The Multipotentialite’s Journey: Surviving, Thriving, and Innovating
Photo courtesy of Najlaa Ab. Samad.

The Multipotentialite’s Journey: Surviving, Thriving, and Innovating

Written by Emilie

Topics: Life, Puttytribe

First of all, I cannot believe how amazing these responses are. Thank you to everybody who has applied so far (and for those who haven’t, you still have a day or two to throw in your hats). I’m going to have an impossible time choosing the winners…


I’m a pretty introspective person. I spend a lot of time checking in with myself and reflecting on what I’ve learned. I’m also borderline neurotic. I have a tendancy to overthink. As a teenager this looked very Angela Chase-esque, and it still does, minus most of the teenage insecurities and angst (thank goodness).

Through my introspection these last couple years, I’ve noticed an evolution of my ideas surrounding multipotentiality.

If you watch the video on my sidebar, that’s a perfect snapshot of my perspective at the time when I first launched the site in September, 2010. I wanted to redefine this “thing” that I’d always thought was a problem as something positive, or at least something normal. I hadn’t even given it a name yet. I simply wanted to feel like I wasn’t doomed for a life of instability or boredom.

But that’s just it, when I first created Puttylike, it was about solving a problem. It was about undoing years of feeling like there was something wrong with me, and helping others do the same. Getting from -10 back up to zero. Neutral.

Step 1: Surviving as a Multipotentialite

I now see this as the first step in a multipotentialite’s evolution. First you need to undo the years of damage cause by backwards cultural pressures, and get back to a place where you feel okay with who you are. That’s step number one.

If you’re at this stage of the process now — the “HOLY SHIT, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ME AFTER ALL?!” stage, as I call it — Well then I offer you a big congratulations.

Making the decision to stop feeling bad about yourself and start embracing your multipotentiality is a huge turning point.

Step 2: Thriving as a Multipotentialite

After becoming okay with your multipotentiality, you need to answer the inevitable question that follows: now what?

How will you use your multiple gifts and unyielding curiosity to thrive in the world? How will you integrate everything you love into your life and make it work?

I’ve explored a lot of these questions on Puttylike. I found that my interests in lifestyle design, entrepreneurship and productivity really came into play here. Before I knew it, I was smooshing together my own interests to help other people smoosh together their interests. (I hope that sentence made sense. ;)

It was a point of differentiation for me too. I don’t only talk about the nature of multipotentiality. Other people already do a fabulous job of that. Nope, my overarching theme is a “smoosh” of multipotentiality and lifestyle design. It’s about using ideas I was learning in the LD world to make multipotentiality work in the real world.

I learned that your diverse background is the best “business differentiator” out there. It’s what makes it impossible for anyone else to compete with you. Instead of choosing a niche, you carve out your own niche that’s based around everything that you love and everything that you are. It’s a beautiful feeling once you start using your multipotentiality to fuel your work and your life.

The thriving stage is primarily about fueling your own lifestyle. That’s not to say that it’s selfish. There’s nothing selfish about working on yourself and creating a life that you love. In fact, your own personal happiness is a prerequisite to making a positive impact in the world.

Step 3: Innovating as a Multipotentialite

Once you see your work begin to revolve around all your interests, whether through entrepreneurship, or traditional employment (some jobs allow you to wear many hats or explore different areas), the next step is synthesizing your interests to make a positive change in the world.

As a multipotentialite, you have a unique ability to draw from different areas and come up with creative solutions that specialists never could have thought up. For example, I just joined the Green Micro Gym here in Portland. It’s a gym where the cardio machines power the building’s electricity. A beautifully creative business that exists at the intersection between the environment and health. I have no doubt that this business was thought up by a multipotentialite.

After running Puttylike for a while, I realized that our urge to jump around isn’t just healthy and normal, but that we actually have a higher calling here. We’re innovators. And that’s because innovation is about taking knowledge from one area and using it to solve a problem in another area. Nobody’s in a better position to do that than those of us with multiple backgrounds.

Making Your Way through the 3 Stages

You don’t always go through these stages perfectly in sequence. For instance, I still have questions about business even though my focus is more on innovation. Occasionally I even feel insecure (if you can imagine. ;)

Even when I was back in the “survival” stage, I had dreams of innovating. All three components are usually present no matter where you are on your journey.

The Vision I See

When I began building the platform for the Puttytribe a few months back, it was important to me that the site would help multipotentialites at any stage in this process– both the beginners and the more advanced multipods.

I did not want to create a “support group,” because a support group implies sickness. However, I did want the community to be able to provide support for those who are just beginning to overcome the insecurities and embrace their multipotentiality.

I didn’t want the community to just be about career and business, though I did want it to be a space where people could get help from their peers and use accountability to hit their goals and see results.

Finally, I wanted to make sure that the Tribe did more than just solve problems and help multipods thrive personally. I wanted to cultivate a space for innovation, a sort of incubator where we could connect, collaborate and maybe even bring new ideas into the world.

And so like any true multipotentialite project, the Puttytribe does multiple things.

My vision is really to help move people through the first two stages quickly and comfortably, so that they can get the basics covered and begin innovating.

I have a feeling that some really interesting projects are going to be born out of this community. I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

Your Turn

Have you noticed an evolution in yourself as you’ve embraced your multipotentiality?



  1. Emilie Smith says:

    Hi Emilie. Thanks again for such a fantastic site and for your great ideas and inspiration! I wondered if many of your multipotentialites have given up the “wage slave” lifestyle to move forward in the steps you have mentioned here? For me it’s one of the main reasons I haven’t moved forward from Step 1 and it’s hard to get out of the cycle once you are already fairly well established and are earning a comfortable living (which my family also depend on, by the way). Is there a tipping point that makes people embrace and go beyond that first step of dreaming about it to DOING it?

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Emilie (great name by the way, :)

      Tony Robbins says that it takes either desperation or inspiration to make a big change in your life. In other words, comfort (or even slight discontentment) makes it REALLY HARD to change. You have no reason to put that steak in the ground and say “Enough!” That’s why people have a hard time getting in shape. That is, until they’re hit with a health crisis and if they don’t begin exercising, they’re going to die.

      It works much the same way in the employment world. It’s really hard to leave a mediocre job that provides security and comfort unless you’re really truly fed up, or very much inspired– or both.

      My hope is that being around other people in the Tribe who have made the leap or are going through it now, will help provide that inspiration to those who feel stuck. Not only inspiration, but guidance and support. I mean, the path is freaking scary! But so so fulfilling.

      And by the way, this isn’t just about corporate job vs self-employment. I’m all for jobs that allow you to do what you love and be brilliant at work. It’s really just about how you want to spend your time on this earth. Time is our most precious resource. The idea of letting it slip away on things that don’t matter to me terrifies me more than the risk that I might try something and fail.

      Oh one last thing. It’s not an all-or-nothing equation. Yes, leaps of faith are sometimes required. But you can build up businesses on the side, while still working your day job, and wait till they’re at a certain point before quitting. In fact it would be stupid to do otherwise, especially if you’re supporting a family. There are a lot of ways to mitigate the risk.

      Have you read The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau? I think you’d enjoy it. :)

      • Emilie Smith says:

        Thanks Emilie. It’s great to know that it’s not “all or nothing” but admittedly I guess that’s the trap I’d fallen into! I’ll check out The Art of Non-Conformity – thanks for the recommendation :D

        Good luck with the Puttytribe evolution.. it’s going to be great!

  2. I think I’m at stage 1, verging on stage 2. Haven’t got to grips with how to thrive yet.

    Did I tell you about Highly Sensitive Person? it means people who have greater awareness and sensitivity to inner and outer stimuli, which leads to a rich inner life, overthinking and analysing. When you find out you belong to this group (20% of ALL species are highly sensitive), its another ‘holy shit, there’s nothing wrong with me after all.’

    Anyway, I have a feeling that many multipotentialites are also Highly Sensitive as both types are above average intelligence.

    Just sayin.

    • Emilie says:

      Oh yeah, totally! I’m certain that there’s a major overlap in multipotentialialites and HSPs.

      It’s funny, I’ve always known I was really sensitive, but it wasn’t a negative thing in my family. My mom would refer to me as “sensitive,” but always in a positive context. I think because she’s the same way. Similarly, she never said “don’t cry,” which a lot of people do, trying to be kind. I’ve always appreciated that– growing up in a space where vulnerability was ok, even encouraged.

      • Oh, I’m glad you grew up with positivity about being sensitive. So many HSPs don’t. My mum would give a big sigh, and say ‘Oh Catherine, you’re so SENSITIVE! I can’t say anything to you without you getting upset!’ Not realising she was evenmore touchy than me. So it just ended up with us stopping communicating cos everything we said upset each other. I’m trying to make my daughter feel positive about being a sensitive, caring, very aware sort of person instead of feeling like its a drawback.
        However my mum is definitely a multipotentialite, I bought her the Refuse to Choose book and she loved it. So we both like that side of ourselves.

        • Sarah says:

          Heh, this is so similar to my own story growing up. I cry at the most basic things and when I was younger my mum would say “Don’t turn the taps on!” I ended up being so afraid to cry in front of people I needed to write letters to people with my feelings on instead of facing them!

  3. JocelynBrown says:

    Emilie, yes! Love your response (to the first commenter). I will tell you that the one major thing that helps me pursue my multipotentiality to the fullest is working part time. I know this is hard for everyone to do, and I know a lot of people are resistant to the idea. Just hear me out! If you can avoid debt in the first place, you are ahead of the game. If you already have incurred debt, start working on killing it. Start living more simply. Stop buying stuff. This is all going to amount to one VERY IMPORTANT thing in the end: YOUR FREEDOM! I work 20-25 hours per week, am building another business on the side, I take classes at the community college (usually art classes), I volunteer a lot, I have ample time to garden, and I have plenty of time to pursue my other hobbies. I may not have as much money to buy things, my truck is 16 years old, etc. but it is a tradeoff I am certainly willing to make. IT IS SO WORTH IT!

    • Emilie Smith says:

      Wow Jocelyn.. sounds like you are already on the way :) I’ve considered the part-time option but unfortunately I do a job that is very difficult to pursue part-time (international travel is involved). That said – I’ve never even asked about the option. I think I shall do that and see where it leads me! You have inspired me :)

    • Emilie says:

      Wow, this is so inspiring Jocelyn. I love seeing the breakdown of how you make it work. Awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Alana McMillan says:

    “Embrace” is an interesting word you use. I think it’s what sets us apart and is how we can move through each step. I was in stage 1 for the longest time and am in the middle of stage 2. Its just a matter of what. I always gravitated towards those who talked about finding my passion and doing something with it.. They always explained the “whys” of exploring my passion and the “hows”, but no one ever talks about the “what” – I am left to figure that out alone.

    So we move from finding any job or living any life to deciding how we want to live our lives. We (I use the term loosely and mainly to reference my story) opt not to settle and choose to create a unique life. Stellar! Only problem for us is when we go to choose, we want to include everything we have an interest in or will have an interest in in the future and are told we can’t, that we have to only choose one or two. This is the part i feared the most. It’s gut-wrenching. To be told that what you want doesn’t exist, will never exist and that’s that. Time to find a job that piques part of my interests and know in 2-3 years I will leave, not because I don’t like it, but because I am bored and the job is not fluid enough for me. This has been the source of many sleepless nights, a few tears shed, and 1 accidental intervention (what was supposed to be a “help my friend get some career advice” happy hour turned into a 2 vs 1 “why aren’t you trying to climb the corporate ladder like the rest of us?”!hour of awkwardness.)

    I was close to caving when I found this site. I had a Finally moment. Finally someone understands exactly where I am coming from. Not only that, but there are more out there just like me. People who embrace personal development on their terms (ie i want to learn web design bc its looks cool) and are full of ideas. People who went from eliminating things on their list to adding to it. People who are curious about something and if it doesn’t work out, move on to the next interesting subject.

    I stopped thinking I had to go to business school because that was the only way I could get out of my current position. I embraced just wanting to know more about a particular topic. I stop sweating prefusely whenever someone grills me about my next career move. They don’t get it, but I do. We do.

    It’s a wonderful thing being a multipotentialite. Glad EmilIe could bring us all together.

  5. I’ve noticed the evolution in myself as I’ve embraced being a multipod. I would say my creative energy by far is so much more focused cause I’m not wasting time hating myself any longer. No more sitting in a corner licking my wounds from people who don’t understand but the desire to get up and make the most of the time and talents I have… Right now. Best of all, my stress levels have significantly dropped… Gratitude walks are the best!

    I’m employing many of the techniques you post about and my productivity has gone through the roof!!! Most of all cause I’m prepared when I get bored and even when I’m too excited and about to crash lol it feels good to feel good in my skin and I can’t wait to see where I will be down the line. Where I am just for today though is enough :)

    • Emilie says:

      That is so awesome! Really fucking cool (excuse my French. But really. :)

      Sometimes when certain ideas and techniques are just a part of your everyday routine, it can be hard to know if they’re actually useful, or if everybody else just knows this stuff already. It goes to show that we all know more than we think we know. Thanks for the feedback, Candace!

  6. Janet says:

    this is great! I think I’m in stage two.. learning how to thrive as a multi (I WILL get there.. I am there).. saying affirmations and thinking of my thrivability in the present tense.. etc. It actually helps A LOT! I do have lots of ideas for innovation as well so It’s great to see you tie this altogether and suggest that we all actually DO have higher callings! I’m glad to have it confirmed, encouraged, etc. And to know I’m in the right path.. :)

  7. I came upon your site a couple months ago and already your ideas have had such an impact on the way I think about myself and my future! I now realize my life doesn’t have to be fractured into ever-changing pieces, the world can accommodate all I have to offer as one big, wonderful whole and when I stop worrying about how things will fit together, they just do!

    I’m an artist and I never realized that my knowledge about the process of making things is as valuable as what I make. I love my newfound practice of sharing what I know, and you have been such a big inspiration in that! Thank you and keep up the good work!

    • Emilie says:

      Aw thank you Carrie. That’s wonderful to hear! I’m so glad that you’ve started valuing your own knowledge. We all have so much to share.

      Thanks for the comment!

  8. Anthony says:

    Ironically, I have a lot more focus now. I’m not fighting myself. When you don’t feel pigeon hold, it’s a lot easier to “give yourself over” to the project(s) at hand.

    Feeling that you have to (or should) do something forever is agonizing.

    I can’t believe some poor mp’s have to live their entire life not knowing. That’s sad. Plus, they’re unknowingly squandering a gift.

    There has NEVER been a better time for innovators. The ability to take an idea (even for physical products) from start to finish is ridiculously easy and affordable.

    Everything has become a commodity except for innovation / creativity.

    It’s our time! We just have to learn to harness our talent.

  9. Jenny says:

    Desperation and innovation came at nearly the same time in my life. Just before graduating from college, I was hired at a multicultural library (which now looking back makes perfect sense…multipotentialites are also interested in people from different cultures. Could we be the answer to world peace?!!!) This was a place where a person could really grow and learn. I could teach English, read everything and anything I wanted, learn more about how to navigate information systems, help people from all walks of life and age groups. I was an active member of a close knit community that believed in planting the seeds of hope through learning– no matter what socio economic background a person found themselves in. It was great! And then, after repeated issues with gang violence and being assaulted, I left because every day I became more fraught with the anxiety that I might not make it home to my family and my new baby son. I later took a job at my old college because it felt safe and secure, but the type of work was not good (a housekeeper in a college library is still a housekeeper.) Being unsatisfied with work and also burning with an idea for a new invention, I left to figure out how to support myself based on this one idea…that I hope will become a cluster of smooshed together ideas. Two and a half years later, my business is still surviving and I even have enough time to home school. The library experience is invaluable for home education. Desperate moments in life can be the best turning points!

  10. Sarah says:

    I found your site through lifehacker and WOO, I love it so much! I knew I was a “Scanner” from the moment I picked up “What do I do when I want to do Everything?” (AKA Refuse to Choose) but I kept falling back into the trap of listening to everyone around me who rolls their eyes at the idea of scanners and multipotentialites. Finding your site was like a huge reminder of the gift of being a scanner. I think reading a blog like this will help me truly embrace my multipotential!

    Thankyou Emile! :)

  11. Frank Martin says:

    I feel kind of dirty in that I was never in stage one, at least in terms of feeling like there was something wrong with me. The trick for me has been prospering in stage two and figuring out how to move to stage three.

  12. Sandra Eriksson says:

    I feel like a huge stone that I didn’t even know was there, has just fallen off my chest. I found your TEDtalk video just a few moments ago, and wow. All my life I’ve felt like I don’t know what I want to be, and because I’ve also been insecure, I’ve mostly just let other people pretty much tell me what to do. Now, at 24, I make my own choices, but I still feel like I make the choices that are asked of me as part of a society. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I’ve neglected my interests for so long that I’m no longer sure of what they even are. I have spent most of my life feeling stuck in a rut, too scared (in so many ways) to make up my mind about what I want. But perhaps now, with the help of your website, I’ll finally be able to try to figure that out! :)

    • Catherine Chisnall says:

      You are so lucky! You’re only 24 and just realising and finding out about multipotentialites etc. I’m 46, I feel like I’ve wasted so much time :( Make the most of your youth :)

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