Confessions of a Multipotentialite

Here I am writing again after a six week break from blogging, and also from reading blogs. I took some time out to do some deeper reading, quiet reflection and to work through a few things that needed my full attention. Its been a rewarding experience, and I am sure some of that journey inwards will inform future posts.

In the past few days I have been catching up with a few of my favourite blogs and stumbled across a fascinating interview with Emilie Wapnick on Joel Zaslofsky’s Smart and Simple Matters program. This has prompted me to start blogging again, so that I can share it with you.

Emilie has coined the word “multipotentialite” to describe people who have many interests and creative pursuits in life, and don’t want to choose between them. They are people with a high level of aptitude in a range of spheres, but prefer to be generalists, and pursue a number of interests at the same time, or in succession, rather than specialise in just one area.

This isn’t a new idea, people like Leonardo Da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin are the ultimate examples of people who have excelled across a wide range of spheres, rather than sticking to just one thing. Emilie Wapnick is bringing recognition to this phenomenon into a contemporary context. She is  allowing ordinary people to identify their wide ranging interests and reluctance to settle on one thing as a positive quality rather than a failing.

I have taken a quick look at Emilie’s website at Puttylike and was blown away by a wealth of posts describing me and the kinds of challenges I have faced. I had this strong sense of recognition and identification which is obviously shared by other people who have this generalist trait. Although I have made quite a bit of progress in being able to recognise and untangle many of the issues raised on the website, it was a relief to find out that I am not alone. I am in my 50’s and it would have been a big help if I could have known these things 20 or 30 years ago. I think there is a lot of potential that remains unrealised because multipotentialites have been unable to harness their wide-ranging interests and make sense of their lack of specific direction.

I loved the post called The Biggest Lie You’ve Ever Been Told which refers to The Question which is “what am I going to be when I grow up”. This May and September blog is about me pursuing this question, and given my age, it seems a little late to still be asking it. But what I am coming to understand, and what Emilie Wapnick is also saying, is that for some of us, this is the wrong question.

My experience of the past year is classic multi-potentialite behavior. Having left a full-time job I travelled, then returned home and explored a number of options and interests simultaneously. At one point I was maintaing three blogs and starting two businesses at the same time. Then quite suddenly, many of these interests faded and I stopped. This is typical of multi-potentialites, we develop a deep fascination for a topic, and pursue it in depth for a period of time, then quite suddenly reach a point of saturation, and feel the need to let it go. If we don’t let go, we become bored and restless, because our attention has moved away and what was once a pleasure with its own momentum becomes a hard slog. Oftentimes these interests than we have apparently gone cold on will resurface in a new way at a later date, or become the launching pad for a new direction.

Even the need to take a break from blogging is probably and expression of this multipotentialite quality. Its quite difficult for me to indicate in advance what I am going to do in terms of the structure and frequency of posts, and every so often I am going to need to take a break from writing altogether. I could discipline myself to be more consistent, but for the time being my priority is to explore what happens when I work with my natural tendencies, rather than trying to reign them in. Hopefully that keeps the writing fresh and relevant, even if it is sporadic.

Whats great about this new take on generalists like me is that it redefines these qualities as a strength, rather than as a lack of direction or consistency. The ability to take on a lot of information on a chosen field, integrate it quickly, and build links to other fields is a useful quality. The key is to understand this skill set, and find a way to make a living that accommodates it. This might mean finding a job that allows sufficient flexibility to encompass a wide range of interests and to move between them in a natural way; taking a part-time job that pays the bills but leaves enough time and energy to pursue one’s own interests outside of the job; or changing jobs with sufficient frequency to avoid boredom and inertia from setting in.

I’d love to hear whether this concept resonates with you. Do you recognise it in yourself or in others around you?

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12 comments
  1. Linda! What a pleasure to read your writing again! We took PT gigs so we could pursue other endeavors as well. My interest in the classical guitar and composing has been around since 1985 and has never faded and more than likely never will. I still practice several hours a day. So I have a specialty and it does come first, but I feed various interests which in turn sometimes feeds my primary interest. Fascinating, really…

    Have a bubbly evening!

    • LindaMay said:

      Well in fact I did think of you two when wondering who were potential candidates for this distinction of multipotentialite. I suspect a lot of bloggers in the lifestyle exploration genre would relate to this. I don’t think it would necessarily mean that you can’t have strong persistent passions or interests, but it might be that there will always be multiple interests that vary in intensity and priority. I imagine feeling stiffled in a highly structured full-time job as we three have all experienced would be a common experience for those us with this tendency.

      Yours was one of the blogs I just caught up with. Love your work! I have a daggy black backpack thats on the verge of being socially acceptable by the way. Its just so practical! (Daggy is Australian slang for shabby and unfashionable.)

      • Thanks for your reply, Linda! We were stifled. Great word, but not nearly as good as daggy! Happy Thursday!
        (Hi Joel!!!) 😉

      • LindaMay said:

        Well actually, daggy has a very interesting history. Presumably it comes from dag which means a “lock of matted or dung-coated wool” usually located at a sheeps rear end, or a untidy and disreputable person. But perhaps thats too much information. But my backpack is not that bad.

    • Joel Zaslofsky said:

      Holy smokes! The Great Jollyhoombah is here too? How many of the same circles do we run in? This is getting ridiculous. 🙂

      Linda, it’s awesome that my interview with Emilie got you blogging again… although I’ll give most of the credit to my guest. Puttylike and the concept of a multipotentialite was kinda revolutionary for me too when I first stumbled upon it. Here’s to great discoveries, keeping the creative juices flowing, and pursuing all that we need to be fulfilled (imagine me hoisting a large glass up high and smiling)!

      • LindaMay said:

        Hi Joel, welcome to my little corner of the world and thanks for your comment. I guess great minds think alike, or perhaps flock together, in a multiplicitous kind of way. I love the guests that you have on Smart and Simple Matters. You have a great eye for original thinkers and often feature bloggers that I already follow, or are relevant to my interests.

  2. This absolutely resonates…

    Educational administrator, budgeting coach, Zen student, carpenter, stone mason, poet, runner, farmer/gardner, phorographer…

    And I think why I have written a few posts recently with career laments. My work (the first in the list) takes up so much time, and I constantly find myself wishing I could spend more time on all these other things…usually, if only for the money and security for my family. I’ll look forward to checking out the site you linked. Thank you, and welcome back. Be well~

    • LindaMay said:

      I think you have it too! One reason I say that is that you say it absolutely resonates. Thats how I felt. The moment I heard about it I knew exactly what was meant by it. The website will blow you away. Its full of comments from people who can totally relate. Its probably one of those things we kind of know about ourselves, and recognise in each other, but haven’t quite had a name for it. My sense of it is that its not just a matter of having a variety of hobbies. For some of us its a fundamental need for change, adaptation, exploration and integration which defines how we relate to the world. People find us complex, and we find ourselves complex!

      One of the things I have been exploring in relation to meditation practice is Don’t Know Mind which involves sitting with the feelings of not knowing that arise in the body. This physical sensation of not knowing in the form of bodily tension can get very strong in my case because there is such a lot I don’t know, some of in in a spiritual sense, and some in a more mundane sense. I do however feel that I am making some headway in having equanimity with the not knowns and not knowables and accessing a few answers that really matter.

  3. Hello and welcome back Linda May! I’m so glad to see Joel’s work on display as I think he’s created something profound over there at Value of Simple.

    I’m not sure if I am a multipotentialite, though just wondering makes me think I may indeed be one. Most of my adult endeavors have stemmed from a love of education, but my goodness that is a big “field” is it not? So, I’ve been a public school teacher, mentor, teacher of teachers, private instructor and business owner. I am a highly social being who loves to be alone. I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up…and I sure do not like to commit to just one thing (except my husband!!!).

    Happy to have you back!

    • LindaMay said:

      Hi Tammy. I am not normally big on labels, but I think a category like multi-potentialite can be useful it if helps bring clarity to the situation. Sounds like education has been your speciality and the mode of working within that speciality has been the issue you needed to resolve ie employee educator vs self employed educator.

  4. I remember the life-changing moment of connecting with Emilie through this concept of being a multipotentialite. The feeling of acceptance and being part of a community made me feel amazing.

    I totally understand how you feel

    • LindaMay said:

      Thanks, good to hear from you. Its fascinating to find out who relates to this concept, and how strong that sense of recognition is. I am now playing “pick the multi-potentialite” among the people I know, although I have a feeling its best to let them self-identify rather than bowl up to them and tell them. My blog could be seen as an exercise in adjusting to being a multi-pod, although I had not heard of the concept when I started. Some of the strategies I use regarding working with intuition are a response to this need for a means of making decisions from many good options.

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