The first time I heard the term “multipotentialite” was watching writer Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk, “Why some of us don’t have one true calling.” According to Wapnick, a multipotentialite is simply “someone with many interests and creative pursuits.” This doesn’t seem like a bad thing until you think about it in the context of our culture: a culture that tends to romanticize the success stories of those who devoted their lives to a singular pursuit and bombards children with the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”—a question assumed to have one answer.
I’m a textbook multipotentialite. Whether it’s which food stand I order from or which major I pursue, I can’t help but see the potential in every option. For my fifth grade graduation, all the students had to answer the infamous “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Most students had cute, straightforward responses, like “a veterinarian” or “a teacher.” When I popped up onstage in my chicken hat, the response was much more complicated (not to mention concerning): “When I grow up I want to be a rockstar. And if that doesn’t work out, an ice cream taster. And if that doesn’t work out, someone who blows stuff up.”
Indeed, one thing all multipotentialities have in common is a fear of commitment. We’re like the shady dudes who refuse to DTR and the Brad Womack’s of The Bachelor. It stems from a fear that choosing one option will deny us all our other interests and that perhaps that option isn’t our career soul-mate.
Besides being noncommital, multipotentialites also often have a wide range of skills. We tend to dive all in into whatever we’re interested in and become pretty good at it. But then the mid-interest-crisis sets in and we start scanning for new options.
This can get quite stressful. You may worry you’re too scattered and will never be able to keep up with people who’ve always known what they want to do. You second guess yourself and become paralyzed from making decisions about the future.
So if you are a multipotentialite, what can you do?
Play to your strengths. In her talk, Wapnick identified three “multipotentialite superpowers”: idea synthesis, rapid learning, and adaptability. Since you’re knowledgeable about multiple subjects, you can brainstorm innovation ideas by combining two or more fields. Also, many skills are transferable across subjects so you rarely have to start from scratch when learning something new. Since you’re used to trying new things, you’re comfortable adapting to novel situations and taking on various roles based on client needs. These are all strengths you can whip out in an interview if questioned about your diverse experiences.
Prioritize. The best advice ever given to me was “you can do it all, but not at once.” You don’t have to choose what you want to do forever, just what you want to do now. Some careers may follow a linear highway to a destination, but don’t be afraid to take the scenic, winding, backroads. Also, remember that not all your interests need to be turned into a career—they can remain hobbies!
Choose a career that fits your framework. According to Wapnick, multipotentialites need variety, meaning, and money to achieve happiness with their career. Many serial entrepreneurs are multipotentialites, but there are tons of other work models you may enjoy if you don’t want to run your own business.
Toss your regrets. A common multipotentialite conundrum is sticking with a project we no longer enjoy since we’ve already invested so much time and energy into it. Let yourself be okay with changing course. Each experience brings insight that’ll help with the next endeavor so there’s no such thing as a wasted experience.
Avoid Paralysis. It can be scary making a decision, but the worst option is to stop progressing since you’re afraid to commit. You can change course later if you want! So keep moving forward even if it’s small steps.
Wapnick concludes her talk by inviting listeners to “embrace your inner wiring, whatever that may be.” No one way of being is better than another, but if you do find your interests pulling you in a billion directions, don’t stifle your curiosity. Explore the intersections of your passions, innovate, and seek out opportunities that allow you to shine.