How To Be Everything
Multipotentialites make for great leaders
Are you a “multipotentialite”? According to Emilie Wapnick, founder of Puttylike.com, a multipotentialite is someone who is passionate about many fields and often ends up excelling in a number of different areas. They are also strong leaders in their chosen fields.
The word is a play on “multipotentiality,” a term in psychology that refers to people who display aptitudes across multiple disciplines, with a nod to Renaissance polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, whose extensive interests spanned from painting to anatomy and engineering.
Multipotentiality is becoming more relevant in the 21st century as people are increasingly likely to embrace a range of interests and creative pursuits rather than follow one particular field for their whole professional life.
Given the countless paths to choose from, Wapnick argues that the notion of having “one true calling” is highly romanticised and negates the myriad interests that a person may have. “Being a multipotentialite is about passion or curiosity, not accomplishments,” she says.
Wapnick believes that multipotentialites make great leaders as they have a range of skills to draw from and “super powers” that make them stand out, including idea synthesis, rapid learning and adaptability.
“Multipotentialites have the ability to combine ideas that don’t normally go together and create something new at the intersection. This skill for idea synthesis is the basis for creativity and innovation,” says Wapnick.
“They acquire knowledge quickly because of their intense passion for learning and ability to step out of their comfort zones and try new things. They are also able to take what’s thrown at them and figure things out on the fly.”
Growing up, Wapnick thought there was something wrong with her when she couldn’t figure out her one true calling. “I was into all of these different subjects and projects. I played music, built websites, enjoyed math and writing, made films, even went to law school. The idea of picking one field and giving up the others sounded horrible,” she reflects.
She began to investigate whether there were other people who were successfully excelling in many different disciplines, learning about how to build a multifaceted career and why having many interests was actually a strength.
This led her to start Puttylike.com in 2010, which began as a blog and has evolved into a community that supports and inspires people to build dynamic, multifaceted lives, in practical and sustainable ways.
If leadership is not your thing, take heart in knowing that it is possible to thrive in a world of specialists if you have a broad range of interests. Wapnick believes that the key to designing a fulfilling career as a multipotentialite is choosing work that provides variety and opportunities to learn.
“Those who embrace their plurality, rather than stifle it, tend to be extremely creative. They aren’t held back by labels or restrictive notions of who they are.” — Emilie Wapnick, founder of Puttylike.com
In her book How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up, she identifies four work models that multipotentialites can use to sustain their diverse interests.
The first model is the “Group Hug Approach” where people combine different interests in one multifaceted job or business. The “Slash Approach” involves regularly shifting between multiple part-time jobs or businesses.
The “Einstein Approach” is anchored by stable employment that takes care of financial needs while allowing for enough free time to pursue other passions on the side. The final model is the “Phoenix Approach” which is characterised by diving into one field for a number of years and then transitioning into a new career in a new field.
“It’s possible to be a hybrid between two or more of these work models, but they’re all ways of getting variety into your life,” explains Wapnick.
She also believes that being a multipotentialite helps people live more creative lives.
“Those who embrace their plurality, rather than stifle it, tend to be extremely creative. They aren’t held back by labels or restrictive notions of who they are.”
How can we discover our inner multipotentialite? It’s easy, according to Wapnick. “Try something new, even if you’re afraid you might be bad at it. As adults, we’re so afraid of looking foolish. Let yourself have fun without worrying about outcome. That’s a good first step.”