause them visible distress—so I learned to show only one part of myself at a time.
During high school, I was the student taking all the advanced math and science classes during the day. After hours, I escaped the lab to sing in choirs and play multiple instruments in bands, when I wasn’t competing in solo classical piano competitions. I pursued science again in university, where dance classes took their place in my nightly extra-curricular activity roster. Every summer, I applied to work at a different summer camp to teach the performing arts in the great outdoors. My parents hoped I would choose a career in medicine, while my dance friends expected me to open a dance studio. I wanted neither.
Because I couldn’t articulate exactly what I did want, I felt that I couldn’t say exactly who I was. I wanted so badly to attach my identity to what I did, but it was too much of a jumbled mouthful. So, I learned not to say anything. When catching up on life with someone I hadn’t seen in a few years, I learned to expect the moment where they would pause, look at me in bewilderment, and say “but I thought you were…” before mentioning a hobby or interest that seemed so outdated to me it was embarrassing. I started to dread that pause, because I knew what came next. I learned to keep the conversation on them, or to talk about some other (boring) part of myself (like who I was dating) to avoid talking about what my true passions were at that moment. In other words, I learned to hide.
I could only hide out for so long before I realized that I needed community to survive. So, I did what I thought was the next best thing to hiding. I sought out dancing friends, singing friends, summer camp friends, teacher friends, grad school friends…you get the picture. And that was good for a while! I found acceptance in each of these communities.
I learned to partition myself and my personality so that I would show up as authentically [insert interest here] in each of these spaces. Because I feared the taunt of “jack of all trades, master of none”—or missing out on opportunities because I appeared “uncommitted” or scattered—I worked really hard to appear skillful and devoted to each of these areas. While I secretly pursued breadth in multiple areas, I showed how hard I was working to achieve depth too, so that I wouldn’t be turned out of each community as a fraud. I didn’t think anyone would accept all of me, so I tried to sell myself as all-in on each of those things.
Choosing to be seen
But, lately, I don’t feel like doing that anymore. You see, multipotentialites are exactly the ones who can get us out of some of the biggest messes that we’ve made as a society. Don’t just take my word for it – researchers argue that “the disciplinary approach of specialization is ill-suited to solve our increasingly complex problems, and that polymathic thinking can be a crucial asset in this regard.” And, polymathy is defined as “the productive pursuit of multiple endeavors, simultaneously or serially, across a lifetime.” So, dear multipotentialite, these researchers are talking about you.
Naming multipotentiality as an asset
As I’ve started to allow people to know more of the diverse parts that make up who I am and what I love to do, I’ve noticed that reactions of confusion have given way to delightful surprise. What’s made the difference?
First, privilege. There’s no point in being naïve about how my positionality allows me to be increasingly honest about the multiplicity of who I am. I’ve “proven” myself now. I’m no longer sitting in my guidance counselor’s office, wringing my hands about which major to choose. Now, I have too many degrees. I’m not trying to pad my resume to make myself look qualified and focused enough for a job I want—I have enough experience in each of the areas to get past the first round of applications. I’m not trying to go to the Olympics, or bust my way into something that’s totally and completely outside my past experiences and expertise. I’ve settled on variations of a few themes that I revisit and deepen every few years.
But there might be some other factors that come into play as well, and I want to share them with you. If you’re tired of hiding, too, here are four steps you can take to put your multipotentiality center stage without sacrificing potential opportunities.
- Do your research. As polymathy research becomes more common, you can find articles that name the assets you bring to the table as a multipotentialite. If you don’t know where to start, look for research about the benefits of your three core strengths: innovation, rapid learning, and adaptability. Get comfortable naming them as your own.
- Name your strengths. If you dabble in perfectionism like me, you might be addicted to fixating on your weaknesses, but what are you actually good at? What does it look like when you’re at your best? How often do you show that side of you? Here’s an exercise from the Harvard Business Review to help you tell your story.
- Tell your story. One of the biggest mistakes I made in the past was allowing others to define who I was for me. There’s no need for that. Reclaim your story and rewrite your narrative into an empowering one that puts you in the center stage of your own life. Paint a picture for others about how you have brought together discrete bodies of knowledge or diverse people to make the magic happen. Your successes aren’t a fluke—be proud of how you contributed.
- Don’t apologize. (Even if you’re Canadian.) Ok, fine, apologize when you’re wrong, but don’t apologize when you’re right but different. No need to make yourself small when your big ideas and vast experiences are the key to our future. It’s time to stop playing hide and seek.
Reaping the benefits of being seen
Ending the perpetual game of hide and seek has allowed me to start living a more authentic, joyful life. Articulating my multipotentiality as a strength has freed me from the shame I didn’t know I was carrying about having multiple passions that don’t line up with my day job. Accepting and celebrating my multipotentialite self has given me a powerful antidote against the fear of rejection when people find out that living a one-track life will never satisfy me. After all, I’m part of a community that is best equipped to change the world. As multipotentialites, we can choose to be part of a movement that has a much bigger potential impact than we ever could if we all stayed fragmented and hidden.
So, dear reader, are you ready to come out of hiding?
Are you still in hiding? What might give you the courage to step out and be known as your authentic multipotentialite self? Or have you graduated from undercover to out-and-proud multipotentialite? What changed in your life when you allowed yourself to be seen? Share your experience to inspire other multipotentialites to stop playing hide and seek.
Doing/being/exploring ALL THE THINGS is easier with a community!
Did you know we have a private community of hundreds of multipotentialites from around the world? We support each other, share advice and cheer each other on as we building lives and career around ALL our passions.
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