So, what do you do?
This question used to make me anxious.
Depending on the person asking, and the context, the answer could be half a dozen different things.
Simon Sinek writes and talks about the importance of finding and defining your “why,” but this can be hard when you have more than one.
We live in a society dominated by specialists who tend to want to put everyone into a box. A box with a simple, easy to understand label.
But if you’re a multipotentialite like me, being in a box makes you uncomfortable.
There are so many interesting boxes!
People who are interested and excel in multiple areas can often be accused of being distractable, unfocused, or not serious, despite the many superpowers we have.
So, how do we reframe ourselves to a world that wants to put us in a box? How do we convince specialists we should collaborate?
The word “multipotentialite” is seemingly so new it can’t be found in the Merriam Webster dictionary (yet). So, until recently, people with many interests and creative pursuits moved around under many monikers:
Polymath, renaissance person, scanner, generalist, or my personal fave, slashie.
Every time I type “multipotentialite” spell check tells me it’s wrong, but at least Wikipedia has a definition:
“Multipotentiality is an educational and psychological term referring to the ability and preference of a person, particularly one of strong intellectual or artistic curiosity, to excel in two or more different fields.”
Multipotentialistes: Jack of all trades, master of many.
If you self-identify as a multipotentialite, chances are you saw Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk, or perhaps read Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher.
For me, watching this talk was the first time where I felt like I could make sense of the way my brain works and the projects I’m involved with.
In the past, I used to believe that being interested in many things was a problem. I should focus more. Do less, better. Time and energy are not infinite. You can’t do everything.
But, as it turns out, multipotentialites can do a lot.
Three multipotentialite superpowers
In her talk, Emelie shares three multipotentialite superpowers. These instantly resonated with me. Having them explained and validated from the TED stage was liberating.
- Idea Synthesis – We are great at combining two or more fields and creating something new at the intersection.
- Rapid Learning – We get interested and go hard. Adopting a beginners mind means we are less afraid of trying new things and comfy outside our comfort zones. And our skills are transferable across disciplines and we bring everything we’ve learned to everything we do. So we are almost never starting from scratch.
- Adaptability – We can morph into whatever we need to be based on the situation. Fast Company says this is the #1 most important skill to have in the 21st century. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers got nothing on us.
I would add a 4th:
Solution-Oriented. We instinctively try and solve problems. Always. Finding new or better ways to do things is how we roll. Innovation is our addiction.
A narrowly focused life is right for some people
I love specialists.
There is nothing more engaging to see than someone who is passionate about what they do. In fact, I’m often envious of anyone capable of singular, laser-like focus.
But sometimes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
The best specialists usually find the best hammer for the job they do and once they get confident wielding it, they stick to it.
Multipotentialites on the other hand, have lots of hammers, and they know how to use them for all sorts of things.
And often those things are outside their intended purpose. Using an old tool in a new context can yield amazing results.
The point of this heavy-handed metaphor is that specialists and multipotentialites make great teams.
The mix of deep and diverse expertise combined with curiosity and creativity is where the magic happens.
A specialist in generalism
So “what do I do?” First and foremost, I’m The Joy Pusher.
But depending on the person asking, and the context, the answer could be half a dozen different things.
And now I have a new word, a new framework, and maybe even a comfy new box to be in.
But if that’s too many syllables for your mouth-hole, slashie will do.