Does any of this sound like you?
I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up…
I can’t seem to stick with anything for the long haul…
I’m a Jack of all Trades, master of none…
I often don’t finish the things I start…
I lose interest in things I thought I would be passionate about forever…
People say I have Shiny Object Syndrome, always chasing the next sparkly thing…
I’m worried I’ll be on entry level wages my whole life because I change jobs and careers so often…
If you’re nodding madly as you read through these statements like a bobble-headed dog on a dashboard, then congratulations! You may have a trait known as “multipotentiality”.
Multipotentiality means you have the potential to do and be multiple things. We are often referred to as multipotentialites (or multipod for short), scanners, renaissance souls, multi-passionate, generalists or polymaths.
Some people, like me, also refer to us as total superheroes.
Multipotentialites are people who:
- Have an unusually wide range of interests and a low tolerance for boredom
- Change jobs, careers and/or fields of study more often than most
- Follow their energy and inspiration more easily than a schedule or calendar
- Either have lots of diverse projects on the go at once, or bury themselves in one project until they lose interest and move on to something different
- Are better at starting projects than finishing them
- Prefer variety rather than concentrating on one single thing
- Will lose interest in a topic or task when they’ve learnt what they wanted to know or achieved a particular goal
- When they reach a goal or level of success, they decide to change to something different, rather than going deeper into the same subject or project
At first glance, this might look like a list of negative traits. If you chop and change directions all the time, you come across as “flakey” or worse, a dilettante.
Urban dictionary defines dilettante as “A person prone to become mildly involved with or superficially interested in various subjects instead of developing any specific skill or knowledge to its fullest.”
When you hear words like “prone” and “superficial”, it hardly sounds like a positive trait, does it?
Emilie Wapnick, author of How To Be Everything, explains that multipotentiality is not generally celebrated because our society places a higher value on experts and specialists. Emilie is the lawyer/film-maker/online entrepreneur who brought the term “multipotentialite” into the mainstream.
Emilie explains that through social cues and conditioning, we’ve learnt to believe we must have one purpose, one true calling, and that success can only be obtained by:
- Finding our purpose
- Becoming a specialist or expert in that area
University professors tell us to “choose a major”, career mentors tell us to “hone our craft”, and business coaches demand we “find a niche”. If we make any major career changes or have gaps in our CV, employers ask us to explain ourselves.
This narrow, linear thinking is what sets multipotentialites up for failure.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” — Albert Einstein
The Truth About Multipotentiality
Multipotentialites are generally bright, driven individuals who have a diverse skillset, an increased capacity to learn and a unique way of seeing the world. They are also known to possess strong intellectual and creative curiosity and above average IQs.
This may feel completely counter-intuitive for multipotentialites who have long cursed themselves for not being able to stick with any one thing. I mean, how could it possibly be a good thing to never finish what you start? Or find yourself suddenly bored by things you thought you would love forever?
Multipotentialites don’t experience the world in the same way as other people but there is nothing wrong with us. Our brains process information differently so we need a different set of skills and tools to navigate through life and work. Once we understand this about ourselves and reframe it as a positive thing, we can use our multipotentiality to our advantage.
Before I explain about our superpowers, it’s important to look at why specialists are valued more than generalists and how that’s changed throughout history.
Career coach, Barbara Sher calls us “scanners” because we start projects and explore new interests with enthusiasm, learn what we need without finishing our mastering them, and move on.
I’m not even being a little bit dramatic when I say that Barbara’s book about multipotentiality, Refuse To Choose, Changed. My. Life. I ugly cried through the first two chapters, feeling as if I had just been seen for the first time.
Sher explains that throughout most of history — when the population was smaller and there wasn’t such rapid technological advancement — versatility and the ability to stretch yourself across many different tasks was valued more highly than being a specialist in one or two things.
Sher believes this shifted around the 1950s with a major catalyst being the US-Soviet space race. At this time, technology took off and competition between nations intensified. Governments encouraged their citizens to become the best in their chosen field, to be the brightest and most innovative, so they would have a competitive edge over their neighbours.
Around this time, a saying you’ve probably heard many times become a well-known part of our lexicon:
A Jack of all trades is a master of none.”
It’s often said with a cautionary finger waggle when someone announces they’re changing careers again, going back to school to study something completely different, or taking on a new hobby before they mastered the last one. There is an equivalent saying in most major languages throughout the world and it is mostly thrown around as an insult.
What you probably don’t know is originally, the saying was longer:
A Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”
It used to be a nod to the generalists — recognition of the advantage they have over specialists because of their varied skillsets and broad knowledge.
This mindset still prevails in places with smaller populations and less resources. Where I live in the Kingdom of Tonga, mainland population of 35,000 people, the pharmacist is also an event photographer, the massage therapist buys and sells gold jewellery, and a baker is also a piano teacher who runs a bible study group. In Tonga, a Jack of all Trades can contribute to their community in many meaningful ways and has greater potential for income generation in a country with high unemployment rates.
I’m An Extreme Case…
After studying the concept of multipotentiality at length, I realise I have this behavioural trait in high doses.
At the time of writing, I run my own coaching business, while also working as a project and HR manager for a Canadian blogger. I also coordinate the Australian marketing and social media management for an island in the South Pacific. Three different jobs, three different industries, all at the same time.
But it’s not just work… I’m also learning Tai Chi at the moment. A few months ago I was mad into yoga. Three months before that I was obsessed with learning everything I could jam into my head about the use of chocolate in ritual and ceremony amongst ancient cultures.
Two months before that I was attending Greek school. In Greece. Even though I’ve never, ever needed to be able to speak Greek.
I was just curious.
This insatiable curiosity drives me to travel, explore and constantly change and challenge myself. I’m so lucky I won the parent lottery and my mum and dad have always encouraged me to chase my ever-changing bliss. All they wanted is for their daughters to be happy — professional success was optional. Since working as a coach and hearing other people’s struggles with meeting family expectations, I understand how truly rare this is.
But even though my parents never put this pressure on me, I put that pressure on myself. I believed I must have a purpose and my mission on Earth was to find it and pursue it to the exclusion of everything else.
I believed if I found my purpose then everything in life would fall into place and I would be a success. But as long as I hadn’t found it, I was a failure. A flake. Commitment-phobic. Irresponsible. Bouncing from job to job, country to country, interest to interest, in search of the vocation I could crown My Ultimate Passion. My One True Calling.
Sometimes I thought I found my purpose and I threw myself into it with wild enthusiasm. Like that time I was a journalist… or that time I was a kinesiologist… or that time I managed volunteers for a non-profit organisation and thought this is it! I’ve found the One! Only to lose interest years or even months down the track.
What I didn’t realise is I had been living my purpose the entire time. My purpose is to learn as much as I can and stretch myself to be and do many different things. My purpose is to be a little bit good at a lot of unrelated skills so I can bring them together in unique and useful ways.
Both Sher and Wapnick explain that it looks like multipotentialites don’t finish what they start but the truth is, our finishing point is just not the same as other people’s. We feel called to stop doing something once we got what we came for, when we’ve learnt everything we feel we need to know. We rarely quit because something is too hard. We “quit” because our intellectual curiosity is satisfied and we’re drawn to move onto exploring our next challenge.
Because that’s what we do best.
As soon as I understood these things about myself, it transformed how I viewed myself, my achievements and my place in the world. From that point on I realised something truly empowering…
Multipotentiality Is A Superpower
If you’ve gone through life feeling like a failure because of your multipotentiality, this list of all the ways it can work in your favour should cheer you up:
- We’re professional beginners. We’ve had to start from the beginning so many times we understand and trust the process of trying and failing and trying again that leads to success. This gives us perseverance.
- We have an increased capacity to learn. We’ve had to start from scratch so many times we’ve become familiar with our learning style and established systems and tools to learn new information and develop skills efficiently
- We’re adaptable and open to change. We often seek to explore, evolve and grow in different directions ourselves so we generally go with the flow and don’t resist change.
- We can relate to people from different walks of life. Our ever-changing interests connect us with so many different people and places that we’re able to find common ground and plenty of discussion topics with people we meet
- We are creative problem solvers. The more diverse and unrelated skills, experiences and knowledge we acquire, the better equipped we are to look at situations and problems from unique perspectives.
- We are innovative thinkers. We become the intersection between seemingly disconnected ideas and information so we can come up with new and innovative solutions and ways of doing things
- We have a truly unique way of seeing the world. Everyone sees the world through the lens of their experience. Every new experience opens a new window through which we can view the world.
The Magic of Everything
The true power of our untamed curiosity reveals itself when our seemingly disconnected interests and skills come together in ways we don’t expect.
Like when I was offered a dream job working as an online project manager. Suddenly, the Bachelor of Internet Communications I’d studied and my years of managing projects for an NGO in Nepal came together to give me the key skills I needed. When I jumped from learning about the sociology of virtual teams at university to establishing bee breeding programs in the Himalayas, I cursed myself for being a “flake”. But now it all made sense.
I threw myself into my new online project management role where I learnt a huge amount about digital marketing. Then a couple of years later this magical equation happened:
My new digital marketing skills
+ My hotel and bar experience around the world
+ My experience living in Tonga and learning about Tongan culture
= the perfect foundation to become the marketing manager for a tiny off-grid island in the South Pacific
Every skill I learn – no matter how random and disconnected it seems – is a form of currency. I keep it in my savings bank so I can use it to buy my way into new jobs or experiences down the track.
Now if you left school knowing you want to be a lawyer — you studied law then started practising law and have had decades of secure employment, constantly developing a deeper understanding of your profession— you probably can’t relate to this at all. I’m sure for many people, this way of living and transitioning between careers sounds like hell on Earth.
But if you think you might be a multipotentialite, if you’re curious and changeable and have spent most of your life wondering why you haven’t found your elusive “purpose”, then I’ve got great news for you:
You’ve found your true calling. Your purpose is to not have one — to be true to your nature and follow your ever changing interests and curiosities. Don’t worry if your life doesn’t make sense to other people. Don’t worry if it doesn’t even make sense to you yet! You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing right now. You’re right where you’re meant to be.
If any of this has resonated with you, it’s important you take some time to learn more about multipotentiality and how this trait might affect your life, career and mindset. The resources below will help you unlock your superpowers so you can use them to your advantage.
I Think I’m A Multipotentialite, What Do I Do Now?
Emilie’s book is an easier read. It’s a little more up-to-date due to its more recent publication, and gives a great overview of multipotentiality in relations to your career, life and self-esteem. Also check out her website, Putty Like, and read through her blog archives.
Next move on to Barbara’s book. This goes into a lot more detail about the way multipotentiality presents in different people and unique challenges each might have. There is a huge number of tools in this book for productivity and how to manage your different projects, interests and career changes. Then check out her website BarbaraSher.com
#3: Let’s do this multipotentialite thing together
I’ll be blogging about my journey and lessons as a multipotentialite here on the Magic of Everything so if you want more articles like this, join my mailing list so we can stay connected.
I also offer coaching for multipotentialites who are in a time of transition, or want to be in a time of transition and need help planning the next phase of change. I help multipotentialites design unique careers, businesses and lifestyles that grow and change with them, so if you’re ready to embrace and celebrate your wildly multipassionate self, reach out to me.
Some Last Words Of Advice
1: There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a failure or a loser. Your brain is wired differently and you need different tools to navigate through life and your career. Explore all the resources I’ve listed above so you have what you need to reach your multipotential.
2: When you take on a new project or job, the process may be more important to you than the end result. As such, your finishing point may be earlier than you and others expect. Multipotentialites tend to give up when they’re bored, not because something is too hard. You need to work out why you want to stop and give yourself permission to move on when you know you need a new challenge.
3: Evaluate every opportunity based on how it makes you feel, not what society claims you need or should want. Something what looks like a fabulous opportunity to someone else — like a promotion at work with more responsibility — might seem like torture to you no matter how much money they throw at you. You might get more job satisfaction out of moving sideways into a completely different department you know very little about, rather than moving up. Check every opportunity against your own needs and values and don’t do something just because it seems logical to everyone else.
4: Remember you’re a multi-passionate person with a high intellectual curiosity and the potential to do and be many different things. Once you accept this about yourself and learn to harness it, it will stop feeling like a handicap and will become your greatest asset.
Welcome to the fold.
Laura Maya x
Laura has been working and travelling the world slowly since 2001 — exploring cultures, writing stories and learning languages in almost 60 countries. Now she helps other restless and curious souls design a life they love by exploring alternative ways to live, earn, explore and impact the world.