“I think a singular identity isn’t very interesting, and I’m a little bit more multifaceted as a person than that.” ~Catherine Opie
Are you a person who gets inspiring ideas every day? Do you wake up, galvanized with such thoughts, only to end up feeling sore as the day ends because you failed to act on these bright morning ideas? Perhaps you also end up blaming yourself and feeling guilty for not having taken any action.
Then welcome to the world of multipotentialite, a word I first encountered when I heard a TEDX talk by Emilie Wapnick. In her talk, Emilie talks about the challenges multipotentialites face and how to embrace them.
So who is a multipotentialite? The urban dictionary defines it as “somebody who has potential in multiple fields.” Sounds cool, right? It seems that such a person would lead a meaningful life. They'd never get bored, as there would always be something to catch their fancy.
Unfortunately, it doesn't usually work out that way. How do I know? I happen to be one.
I am a software engineer turned writer, counselor, web designer, and trek guide. I haven't stuck to any particular field, so I cannot say I am an expert or a specialist—words the world loves.
I detest family gatherings. Do you know why? People around me talk about promotions and their success while I talk about beginnings. I don’t mind; I’m a learner. But it’s difficult to explain to your family, who wishes to see you settled in your career, that you have multiple interests.
Without a supportive environment, several things can go wrong. Here are some of them.
Great ideas but no follow through
You get plenty of ideas, so much so that it becomes overwhelming. There are countless things you'd like to do right away. Sometimes it’s difficult to choose, for fear that you'll leave it mid-way. Or you have a desire to do a multitude of things, all at once. Or the dissatisfaction of the earlier half-finished projects may bog you down, so you don’t start at all.
You’re labeled “irresponsible” or “afraid to commit”
You begin to feel that you're not a responsible person because you don’t stick to anything. After all, hasn’t it been drilled into you that success depends on your level of commitment? And a lack of commitment could mean anything from not being serious to being irresponsible and careless.
The blame game
You start blaming yourself. The pressure to perform and stick to one particular career or task intensifies. It may be a self-created vortex, or others around you will contribute to the pressure by saying things like, “get serious” or “discipline is just what you need.”
Not fitting in
Finally ,you realize you don’t fit in. You start feeling something’s wrong with you, that you're not like other “normal” people around you who commit to doing things. You believe you're different and feel you don’t belong anywhere. This can also lead to loneliness or a sense of being alone in the world.
Disappointments greet you
When you're unable to come up with a goal for yourself, it can hurt. You know you’re ready to put in the hard work, but goals keep changing, as nothing interests you for long. The hurt and disappointment can erode your self-confidence, as well.
Yet you try. You keep searching for that single purpose that will make you feel whole again. Maybe you feel there's something out there that is “you”—something that’s meant especially for you. You only have to find it and then you’ll be okay. Beware: This path is full of lies.
The feeling of being abnormal
You begin searching for mental disorders on the web. Maybe this is a symptom of a condition, or maybe it signifies a psychiatric illness. The web is extremely helpful here, as it displays twenty or more different disorders that you could box yourself into.
You start sticking to a goal even if it kills you. You wake up day after day reassuring yourself that things will work out in the end. The suppression does not get you anywhere. Instead, you feel a disconnect, an overwhelming feeling that something is missing.
So this, in a nutshell, is the world of multipotentialites.
In spite of their vulnerabilities, multipotentialites can get a lot done. They're generally quick learners who are able to grasp varied things, a strength that they could capitalize on. In a team they can come up with innovative ideas; the jack-of-all-trades does not lack solutions. Belief in yourself is the only thing that's missing. Well, that and a couple of other things.
Trust that the dots connect.
Nothing ever goes to waste. The skills you learn along the way will help you in the future.
For a brief period I got a job as a travel writer when a magazine editor realized that I had explored quite a number of places within my city.
A web design course helped me juggle multiple roles at a start-up that was always short on staff.
The counseling degree gave me a better understanding of people around me. It also helped when my friend needed a student counselor for her tuition center.
So my skills were put to good use and I sometimes got paid too, without any conscious effort on my part.
Take small steps.
A quote by Katie Kacvinsky sums this aptly. She says, “You need to be content with small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day so when you look back down the road it all adds up and you know you covered some distance.”
Especially when you have hundreds of things that you would like to do, it helps to make a list. Write down your desires and start with one of them. That’s it. Don’t expect anything except the desire to learn.
When you feel saturated, stop and proceed to do the next thing on your list.
The list will grow and so will you. Drop the expectations that you need to finish the project. It's the learning that counts for you.
Looks for creative ways to contribute.
Maybe you could utilize your skills to earn more, by writing in your particular field, coaching, or even speaking. The important thing is not to give up on your interests; instead, look at them closely and see how you can proactively pursue them to better your situation. This removes the pressure on you and you start feeling less anxious.
Connect with people who can relate.
Joining a like-minded community helps put things in perspective. Forums and websites like Puttylike, started by Emilie, can help you restore your faith in yourself and move ahead in your life.
In the end it’s all about perspective. A quote by George Carlin sums it rather well.
“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that's twice as big as it needs to be.”
So choose to focus on your strengths. Success will surely follow.