Will life ever return to normal? I can feel you tensing up, grinding your teeth, cringing about this word: normal. After all, as multipotentialites, we are not well-acquainted with normalcy during the best times! We’re generally not fond of taking on “normal” as an identity. There are more reasons to cringe about the idea of a societal return to “normal,” too.
I, for one, feel like I have been teased too many times in the past year and half with the hope that returning to average, routine daily life is just around the corner. Then, every time I begin to hope against hope that “things are returning to normal”…they don’t. So, what will we do if life never returns to normal? How will we cope? What will that mean for us, as multipotentialites? Surprisingly, I find myself intrigued—excited, even—by the idea that we might not get to normal again. Here’s why:
Humanity’s problems are deeper and wider than the coronavirus
For starters, we are still living through a pandemic. While I have seen many people do their best to deny it, Covid-19 is still present around the world. It’s tempting to insulate ourselves against that reality, but the virus doesn’t care about our efforts to deny its existence. It continues to spread and make people very ill, no matter how much those people believe it exists.
That makes me think of some other societal issues that have also been referred to in similar ways: pandemics of loneliness, domestic violence, and racism, as well as opioid epidemics in Canada and the United States, for example. Folks bringing our attention to these issues have at least one unifying message:
The only solution to these problems that will definitely not work is to continue to ignore them.
Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine in the works to lessen the impact of loneliness, domestic violence, or racism on people all over the world. Life cannot return to normal because these issues will not subside, even as the Covid-19 pandemic does.
That doesn’t seem to be something to get excited about…
Surprisingly, this is where I get excited (truly!) about the “potential” in multipotentialite: We are naturally creative, complex, and resourceful. We seem to be lifelong learners, even if we didn’t set out to be. Our minds go in several different directions, which allows us to take a multidisciplinary approach even when it’s probably faster not to. We are multi-tasking, multi-interested, multi-skilled people. So what happens when we apply the multiplicity of potential that lives inside each of us to big, wicked problems?
You may be familiar with the idea of the polymath. According to researchers, Araki and Cotellessa, polymaths are “thinkers that have navigated seamlessly across different oceans of knowledge and espouse perfectly the kind of broad, profound, and integrative thinking that has become crucial today.” Sound familiar? It should. Multipotentialite, they’re talking about you! So put that in your next cover letter.
Perhaps you don’t feel like you have navigated an ocean lately (or maybe you took that journey in your mind before breakfast this morning?), but every one of us in this community holds that potential inside of us. That multipotentiality—polymathy, for the academics—is ready to be unleashed on the kinds of difficult problems we are facing today. Our world needs us. Your community needs you. And you get to decide how you feel like turning all of that potential into action.
A better world is possible. Where do you fit in?
If normal is never coming back, what kind of world would you want instead? I’m serious. Before I start sounding like a Pollyanna, I want to tell you that I’m far from an optimist by nature. I am a person who lives with depression. For me, hope is a coping mechanism. I can get hopeful when things get truly dark because, in my experience, hitting rock bottom can be the catalyst needed for real feelings to come out, real conversations to be provoked, and real change to result.
So before we jump in, please take time to acknowledge the things you miss from the before times. It wasn’t all bad—in fact, some of it was very good, beautiful, useful, or just plain fun. If the thing you miss doesn’t seem to be coming back, take the time to mourn, too. Acknowledge the emotions that come with the real losses you have experienced.
Do not skip this step.
And when you’re ready…let’s dream
As a multipotentialite, taking some time to think creatively about a non-normal world allows you to recognize the innovative approaches you have already taken to your life. And, it’s practice for when you need to speak back to boring people who are ineffective because they only believe in one way to do things. Let’s see what multipotentialite flex you can bring to the table.
How do you see yourself? Do you consider yourself to be a multipotentialite because of the diverse ways you think about the world? Does it excite you to imagine multiple ways that a particular task can be done? Maybe for you, it’s less about thinking and more about doing. Do you find yourself wanting to contribute to society—or explore your passions—in multiple contexts? If going back to normal is not an option, these questions can get you thinking about how you see yourself contributing to a better world.
You’ve already thought about what you most looked forward to in the return to normal (a Google search gives me 488,000,000 results). What actually annoyed or enraged you about the way life used to be in the before times? Why was that? What kind of disruption to normal did you gladly embrace or cheer other people on for finally embracing? Maybe you didn’t embrace anything gladly, and you didn’t find yourself with a lot to cheer about. In that case, what meaningful lesson – hard-earned wisdom or unexpected surprise – did you learn that you never want to forget?
Finally, let’s bring those two pieces together: Solutions to wicked problems will require an innovative, multidisciplinary approach. You, as a multipotentialite brimming with creativity and diverse passions, get to choose if, how, and when you’d like to be part of those solutions.
So, if you can imagine a better world than normal, what’s in it? What’s definitely not in it? What are you doing there?
A better world is anything but normal
When I look back on the past year and a half, the first thing that comes to mind for me is a lot of heartache. That’s the unexciting reality. But, when I challenge myself to look again for the meaning and the lessons, I realize that I also experienced some hope. Let’s take mental health as an example: Ever since isolation, fear, and uncertainty became a daily part of our lives during the pandemic, people from all walks of life have struggled with their thinking, emotions, and behaviours. This was not normal—nor would I ever want it to be (I don’t think we would survive as a species).
As an educator, I saw another abnormal phenomenon occurring. Normally, during my lectures, I have to convince people that every human experiences a time in their life when they struggle with their mental health. I found myself skipping over those parts. For the first time, people seemed to understand and empathize quite easily. They wanted to share their stories, offer support, and find out how to change their work cultures so that more people wouldn’t have to struggle in the future. The same thing started to happen with my lectures about anti-racism.
For the first time in my career, people from all walks of life acknowledged the reality of these longstanding wicked problems in society, and they genuinely wanted to know how they could help. This awakening was definitely not normal, and suddenly my multipotentiality made me exactly the right person for the job. In the before times, I was chastised for not choosing just one of those two topics to focus on, because they came from two very different academic and philosophical traditions. Living authentically as a multipotentialite during an abnormal period in history taught me that the way I teach trauma- and violence-informed approaches to anti-racism makes me a particularly unique and effective educator. I won’t let anyone forget that!
This new world is not normal, but normal didn’t work for many of us anyway. When I let myself mourn what I’ve lost and dare to hope for new possibilities, I imagine a world where we refuse to forget the hard-earned lessons learned during a worldwide crisis. What are yours?
These lessons—the good, bad, and ugly—and your much-needed multipotentialite nature will form the foundations necessary to build a new, more equitable world…if you’re up for it.
I’m ok with normal never coming back, because I think we can do better. Join me?
What would you like to see in a future, not-normal, world? What multipotentialite superpowers and skills can you bringing to the table to make change?