My students love Emilie Wapnick. When I ask them to choose their own reading for the career prep course I teach, Emilie’s book How to Be Everything comes out on top every year.
You may remember my last post, where I introduced some data about personalities and strengths from 74 of my students who identified as multipotentialites. In this post, I want to talk about what happens when they find out about multipotentiality for the first time.
Last semester, I collected their thoughts on the book, and they had a lot to say. Most talked about how amazing it was to hear someone normalize having multiple interests, and offer some actual encouragement.
One student—an aspiring writer—eloquently captured the sentiment I heard again and again:
“At its very core, Emilie Wapnick’s How to Be Everything is an optimistic ode to people who are interested in and good at a lot of things… she [says] what most of them, presumably, have been wanting to hear much of their lives: you don’t have to choose. You could choose, if you wanted to, but you don’t have to… I personally believe that Wapnick’s argument is one that most people of my generation have needed to hear.”
This speaks to the power of validation, doesn’t it?
I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief when I tell students there’s a name for what they’ve come to understand about themselves. It’s called multipotentiality, and someone out there sees them and wants them to know they’re okay. They love it, and it’s pretty cool to see that “aha” moment happen again and again.
Here’s the rest of that quote I shared, from the aspiring writer:
“While it’s comforting to hear someone say ‘Just keep up what you’re doing, it’ll be fine!’ sometimes it [leaves] room for uncertainty to fester. There’s a lot of luck involved with her theory when referring to integrating several disciplines into one path.”
This student intuitively knows that forging a multipod-friendly career won’t be easy, and she’s not the only one who reacts this way after reading How to Be Everything. The text offers desperately needed hope and reassurance, and my multipod students embrace Emilie like a chilled bottle of water in the desert. But hope itself can be daunting, and when they finish the last page, students find themselves alone in an impersonal system, trying to find an outlet for their specific gifts. Uncertainty looms larger than ever.
This is, in fact, the fear multipotentialite students most often name. I asked them the open-ended question “What scares you about your future career?” and 30% of the group said uncertainty—about where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.
Here’s the thing about designing your own unique career: It’s exciting. It’s challenging. For some of us, it’s the only way forward. But doing something original requires tolerating a lot of uncertainty. Rather than learning how to follow a map, you spend more time finding knowledgeable, like-minded strangers to ask for directions.
In other words, multipotentialites need mentors.
What do I mean by mentor?
I’m not talking about the traditional model—someone in a suit standing on the other side of the “door to success” who will open it for us. I mean someone who can tell us what’s out there. Remember, we’re not trying to get to a single destination, we’re drawing our own map of the area so we can find multiple points of interest. We don’t have time to wander the entire area ourselves, so we need other people to fill in the blanks for us.
Joseph Campbell is famous for describing the “hero’s journey,” a narrative arc that appears in stories all over the world, from religious texts to popular movies. The hero is a character who is called to undertake a special quest. The hallmark of special quest is that it requires the hero to cross from the “ordinary world” into the “special world,” with which the hero is unfamiliar. According to Campbell, the last stage before the hero can cross into the unfamiliar world is “Meeting with the Mentor.”
Why is this a critical stage? Why meet with a mentor? Surely the hero already contains all of the special gifts needed to undertake their personal calling. Well, yes. But the hero is still entering into unfamiliar territory, and the mentor’s job is to make sure the hero knows as much as possible about the unfamiliar world before crossing the threshold. Honestly, it’s just easier that way. The hero is a hero, but still needs to be prepared. Journeying is hard, and journeying unprepared might just be a hot mess.
I think my students get excited about Emilie Wapnick because they recognize a mentor when they see one. But what many of them eventually realize is that they need Emilie, but they also need more.
If you’re trying to undertake multiple quests, you need multiple mentors. You want to be a writer, you need someone to get you up to speed on the world of writing. You want to be an accountant, you need someone to get you up to speed on the world of accounting. You want to be a writer/accountant/philanthropist/yogi, get a pen ready, because you’re going to be taking a lot of notes.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to figure it all out, but there’s nothing wrong with seeking guidance, even on your unique calling. As a multipotentialite, you may not find one person who’s done exactly what you want to do, but you can synthesize multiple sources of advice, just like you would synthesize multiple creative outlets, or sources of income.
How to find a (magical) mentor
First off, you may need a mentor for multipotentiality itself, like Emilie, in addition to mentors for each career strand. Emilie is expanding support for folks in the community in a bunch of ways, so there are lots of opportunities to plug in: her new course, Work Your Work; the first-ever Everything Conference; or the Puttytribe itself, a rich and active community of multipotentialites.
As for the specific strands of your career, here’s what gets people. I once encouraged a multipotentialite student to start conducting informational interviews, reaching out to people doing cool work to ask them about it. She went for it, and found a guy who had worked in a ton of interesting places. She had the conversation, and when I asked about it, she just shrugged and said, “Eh, it was okay.”
The guy she talked to had some cool jobs, but she just couldn’t relate to him. He didn’t seem that excited about the work he was doing, and when she asked for advice, he told her to just keep following the traditional path she was on. She tried to convey her interest in doing something original, finding a way to combine two different passions, but he just said “That might be too much,” and told her he had to take another call.
It’s not just about what you want to do, it’s about how you want to do it. When you’re looking for mentors, you need to find someone compatible on the what and the how. Find people who think like you do, and value the same things. They will give you infinitely better advice.
This is easier said than done, because people actively pursuing multiple passions are more the exception than the norm. The good news is that multipotentialites thrive on connections, like any good entrepreneurs, so we’re usually open to hearing about how other folks are doing things. I’ve also noticed that we tend to find each other, and fortunately, there are people like Emilie creating spaces where we can all come together. Personally, I’m hoping for an app one day.
One last thing that’s helped me, when all else fails, is using the LinkedIn alumni tool to find people in different lines of work. You can use it to identify interesting alums of different colleges and universities, even if you didn’t go to that (or any) college yourself. The nice thing about this tool is that you can sort through people by what they studied, where they lived, and even the words that appear on their profiles. It’s great for multipotentialites and people with niche interests.
So don’t give up, and try not to get frustrated if the mentors you’re finding aren’t quite lining up. It can be a tall order to find more than one multipotentialite doing what you’re interested in and available to connect with you. But hold out for those people, because when you find them, it’ll all be worth it.
When you learned about multipotentiality, did you feel relieved? Have you found mentors on your multipod journey? How did you pull it off? Share your thoughts in the comments!