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?