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One true calling: Do we really have to choose?

Have you ever heard the term "multipotentialite"? I came across it while browsing through TEDx talks - it was a speech by Emilie Wapnick that all of the sudden opened my eyes and made me feel different about myself. You see, I was going through a period of second-guessing my career choices, life and universe. And it wasn't the first time.
I felt guilty. I have spent years to be where I was last year - studying, working, I've put a lot of time and effort to learn what I thought is my one-and-only-true-calling. And here I was, thinking that I made a mistake. Should I continue in that direction or maybe I should try something else?

The problem with me was not that I'm not interested in anything enough to call it my passion, it's the fact that I'm interested in many things at the same time and as deeply. And whenever I tried to talk about it with friends they were giving me "the look". The look that says "What are you talking about?". They were saying "just find one thing you love doing and do it!". Yeah, right - as if that was so easy.

When you're a child, your dream of who you're gonna be when you grow up changes every now and then - it's completely normal and noone will judge you just because last week you wanted to be a princess and the next week you're going to be a female Indiana Jones, but also pianist. And next month you'd tell your grandma you're going to be a writer when you grow up.

Now when you're in your thirties and still are not sure that whatever you're doing is the thing you want to do for the rest of your life, people start looking at you differently. You'll get good advices about "finding your true calling". You'll get judgmental comments "you need to grow up!". Or they might make you feel guilty by saying "Yeah well, you're lucky you can be like this, some of us have to work and pay bills, you know!" As if you were born in a royal family and didn't have to worry about survival at all. You'll get confused looks, because it's unthinkable to not know what you really want to do. Or because you just decided to quit a good job to do something completely different. Have you been there?

If you experienced this kind of personal struggle, it doesn't have to mean you're immature. It doesn't mean you're indecisive or you've got commitment problems. You might simply be a multipotentialite.
And it turns out to be a good thing!


So what is multipotentiality and is it contagious?

"Multipotentiality is an educational and psychological term referring to the ability of a person, particularly one of strong intellectual or artistic curiosity, to excel in two or more different fields. It can also refer to an individual whose interests span multiple fields or areas, rather than being strong in just one.
Such traits are called multipotentialities, while "multipotentialites" has been suggested as a name for persons who wrestle with these issues. By contrast, those whose interests lie mostly within a single field are called "specialists." - Wiki link
Multipotentialites are also being referred to as: scanners, slashers, polymaths and Renaissance people.
If you ever came across somebody's social profile stating they're "writer/chef/psychologist/florist/whatever_else" - yes, it's very likely that they're multipotentalite. It simply means a person with many areas of interest, pursuing more than one of their passions at the same time.

What's important - it doesn't mean they're amateurs in any of them. When multipotentialite finds an interest in something, they will explore the subject in great depth and they could be a true expert in any field (until they get bored and drop it ;) ). Multipotentialites like challenges - when something becomes too easy,  they might lose their interest in that matter.
It's not a rule, though - I'm pretty constant in many of my passions. Some others I pursue periodically - I'd go crazy for a while, then I'd leave it and go back to it after few months or even years.

Many children start as multipotentialites, so one might assume it's a more or less a natural trait of every human being at some point. Later on, many people discover one main field they want to pursue and they devote themselves to it for life - these people are "specialists" and right now it seems like they make a majority of our society.

Others will have a problem with choosing a major, profession, career path. They will start studies and drop it after 2 years to start another one or they will study two or more majors at the same time. It could mean they're just not mature enough, they could be spoiled kids who don't really need to worry how to pay their bills, they might have other problems. But they could also be multipotentialites.

Story of a multipotentialite

Let me tell you how it was for me (I'll keep it short, promise! ;) ). When I graduated from elementary school I had to choose a highschool of a specific "profile" - educational system in Poland was such at the time, that you had to make a choice. Not an easy thing when you're fifteen and you hardly can tell what you want for a dinner, let alone what you want to do in life. I was considering following majors:
  • technical - because I loved computers and technology and I was thinking of becomming a programmer;
  • linguistic - I really enjoyed learning languages and I felt I could do great as a translator or maybe a language teacher;
  • bio-chemical - I thought of either becoming a biologist, or to work on genetic research or to become a pharmacist like my mom;
  • artistic - I always loved to draw, paint and create - I already discovered graphic design and thought of either being a graphic designer in the field of advertisement or game designer;
  • mathematics/physics - scientific & logical part of me was drawing me to these fields and I thought I might use it to become an engineer or architect. 
Guess what I chose? NONE. Yes, none, because I just couldn't devote myself to any of these fields yet. I decided to go with "general" profile and study a little bit of everything. I delayed my decision about "who I want to be when I grow up".

Last year of highschool again I had to choose - in order to apply to university you had to pass final highschool exams. Polish and one foreign language was mandatory. You had to choose one more course (that would give you extra points at the university where you wanted to apply).
At first I chose math - which meant I had extra math classes to get prepared to the final exam. After one semester we took a trial exam to see how we're doing. I passed and it was ok. But I also realised that I'm not so sure I want to tie myself to math. So I changed my faculty to biology. I had to catch up with the material, as I was one semester behind compared to the kids who chose biology before. I did and...yeah, I wasn't sure again if "this is it".
Fortunatelly for my parents, who were extremely worried about me at that point, there was no time to choose another faculty and I passed my final exams with biology as optional course.

At that point I needed to choose again - what a stressful period! I wanted to do so many things and I had to pick one! Finally I made up my mind and decided I want to be a graphic designer. At the time there was no such major at any of the universities, so I decided to attend to post-secondary college instead. Two years later I had my title (A+!) and was facing the traditional dillema - is this what I want to do for life? I love it...but...

I admit - I chickened out. I wasn't ready to commit. I felt I'm dissappointing my dear parents, but I just couldn't make it yet. Big guilt trip, I'm telling you!
I started working - not in my proffession, but as a cashier at the shop, while I was trying to figure out what's wrong with me. One year later I decided I want to study more. I picked a major that was combining art with pedagogy - I was getting two-in-one title - which suited my personality perfectly. It was a great period in my life, as I really enjoy the process of learning and it seemed that I'd love to be an art teacher or maybe simply an artist.
When it came to writing my thesis I wrote about using role-play games in therapy - my dissertation supervisor was an amazing person and she did understand that I wanted to combine many of my interests into something innovative yet related to my major.

Meanwhile I was working as a graphic designer already - and I loved it. Then, the company I was working for has been closed and I had to find something fast to pay my bills. Got a job at jewellery store. Met one of the best friends of mine there. Made a plan to open our own wedding planning business. We quit the job, went to Spain in order to make money for that dream (great experience and quite an adventure, but that's a different story!). Life happened, she had to move to another city, and there I was at the beginning again.  
I got a job in post-secondary college as a lecturer. Then in another one and another one. Doing some freelancing at the same time. About three years later I made a decision of becoming a full-time freelance graphic designer. 

Fast forward and here I am - I design in the field of corporate identity, I make graphics for games, I write a culinary blog, I do research in various fields and I started to learn programming. And I'm finally happy.

What got me here a.k.a superpowers

Emilie Wapnick in her speech highlights our strengths. Multipotentialites' superpowers are:
  • Idea synthesis - multipotentialites have an amazing ability to combine many different ideas, concepts and areas of interest into one new thing. It might be quite innovative! And even if it's not - the fact we've got so many passions helps a lot when it comes to designing our own career path.
  • Rapid learning - we're natural "starters" - we're so used to starting something new, that we don't even consider it as something unnatural at any point of our life. We're not scared of failing - whatever happens it's a lesson for us and we learn from everything we ever dived in. Not only that. We rarely start from a scratch - usually we already know something about the new subject, we also apply what we learned so far on our path into the next project, proffesion, job or position. And we never stop learning - this is our basic need - to explore, to study, to find new ways.

  • Adaptability - with given knowledge in so many fields it's very easy for multipotentialite to adjust to almost any situation in life. We can wear many hats and most likely we'll be great at it! We adapt to the changes fast and we have no problem in taking different roles when needed.
All of this sounds great, doesn't it? Multipotentialites seem to be the perfect people for any company and position. But are they?

Multipotentiality - a curse or a blessing?

As it turns out, the market is not a bed of roses for multipotentialites. We're generalists living in a world of specialists. We're expected to label ourselves and it's not always so easy. Process of looking for a job might be a really exausting and rather depressing for us - we're good at so many things, but market doesn't care because we don't have a major in it, we can't show any official experience in that field or our resume looks like a bunch of unrelated job positions, twists and turns which makes us look kinda "unprofessional".

What is the solution? Should we give up on most of our passions and adjust? We're great at adapting after all! But it won't make a multipotentialite happy. It feels like you're limited. You're in a cage. You're so freaking bored. And you want to run. That's not how anyone can build a career for life. And it's not how you become a successful person!

However it looks like multipotentialites find ways to be happy with their lives.
One might choose a stable, but not so time-consuming job in order to pursue other passions in their free time - Albert Einstein was doing exactly that!
Another way is to try to combine many of their interests into one working business concept - there are quite brilliant examples out there, like the one Emilie Wapnick mentions in her TEDx talk: Meshu that makes a geographically inspired jewellery. How awesome is that?
You can also use one of your passions as a starting point and then incorporate your other interests into it - for example think of someone who loves to travel and also likes to write, plus his passion is photography - this makes a perfect travel blogger! can choose your own path - because you can. You've got all skills needed. You're multipotentialite.

What is your story? Are you generalist or specialist? Have you found your true calling or you chose to have many?

Source: Puttylike

Write comments
  1. This is ME. Wow. I seriously thought I was just unfocused and non-committal. I didn't realize it's a real thing that other people experience too. Thank you so much for this post.

    1. I found out about multipotentiality recently as well and it was such a relief to finally know there is nothing wrong with me. I'm very happy you find yourself in it too.

  2. I don't understand why people think you should know EXACTLY what you want to be doing by a certain age. You can spend years doing something you love and then one day decide you want to do something completely different. It's not a bad thing to have multiple loves in life, especially when you're following your dreams. :)

    1. Of course it's not bad to have many passions! While it's a perfectly normal thing, sometimes there so much social pressure to pick one as a career that it causes a lot of anxiety and guilt in people with multiple interests.

  3. I am at this stage in my life as well. I don't know what I want to be and I'm now realizing that I've been stuck here for the past two years. As a recent grad with little experience my resume reads writer/analyst/artist. I will definitely have to look more into this topic.

    1. I recommend checking then - it's Emilie's Wapnick website with plenty of useful articles and tips on that subject!

  4. I am embracing my confusion by allowing myself to do whatever feels like fun at that moment. Maybe that isn't a good idea, but I feel less like I have to FIND and PIN down that one calling.

    1. Do what makes you happy! There is no deadline nor should there be an imperative to find one and only!

  5. Thanks for the article. Brings so much relief knowing that this is normal and there are folks going through the same struggle as me. Thanks for linking to the Ted talk.

    1. Yes, it's good to know you're not the only one struggling. It was really an eye opening moment to me.

  6. Wow I needed to read this today. I told myself I wanted to be out of my day job by 2017 and working for myself full-time. I am currently very unhappy with my current job but was hesitant to look for a new one as I didn't want to get off track for my working for myself plan... after lots of thought I decided to go ahead and see what was out there. I realized I have a lot of things I love and should try new things. I may get a job I love so much I don't want to leave in a year or I might have great flexibility and be able to do both or I may find a job that gets me even more prepared to work for myself.
    Such a great post!

    1. It's never easy to drop a stability that a regular job gives, but sometimes it's necessary in order to feel happy! Good luck on your path!

  7. I've never been able to focus on just one thing. I love a little bit of everything.

    1. It seems to be more common, now that the whole idea of multipotentiality is publicly spoken of - and that's great!

  8. After watching Emily's TED talk, everything suddenly made sense. It seems that I am at the extreme end of the multipotentialite spectrum. I am fortunate to be able to juggle all my different passions. Sometimes I feel like my brain is a big filing cabinet of useful information and skills that I draw upon as needed. (or at whim)

    1. Lucky you! It's a great feeling when you can pursue many of your passions at the same time. And i know the feeling :D We're just changing hats as we need it!

  9. Ah! I loved that TED Talk. I think it is completely okay to have multiple interests, and that actually makes you a more interesting/well rounded person.

    ​xx katie // a touch of teal

    1. I think the same, even though I'm fascinated by people who are focused on their one true calling and extremely passionate about it - for many years I wanted to be like them - it seemed great. Now I know it's great to be generalist as well!

  10. This is beyond true for me! I've often joked that I have career ADD because I change what I want to do every few years. I used to think something was wrong with me!


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