The Reluctant Multipotentialite: What to Do When You Feel Like a Master of None

The Reluctant Multipotentialite: What to Do When You Feel Like a Master of None

Written by Kristin Wong

Topics: Confidence

“Life is barely long enough to get good at one thing. Be careful what you get good at.” 

Thanks, Matthew McConaughey. I was happily enjoying my Sunday night, watching an episode of True Detective with a glass of cabernet, when McConaughey’s character drops this line. And it hits a little too close to home. This crime drama was supposed to be escapism. Now, my inner turmoil has been activated. Life is barely long enough to get good at one thing. Be careful what you get good at.

Immediately, I wonder: Should I stop taking this photography course? Why am I reading five books right now, what’s wrong with me? Oh no, I should’ve never started writing about money, now I’m stuck doing that forever

The idea that you’re running out of time so you have to pick one thing, and it better be the right thing, is not new. It reminds me of advice I once read about how our brains are like a beach ball filled with bumble bees: constantly pulling us in different directions, making it impossible to move forward. It’s pretty standard, traditional career advice, really: Avoid being a “master of none.” 

Multipotentialites know better… but sometimes the idea of picking one thing just seems so much easier. Quite often, my brain does feel like a beehive—erratic and unruly. It would be so much easier if there was just one bee in my brain. (Actually, that sounds pretty painful. But you know what I mean.)

This is normal. Our brains crave what psychologists call cognitive closure, the “human desire to eliminate ambiguity and arrive at definite conclusions,” according to its Wiki, which stealthily adds in parentheticals, “sometimes irrationally.” The irrational part is important. We’re so keen to put things in boxes, to have that closure, that we’ll force something that doesn’t fit. As a kid, did you ever try to squeeze the wrong puzzle piece in the puzzle? It works in the moment, but then it destroys the big picture.

So let’s say you’ve discovered that you’re a multipotentialite and loving it, but eventually, your need for cognitive closure creeps up on you. Self-doubt kicks in, making it hard to accept your own ambiguity. What’s a reluctant multipod to do? For starters, I suggest you avoid the following habits, which seem to make things worse.

Comparing yourself to others

First, there’s comparison, which Mark Twain said is the death of joy. And it’s true—if you’re feeling good and happy and positive about your own creative multipotentiality, there’s nothing that’ll kill that faster than worrying too much about what other people are doing.

I don’t know about you, but it takes a whopping 30 seconds on Instagram for me to wonder if I should be doing something else with my life. Instagram is a great app for second-guessing your life choices. 

The antidote might be to take a break from social media or unfollow the accounts who make you feel bad. A more lasting solution? Come to terms with your envy. Get to a place where you can be jealous of people and still be happy for them. Easier said than done, so how do you get there?

How to kick the comparison habit:

  1. Remember that you’re comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides. Or your beginning to someone else’s end. Everyone is different, and we present different parts of our processes.
  2. Ask yourself, “What exactly do I envy here?” On Instagram I see a fashion blogger eating a macaron in Paris. What exactly do I envy here? It’s less about what she does for a living and more that I just want to go to Paris—or eat a macaron.

Chasing shiny objects

And then there’s shiny object syndrome, the feeling you get when you’re distracted with a new and fun project. Maybe you listen to a business podcast that gives you a million different ideas of what you could be doing in your career, and it all becomes so overwhelming that your multipotentiality starts to feel more like a curse than a blessing. 

Worse, the shiny object reminds you that the project you’re currently focused on has become difficult and boring. The writer Paula Pant has a great quote about money: “You can afford anything, but not everything.” In other words, money can theoretically buy anything, but you have a limited amount of it, so use it wisely. 

I think the same is true for your time and energy. You have a limited amount of both, and shiny objects can be detrimental to your progress. Let’s say this is the year you finally write your novel. After the initial excitement wears off, it’s easy to get distracted by other potential goals, like launching a podcast or opening an Etsy store. Yes, you can do those things–and as a multipod, you should– but can you do them all right now? Realistically, probably not. 

How to deal with shiny objects:

  1. Save it for later: A friend of mine says when she runs into this problem she simply writes down the potential new goal and comes back to it later, when she finishes the project at hand. This way, you have time to decide if it’s really something you want to do, anyway.
  2. Schedule “tinkering time”: You can also schedule “tinkering time” to work on the new project. Give yourself an hour each week to play with those shiny objects. Budgeting your time this way ensures you don’t get completely distracted by it, and you can also reap the benefits of being a multipotentialite. You never know what creative ideas might come from that tinkering time—perhaps you discover something that helps you with your novel.

Find your fellow multipods

When the fear of being a master of none starts to take over, I’ve found that it helps to spend more time with other multipotentialites. This is useful because it helps me realize I’m not alone in my need for cognitive closure. (As fellow multipod Neil Hughes joked when I brought up this problem: “It’s normal. I often feel like I’m in a perpetual state of crisis.”) 

It helps to know I’m not alone. But it also helps to be around peers who are less militant about having the puzzle put together—they remind me that ambiguity is not just normal and fine, it’s also amazing and creative and exciting and fun. Even if it means being in a “perpetual state of crisis.”

Part of coming to terms with your own ambiguity is coming to terms with the fact that life is not a race towards a finish line, or a series of boxes you must check. Life is far too complex and multifaceted—and so are you, probably. 

Further, the fear of being “master of none” subsides when you realize this view is typically focused on extrinsic measures of success, like money or status or having your name on the front door. These are things that don’t make us very happy, satisfied, or fulfilled in the long-term.  

When I start thinking about what success means to me, I realize that I really don’t care about having my name on the front door. I just want to live a life full of experiences, good and bad, and I think that’s pretty common for multipotentialites. The bees can be annoying, but ultimately, we enjoy their company.

Your Turn

Multipotentialites, does your fear of being a “master of none” get the best of you sometimes? What makes it better or worse? How do you cope?

Want some help finding your fellow multipotentialites? Get the support you need to build a life around ALL your interests:

neil_2017_2Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, NBC News, and Glamour magazine. She’s the author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford. Kristin is a writer, but she’s also an amateur photographer, speaker, podcaster, and recovering workaholic. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @thewildwong.

14 Comments

  1. Halley says:

    A phrase that helps me is that “we teach what we need to learn”…I just use my social media platform to bring up all the ideas that I am working on learning myself…and share them with the world. When I am teaching…I find it gives me purpose…no matter what random thing it’s about. I find a way to bring it back to “self expression” or “helping people.” And those are my measures of success.

  2. Kelo says:

    Thanks, Kristin!
    This great article comes at a perfect time in my life – yeah, the one of self-doubts and what-do-I-do-next.

    It helped me clearing some thoughts, thank you! :)

  3. Catherine says:

    This is so me. It would be so much easier to be one of those people who is only interested in one thing and pursues it all their lives! I seem to be different to everyone I know in every way and can’t find my tribe, if one exists.

  4. Deborah Berry says:

    I love your passion for this topic. This is how I respond to master of none. “A jack of all trades and a master of all.” I used to say a master of some, when I was in my 30’s. Now in my soon to be late 50’s I discovered in the matrix of my life, mastering anything isn’t perfection it is continual for everyone. We are all evolving finitely. We never really master anything and if we get close enough to being a master at something the dynamics shift. Understanding this is mastering oneself and the infinite possibilities of ones divine greatness . This I believe is the true essence to becoming a master. Realizing our own evolution.

    • Kristin says:

      Love that. As someone who enjoys the pursuit more than the finish line, maybe mastery is overrated. I feel like mastery in an of itself goes back to cognitive closure and the need to finish things. I like your idea of being ever-evolving much better.

      Also, a reader once said the full “master of none” quote is: “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one.” Interesting!

  5. Michael says:

    As an engineer running a consulting firm in sustainable energy, one would think that for my profession at least, I’m fairly “specialised”. But, there are so many different aspects to it, and I try to a bit of each (energy conservation, solar, wind, hydro, design, feasibility studies, analysis), that it still ends up being a tricky conversation when people expect narrowly focussed niche specialists.

    How do I get around it. I actually use the “jack of all trades” phrase to my advantage. I tell people that I’m a “jack of many trades, master of some”. So far, I have found that to be fairly effective. I can then present 2-3 areas where I present myself as a “specialist”, with a much broader knowledge base to draw from. I think the “jack of many trades, master of some” can also apply to my broader life where (like most multi-potentialites) I also have half a dozen reading, photography, art, house renovation, etc. projects on the go at any one moment.

  6. Kristin says:

    Ugh, I know this feeling and actually have a post coming up that touches on this, haha.

  7. J'aime says:

    How many people, even the ones who say that, are really a “master” of *anything*? If it’s not an Olympic athlete or world-famous classical solo pianist speaking, then what do they know about “mastery.”

    People just get “good enough” to accomplish their goals, which is the same thing that multipods do. :) We are just better at learning new things, because we repeat the process more frequently.

  8. Krysten says:

    Tinkering time is my godsend. Another thing that has really helped me cope is to actually give myself a solid chunk of time to dive deep into whatever shiny object keeps grabbing my attention. For example, recently I suddenly became obsessed with the prospect of teaching preschool. It was very out of the blue for me and not directly aligned with my other goals, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind (shoo, bee, shoo!) So finally, I just called a preschool and asked if I could shadow for a couple of days. It felt weird, because I wasn’t qualified and I wasn’t completely sure why I was so drawn to it in the first place, but I asked and they said yes! After shadowing for 3 days, I realized it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Sometimes, especially for us multipods, things are better in concept than in practice. But now I know, and I can check it off my list. Whew! I could have spent weeks, even months, going back and forth about it, wondering… but, as Marie Forleo says, “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.”

  9. Jazzy Jack says:

    The idea of our brains craving cognitive closure so much we artificially try to force it, is a new and valuable one for me. Thankyou. I will take it away and play with it.
    Wishing you the rich and wonderful beefilled life you deserve!
    xo Jazzy Jack

  10. Daniel Cohen says:

    I’m in art college, so my job is to study the prescribed program. They don’t care much about which medium I use, they really want me to explore concepts and narratives. But which? What style? What stories? It’s hard to choose.

    So one year, I drew mountains — trees on a mountain, rocks on a mountain, me on a mountain. Last year, I learned how to express narrative with computer animations — rocks in a pile, birds in a flock. This year, I’m weaving tapestries — small domestic scenes, and nature.

    The thing is, I focused on each of these areas “in its time”, and then time moved on. That’s how I move around the landscape. My mantra is “everything in its time”.

  11. Jamie says:

    I am a computer engineer and working across multiple sub specialties has allowed me to have a different perspective in throw over the wall situations because I’ve done both jobs and 1) I know what the pain of each situation is and 2) sometimes there are simpler solutions when you have a bigger picture view. And this is true in life in general, you can have more empathy when you have more personal experience to draw from. This has been the source of my success in my career. Yes, I still encounter all the same multipotentialite issues you describe but hopefully we can all gradually see that our is just as valid and that we just are good at solving a different type of problem (often one that the specialist can’t even fathom)

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