I’m going to reveal my strange superpower. It is so super-secret, I didn’t realize I had one until yesterday. While reading, How To Be Everything, by Emilie Wapnick I recognized my (newly identified) gift and, after digesting Wapnick’s helpful insights, was able to accept it as more of a blessing than a curse.
Come closer *gesturing you to do so, as I conspiratorially whisper*, “I am a multipotentialite.”
No *reeling back in response to your silly, obscure movie reference, and returning to my normal tone of voice*. I can’t duplicate myself like Michael Keaton’s character (Doug) in Multiplicity (1996 film). Though *I pause to consider this* it is oddly appropriate given each of his clones possessed and emphasized a talent the original Doug held. Doug was too overwhelmed to do everything he wanted and needed to. I can relate. Hence the benefit of having multiple versions of himself.
Multipotentialites are individuals with several, sometimes very diverse interests. We pursue a variety of creative, educational, and professional avenues. Obsessively deep-diving into what interests us is our jam.
We are passionate about trying several things, sometimes all at once. It is common for multipotentialites to get overwhelmed. In our eagerness to try all the things, we might bite off more than we can chew. As such, it can be challenging to make progress with ongoing projects. It can also be challenging to amalgamate our myriad of interests and work-styles into a functional career path.
I often have a few overlapping interests going on at any given time. The investment in a respective interest can vary from weeks to years.
I’m a “Jackie-of-all-trades, master of none.” Which means I’m a collector of random knowledge and skills; some I hone, others I drop and never take back up. Once I get to be somewhat adroit at something, my interest wanes. I’m no longer challenged or inspired. Not long after, I move along to the next thing.
I experienced this in college (going from one major to another; in journalism, history, medicine), with online learning, in hobbies, and when trying to determine my ideal career path.
When I do quit or change direction, I am disappointed. After all, I invest time and [sometimes, a lot of] money into courses, learning materials, and related supplies. Sure, I’ve attained knowledge, learned how to do something new. But I get frustrated because, once again, I’ve failed to figure out my one true purpose. The thing I should be devoting my life to. How many things do I have to try out before I find my purpose? Shouldn’t I know what it is by now?
It’s not for a lack of trying.
We’re often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When we’re young, it is often posed to illicit an adorable response. As you get older, though, this question carries more weight, expectation, and responsibility.
By the time we’re barely old enough to vote, we’re supposed to have an inkling of what our one true calling is. No pressure. This is just the soul-fulfilling life mission we are all endowed with, right? The direction we’re intended to dedicate our lives to.
We are in awe of people who know, aim for, and achieve success with their one special purpose. They adhere to a straight path from A to Z. They have a talent or interest they never seem to tire of. They specialize in their skill and profession; becoming masters of their trade. Devoting their lives to this one true calling, something many of us struggle to identify for ourselves.
What about those of us who have no idea what we want to do with our lives (at 18 or 42)? Who aren’t wired this way?
Sidebar: Knowing what I do now, I advocate for young people to take their time before they venture off and get into serious college debt. I wish I had. But I bought into the idea a degree would guarantee me a better job or give me direction. A lot of us did. Fresh out of high school and clueless about what you want to do? There is nothing wrong with taking a step back and considering your options. Not everyone needs to go to college nor do you have to go to college immediately after high school. You are allowed to choose a different path. Dabble with free online learning tools — there are literally thousands of them online for just about anything you might be interested in. Or take an intro to a trade course, for example.
Wapnick’s book also reinforced this for me, something I’d always known but, at times, forget about. You do not have to forever-love, do, stick with, or monetize everything you try.
All of my endeavors have a similar script.
I will get interested in something — coding, gardening, cooking, knitting, loom weaving, sewing, Photoshop, writing, biology, medicine, biotechnology, forensics, working out, etc. etc. etc. — and completely immerse myself in whatever it is.
Then, as quickly as it hits, my interest will wane. *Poof*, gone. I no longer feel challenged or inspired, so I move along.
Where did the passion go?
During the start of the pandemic, for example, I unearthed a Brother sewing machine someone gave me, from storage. I’d never used a sewing machine before. For the next 2 months, I put all of my free time into learning how to use it. I proceeded to not only teach myself how to use it, take it apart to clean and troubleshoot it, but also perfected making dozens of cloth masks for loved ones, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Then, one random afternoon, I put it away, along with a collection of sewing-accouterments I purchased and used for this project. Haven’t touched it since.
My boyfriend’s sister inspired me to take up knitting. Within two years of self-study, practice, and a small fortune in artisan-dyed wool, I managed to knit 3 pairs of socks, toe-up, together on one circular needle. I wanted to learn the most efficient way to do it. So I did. These days, my knitting sits on a lovely wooden tray at the end of the couch, untouched, sometimes for months.
Based on some of my education, hobbies, and skills, I could be a writer/journalist, a cruciverbalist, a welder, a vet, a nurse, a lab tech, a forensic pathologist, a data manager, a web developer, a user experience (UX) generalist, a serial killer. Kidding, kidding on the last one. I’m just a true-crime enthusiast. This isn’t even a complete list, but you get my meaning.
The aforementioned interests are all things I’ve considered and pursued in varying degrees throughout my life. Minus the serial killer, of course. For someone in their 40’s, it may seem like I’m all over the place.
Sometimes, it feels like I’ve wasted time; wasted money; the energy I could have invested if only I solved the puzzle of my one true purpose.
“It is rarely a waste of time to pursue something you’re drawn to, even if you end up quitting. You might apply that knowledge in a different field entirely, in a way that you couldn’t have anticipated.” — Wapnick
“How To Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want To Be When They Grow Up,” by Emilie Wapnick, was published in 2017, and is classified under the self-help genre.
How to Be Everything ties into Wapnick’s popular TED talk “Why some of us don’t have one true calling,” flipping the script on formal career advice.
In Part I, Wapnick welcomes us to the tribe, highlights key traits of multipotentialites, and gives us a little background about herself. Wapnick is a self-proclaimed multipotentialite. She is not only an award-winning author but an artist, career coach, a community leader, founder, and creative director of Puttylike.com (multipotentialite community), who has also dabbled in film-making, acting, music, web development, and law.
After a particularly awkward encounter with a former acting teacher, Wapnick “crashed face-first into a truth about myself that I’d been hiding from: I was incapable of sticking with anything. That moment felt like a moment of clarity, and it didn’t feel good.”
Her encounter went something like: Have you run into someone from high school or college, a former teacher, and they ask, “What have you been doing?” After you reply with something contrary to whatever interests you had way back when, they give you a quizzical look and respond with something like, “Oh, I thought you were going to be a [insert vocation]. You seemed really into it [10 years ago].” Awkward. The interaction almost provokes the urge to explain yourself, as though you need to justify the reasoning behind how you went from doing well, in say law school, but decided instead to become a welder.
Amidst this uncomfortable moment of clarity, the existential panic set in. “Will I ever find my thing? Do I even have a thing? If my calling isn’t any of the things I’ve tried, will it be the next one? Will I ever be content in one job…will each profession lose its luster?” Most cutting of all, “If I must flit between fields in order to stay happy, will I ever amount to anything?”
While some might label these thoughts as frivolous, privileged, or a product of lacking maturity, the “why am I here” question is something people of all ages grapples with.
This multipotentialite superpower comes with a few hurdles. Nothing like accidentally setting a couch on fire with laser-vision. Instead, being a multipotentialite can generate anxiety, feelings of guilt or shame, or make us feel overwhelmed.
Wapnick assures us that having different interests, a multitude of projects and seemingly limitless curiosities doesn’t make us unfocused or flaky. She addresses the romanticized, damaging myth of the one true calling. Covers how to best channel this superpower of diverse passions and skills to work for you, personally and professionally. How to quell the feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and doubt. And provides methods on how to manage these issues while also staying motivated and inspired.
In Part II, Wapnick explains The Four Multipotentialite Work Models; namely the Group Hug Approach, the Slash Approach, the Einstein Approach, and the Phoenix Approach. After, the reader is asked to answer a few questions about their ideal working situation and complete exercises on how to narrow down your personal fit. I will note, there are points when the activities do get a hint repetitive as similar assignments are used throughout the book for each task.
I learned, for example, some of us do well with taking on one (maybe two) projects at a time, giving it our all. Being sequential. Others are better with several. Being simultaneous. Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Finally, in Part III, Wapnick talks about Common Multipotentialite Stumbling Blocks. Much of which we’ve already discussed — regarding personal productivity, fear, confidence, and dealing with people who don’t understand your methods.
If you are curious and want to learn more about multipotentiality, I highly recommend watching Wapnick’s TED Talk and picking up a copy of How To Be Everything.
Be A Jackie-Of-All-Trades Without Guilt or Shame
“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”
— Baz Luhrmann ‘Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen),’ 1997.
Instead of branding myself with the Scarlet letter I for indecisive, I’d prefer to think of myself as creatively and educationally diverse. Personally, I am never bored. I always have something interesting to do. And thanks to Wapnick’s insights, I feel less like a failure, less like a flake, and less like I’m misusing my time with a hodgepodge of hobbies. After all, variety is the spice of life.
As with any of my stories or reviews, any opinions I make are mine and mine alone and intended for entertainment or informative purposes. Any products, in this case, a book, mentioned were purchased by me. I am in no way affiliated or compensated by Wapnick or HarperOne for this general review.