Multipotentialites & Multipotentiality: Embracing Your True Path of Paths
For many gifted children and adults alike, multipotentiality can be a blessing and a curse. Marked by the ability to excel across numerous fields, the multipotential individual, or multipotentialite, is often highly curious, artistically inclined, performs well on tests, and is an intellectual sponge, absorbing the world around them.
What is a multipotentialite? Puttylike founder Emilie Wapnick explains:
“Multipotentialites have no ‘one true calling‘ the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both).”
Like stem cells, their future is both promising and seemingly infinite. A gifted student, for example, may aspire to be a physician, poet, model, architect, editor, banker, chef, zoologist, landscape designer, and teacher, equally. However, this range of career choices can also be a deep source of conflict.
Identifying the Struggle of Multipotentialites
Overwhelmed by a diverse array of options, gifted students can suffer from anxiety. Paralyzed by the pressure to specialize or “pick something”, they’re often reluctant to commit to one path due to the fear of ignoring their other talents. For the outspoken classroom debater who loves animals, the opportunity cost of pursuing law school is high, when it cuts their chances of becoming a veterinarian.
Conversely, multipotential adults can experience depression or boredom over their career choices. They’re more likely to feel stagnant in their current position or mourn the loss of unexplored ventures. In addition, they may lack purpose, having wandered from field to field.
Stuck at a Crossroads? Steps for Finding Direction
While high test scores can indicate broad subject matter knowledge, they can also create an illusion of competency. Performing well in high school statistics doesn’t mean a student will excel as a college math major, or enjoy a career as a statistician. But perhaps, it can come in handy if they’re passionate about public health and considering epidemiology. To see if a subject is truly engaging and challenging, continue to explore it beyond the classroom.
Similarly, parents should encourage gifted children to uncover their interests at an early age. Taking the second grade science expert to museums or public seminars can help guide their later steps. Enrolling the young Olympian in gymnastics or buying Legos for the budding engineer can shape their dreams into fact or fiction.
For late career bloomers, past experiences are key. The manual dexterity required to be an auto mechanic might cross over into life as a surgeon, or vice versa. An ex-police officer can revive their interpersonal skills as a corporate salesman. Oftentimes, underlying skill sets that seem unique to an industry transfer smoothly to others.
Following Your Own Lead
Emilie Wapnick is both Founder and Creative Director of Puttylike, a community for multipotentialites. She is also a musician, web designer, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and former law student.
In this enlightening TED Talk, she explains why multipotentiality is a superpower:
Did this video strike a chord? Have you lived your life as a multipotentialite without even knowing it? Here are traits to look for:
- You have diverse interests and passions, which can seem random to others
- You flutter from one field to the next and do so with ease
- When a topic catches your eye, you start to absorb as much as you can
- Just as often, you tend to move on after learning what you need
- You have a talent for connecting the dots or piecing the puzzle together in ways others can’t see because you’ve been exposed to a variety of experiences
In some cases, different interests can align in fresh, exciting ways. The lab technician with an inventive streak has both the analytical tools and creative moxie to design a new lifesaving medical device. The teacher who’s also an amateur videographer knows how to produce fun, viral content than can be understood by anyone. Start looking for intersections between fields of interest and pursue the common ground.
Moving On from Opportunities
Realistically, not every interest can turn into a rewarding career and that’s alright! It’s important to look inwards and consider both competency and personal values. What drives you to be a better person? Reserving a few interests as hobbies or freelancing gigs can help keep the wheel in motion. Multipotentialites thrive on brainstorming ideas, transferring knowledge bases, and learning new skills. By weighing the emotional and financial costs and benefits, it becomes easier to accept that not all interests can be pursued at the same level at the same time.
For example, the daytime social worker and weekend hiker can continue to enjoy nature photography as a pastime and even contribute to citizen science projects with little investment. In this way, their interests acquire new passion and meaning, even if it’s not their primary position.
If however, their work becomes wildly popular, things can change. Remember, career choices do not have to be static. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that baby boomers held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 48. Career evolution is a natural process – one multipotentialites are well equipped to handle. Julia Child was an intelligence officer during World War II before writing her first cookbook at age 50 while figure skater Vera Wang designed her first dress at 40.
As icon and innovator Steve Jobs once said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
Because of their dynamic background, the multipotentialite can traverse the market with ease, drawing upon a wealth of past titles, hobbies, side gigs, and volunteering experience.
Reaching Your Destination
For the gifted individual, having diverse interests or career aspirations is not a death sentence. It does not mean being a Jack-or-Jill-of-all-trades and master of none. It’s perfectly possible to travel down several roads side by side, while maintaining self-discovery and without sacrificing potential. Finding the right balance is key. For the multipotentialite in particular, the journey there is just as important.
Do you have questions or comments about this article? Leave me a message below! 🙂
Ansel Oommen is a research assistant for the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene at the NYS Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Medical Center. As a journalist with a B.S. in Toxicology, his previous credits include Yale Scientific, Well Being Journal, and Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.