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On Multipotentiality: The Beauty of Not Having One True Calling

Have you ever felt it was hard to define yourself in just one word? Or that you felt attracted by different and varied backgrounds, but couldn’t choose just one?

And since we are asking questions... When you were a kid, did someone ever ask you “what do you want to be when you grow up”? I guess all of us have heard—and asked—this question at least once in our lives. But… has it ever caused you fear or uncertainty?

It used to make me feel a little nervous, because I honestly didn’t know what to answer. Not because I didn’t have any interests, but because I had too many. And as I grew up, I noticed that some kind of pattern began to appear.

First, I couldn’t decide which degree to pursue at university. There were so many cool options! Finally, I decided to go for a degree that covers a wide range of topics: International Affairs.

Once I graduated, a whole new panorama opened up right in front of me, and I realized I was attracted to different fields: diplomacy, tourism, the wine world, commerce, education and technology. I explored and enjoyed all of these fields, even if there wasn’t a common thread between them.

In the meantime, I had been diving into very diverse hobbies that seemed interesting and fun, and the pattern kept repeating itself: I started a new hobby, had a blast, and after some time, I found another one that called my attention, so I jumped into something new, once again.

Maybe you can find this pattern familiar, or maybe not. There is no good or bad in this. But if you can relate, bear with me for a moment, because I have something really cool to show you.

The beauty of not having one true calling

Some time ago, I came across a very interesting concept called multipotentiality, coined by Emilie Wapnick—award-winning author and community builder. A multipotentialite is a person with many interests and creative pursuits. The term refers to curious people who often feel eager to learn new things, and who are usually good at more than one field.

Why is it so important to know about this?

The idea of having “one true calling,” or “one life path” is a mental structure created by our culture. We grow up thinking we have to figure out at a young age what our real purpose is, stick with it, be really good at it, and then do the same thing during all our life.

But what if there are too many things we want to do? What if we decide to change our paths one or many times? What if we cannot choose just one thing?

There was a guy who apparently couldn’t stay inside a single box. He was a painter, architect, anatomist, paleontologist, inventor, botanist, writer, sculptor, philosopher, engineer, musician, poet and urban planner. Yep, amazing as it may seem, we’re talking about Leonardo da Vinci and he did do all these things. He was into all these fields, and there was nothing wrong with him. In fact, there are many people who, just like him, have a lot of different skills that make them unique.

Multipotentialites’ strengths (or super powers)

Some of the usual skills of this kind of people are:

  • Global thinking and vision: by knowing about diverse topics, they can apply their knowledge transversally and come up with new ideas.
  • Mental flexibility and adaptability: they can adapt to changing environments and take various roles depending on the current needs.
  • Fast learning: since they are used to starting new things, they are never beginning from scratch, so they usually learn faster.
  • Synthesizing and innovation: just like a music mash-up, multipotentialites can mix different factors to create a new one. Innovation comes at the intersection of two or more different fields, and that’s where multipotentialites can innovate.
  • Invention and creativity: these people’s minds usually have many tabs open at once, but they can connect the dots and come up with plans that can help themselves and their surroundings.

But... What if I don’t relate?

If you don’t really relate with the multipotentialites’ way of life, or if you’d rather excel at just one field, you may identify yourself as what’s called a “specialist.” Specialists are also valuable—and essential—because they can contribute with their knowledge, awareness and understanding of a particular subject, becoming mentors of that specific area or field.

Now that you also know about multipotentiality, I’d suggest you to scan in your close groups of friends, colleagues, family (especially kids!), and try to identify a multipotentialite or more. Maybe they don’t know about this yet—and you could help them notice and enhance their special abilities.

A win-win combination

Whether you identify yourself as a multipotentialite or a specialist, you can find great benefits in partnering up with colleagues with different points of view. When specialists and multipotentialites come together, a win-win set appears!

As Emilie Wapnick said: “Some of the best teams are composed of a specialist and multipotentialite paired together. The specialist can dive in deep and implement ideas, while the multipotentialite brings a breadth of knowledge to the project. It’s a beautiful partnership.”1 

Of course, working in a corporate culture that’s flexible and open is a plus. I personally really appreciate being part of a workspace that accepts and embraces diversity, and boosts these kinds of partnerships. My team is made up of very diverse talents, and I enjoy learning from each of them every day.

Embracing the multi-passionate way of life

Learning about this concept didn’t just give me a new “curious tip” to share while having dinner with friends. It also gave me clarity and helped me understand myself: I finally realized it's okay to do (and be) many different things at once.

At the end, we are a result of all the experiences we’ve had and the learnings we got from each of them. Even if it seems like there isn’t a "common thread" between all the experiences that you’ve had, you are the common thread.

1. Wapnick, Emilie. [TED]. (2016). Why some of us don’t have one true calling. [Video] YouTube.

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