Do you know what you want to be when you “grow up”? If the answer is no, and it’s not because there is nothing you would be good at, but because you are good in many different things, you might be a multipotentialite.
If there is one topic that makes me really anxious, it is my future profession. When I was around a meter tall, I would say without hesitation that I want to become a ‘mummy’. That is, I admit, kind of weird, but still pretty specific. When I was ten centimeters taller, I’d say I want to be a fashion designer. Well, I grew up, didn’t become any of these things and have no idea what I want to become anymore. And yes, with getting older, it is pretty annoying when I need to discuss it, especially with my relatives. The good thing is, I am pretty sure I am not alone.
Pressure of having too many choices
Around the age of eighteen, we are pressured to choose a path that will probably direct our whole future. But is 18 years enough to decide what we like and how we want to spend approximately one third of our time? Moreover, when we are deciding for our profession, we are also deciding about the connotation that people will have with our name. Our job often decides the whole impression that others have about us. For some people who are excellent in one area and suck in others, it is perhaps pretty easy to make this decision. But what if we truly and honestly don’t know? And not because we don’t have anything that we would like or be good at, but because there is too many things. Why would we want to limit ourselves to doing one single thing, when there are so many opportunities out there?
I used to play the piano, dance, do sports and be very good in every subject at high school. There was no area that I would be truly miserable at. So when I had to pick the field of study, I was pretty confused and desperate. Just because everyone thought I could, I started studying medicine. As you can imagine, it is an exhausting field that doesn’t allow you to use your time for anything else. This vision of being stuck in one area (although extremely interesting), drove me crazy. Especially because I didn’t have the feeling that this is THE area. Four years later, I am in the first year of the third different university, studying International Business. Am I passionate about this field? No, not really. But at least my programme is broad enough to postpone the anxiety of deciding for one right career for later.
Maybe you are a multipotentialite
Very recently, I came across a TedEx talk by Emilie Wapnick called Why some of us don’t have one true calling. She pointed out how society pushes us into specializing in one area. In school we need to decide for a major. Companies want to hire experts who are excellent in one specific field. We hear about the importance of finding one true passion and turning it into a career all the time. As a result, people who have many interests and talents, but nothing that they are willing to devote their whole life to, feel abnormal. They might also feel like they don’t belong anywhere and don’t have any purpose in life.
Did you recognize yourself in what you just read? Well, then you might be a multipotentialite, or shorter – a generalist. Tamara Fisher, in her article Multipotentiality defines generalists as people who have many exceptional talents. Any of these talents could turn into a successful career for them. However awesome that sounds, it is often rather a great source of frustration. With so many options to choose from, here comes the fear of opting the wrong one. But why should we choose one? Because that’s how it is supposed to be? We are all different and while some people are specialists in heart, we shouldn’t force generalists to narrow their potential.
Everything we know and the way we live is changing rapidly from day to day. Our society faces challenging and complex problems. To find solutions, specialists and generalists should work together, as the innovation is born on the intersection of different fields. Specialists can offer deeper insight into a certain field, while generalists are great in finding connection between more fields. So if you think you are a multipotentialite, embrace it, because the world needs you!
Emilie Wapnick identified 3 ‘superpowers’ of a multipotentialite. The first is Idea synthesis. Generalists have many different interests and knowledge about various topics. Thus, they can combine ideas that might, to specialists, seem unrelated. This way they create new, awesome and innovative ideas. The second superpower is Rapid learning. Generalists are curious and want to learn a lot about things that intrigue their interest. Because they were beginners so many times, they are not too scared to go out of their comfort zone. The third superpower is Adaptability. They are able to adapt basically to any situation, however unexpected. This is a crucial skill in the world of fast emerging new technologies. Organizations need people who are able to develop new skills quickly.
It might take a while before our society starts recognizing universality of certain individuals as something valuable. But each person, be it a specialist or a generalist, should embrace the way they are made and make maximum out of it. If you are a multipotentialite, explore your talents and don’t be afraid of having many interests. You never know when you will have opportunity to use a piece of knowledge from one field to improve another. Or even create a whole new field and make that change this society needs.
Written by Nina Vysna for