Do you remember being asked, as a child, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Do you remember how you felt when you were asked that question? Emillie Wapnick, in her TEDxBend Talk called “ Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling”, suggests this question is limiting and confining to a child…and is often thought of as more of a Halloween costume answer than a question inquiring into a child’s world of all possibility. What children hear is they are going to have to choose. And more than that, the notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture and children hear that as well. They hear that they must have one true calling – one great thing they are meant to do during their time on this earth and to devote their entire lives to it.
Ms. Wapnick asks the question: What if you are someone who isn’t wired this way? What if there are many different subjects you are curious about and many different pursuits that call to you? Her answer is: “ There is nothing wrong with you. What you are is a multipotentialite”. She goes on to say that being a multipotentialite is not a limitation or an affliction! Rather, there are tremendous strengths to being this way.
One is “Idea Synthesis”: combining two or more fields and creating something new. Another is “Rapid Learning”. When multipotentialites become interested in something, they “go hard” as Ms. Wapnick says. Being a beginner is understood because of being beginners so many times in the past. There is less fear of trying new things and stepping out of one’s comfort zones. Also, many skills are transferable across disciplines, and so multipotentialites bring everything they’ve learned to every new area of pursuit, so starting from scratch is rare.
The third multipotentialite “superpower” is “Adaptability”: the ability to morph into whatever is needed in a given situation. Fast Company magazine identified adaptability as the single most important skill to develop in order to thrive in the 21st century. The economic world is changing so quickly and unpredictably that it is the individuals and organizations that can pivot in order to meet the needs of the market that are really going to thrive.
Idea synthesis, rapid learning and adaptability: three skills that multipotentialites are very adept at, and three skills that they might lose if pressured to narrow their focus. Ms. Wasnick believes, as a society, we have a vested interest in encouraging multipotentialites to be themselves. We have a lot of complex, multidimensional problems in the world right now, and it is her opinion that we need creative, out-of-the-box thinkers to tackle them.
It is the hope of Ms. Wasnick that we “embrace our inner wiring”, whatever that may be. If you’re a specialist at heart, then by all means, she states, specialize. But to the multipotentialites: “Embrace your many passions. Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly — multipotentialites, the world needs us.”
Emilie Wapnick has been a musician/songwriter, web designer, filmmaker, writer, law student and entrepreneur. “This is how I’ve always lived,” she writes, “moving from interest to interest, building on my skills in different areas, and synthesizing the knowledge I acquire along the way.”
As a career and life coach, Ms. Wasnick helps other people with wide and varied interests understand and appreciate who they are, in a society that asks us to pick a lane and stay in it. Her work with “multipotentialites” has resulted in the book Renaissance Business and her interesting website, Puttylike.
Watch the TED Talk here: