Multipotentialism: the art of being lured in all directions until you explode and die.



The proverbial ‘they’ say that the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging you have one. I don’t even know if I’ve made that first step, because I can’t decide whether this thing is a problem or a gift. If I figure out a way to make it work, it’ll be a fantastic gift. But until then, it sucks, because it just makes me dissatisfied with wherever I am — because it’s not somewhere else.

Emilie Wapnick, in her TED talk, calls me a ‘multipotentialite’ (also known as polymath, renaissance person, or scanner). She defines a multipotentialite as someone with many interests and creative pursuits; someone who, professionally, has no ‘one true calling.’

My work history looks like it’s from ten people, not one. I’ve worked in hospitality, in vet nursing, in administration (which I found is just as boring in the context of an art gallery as in a law office), in journalism, in library circulation, in photo restoration, in branding, in page layout, in copywriting, and in advertising. And probably one or two other things I don’t remember right now.

When I get interested in something, I immerse myself in it with books, articles and courses…until I’m distracted by something else that fascinates me. So then I immerse myself in that, with books, articles and courses…until I see something else.

Sometimes the interests are related. Sometimes not. A lot of them can be lumped under broad and ambiguous terms like ‘graphic design’, and ‘writing’, but that doesn’t help me define or refine where I am or where I want to be.

I still enjoy doing a bit of branding and layout design, but there are so many more things I’m interested in, too. Web design. Motion graphics. Special Effects. Animation. Novel writing. Etymology and linguistics. Behavioural science. Social systems. Psychology. Neuroscience. Marketing. Photography and post-processing with HDR.  My study history includes courses on all of those things. (Plus a bunch of other topics I was interested to know about, but never intended to turn into ‘my thing’.)

Of course, the introduction of two small children stalled my professional life for a while. But now my youngest is about to turn three, and I find myself with the time and energy to contemplate professional re-emergence…but I don’t know what to make myself.

No matter what niche I give myself, if it’s only one thing, I’ll get bored with it. I couldn’t even pick a niche for this blog! (Which is why it’s currently labeled ‘nicheless’.) Apparently blogs are supposed to have a niche to be successful, so for a while I’d made this site a parenting blog, but then it felt like I was trying to run with my pants around my ankles.

I can’t limit myself to just one discipline without going mad. But there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to learn all the other ones to the degree necessary to become really skilled at them. Even closely related skill sets — like videography’s Motion Graphics, and Special Effects (SFX) — are still different disciplines, each of them deep and involved.

I can’t do everything.

Oh, but I want to! I want to!

Emilie Wapnick says, “It is rarely a waste of time to pursue something you’re drawn to. Even if you end up quitting.”

Maybe it’s not a waste of time from the perspective of life satisfaction and personal fulfillment. But from the perspective of someone trying to formulate a personal brand and business plan, it makes it near impossible. Whatever I don’t pick will feel like wasted time.

Wapnick notes three multipotentialite ‘superpowers’:

1) Idea synthesis: Taking two or more ideas, and creating something new at the intersection.

2) Rapid learning: being in the investigative beginning stage so many times, we’re pretty good at navigating it.

3) Adaptability: we morph into whatever we need to be, in a given situation. (Because we tend to have so many metaphorical hats, we have a large metaphorical hatstand.)

The first superpower seems immediately relevant to choosing a business idea. But I have too many interests for them to all intersect. If I were only interested in layout design and creative non-fiction writing, I could synthesise the ideas in something like a complete biography journaling service. I can develop all of a book—its text, its layout, its cover, and its production via independent publishing. A client could give me notes and photos, and I could give them a chaptered personal history book, complete with barcode and orderability for those overseas relatives with empty coffee tables.

But then what would I do with my cravings to craft digital outputs? I’d quickly get tired of ghostwriting about the holidays at Aunty Someone’s house, or about sticks the family Fido liked to fetch. I’d get bored. My head would be turned by other things…

So how can I choose a service to sell? How can I choose to not choose something else?

The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging you have one.

Well, I don’t have one.

I have about a hundred.


(5) Comments

  • Tehila
    19 Aug 2016

    I found this so helpful, Eve! While I don’t have a hundred things I’m drawn to, even ten seems overwhelming when I don’t have the time and energy and clear direction of which where to invest my very limited resources!

    Thank you so much for putting this out there… It’s comforting to know that my condition and yours actually has a name! I always feel better once my disease has been identified 🙂

    Miss you! xoxo

    • Eve
      19 Aug 2016

      Absolutely, knowing the thing’s name helps! Even if not in material effect. I just feel less like I’m trying to fight it by waving a stick around in the dark.

  • Rebekah
    19 Aug 2016

    I know the feeling. Not of being a mother looking to re enter professional life, but of wanting to do everything.

    • Eve
      19 Aug 2016

      Have you found any ways of appeasing the conflicts, sustainably?

  • Deborah Makarios
    19 Aug 2016

    I have a wide pool of interests, but fortunately it’s also a very shallow pool – I want to know a little about a lot, which mostly works itself out in intense spates of library books focussing on the obsession of the moment.
    The things that I know this life will never hold – well, there’s always the next one. God seems keen on variety, so surely heaven will not be a bland already-know-everything-and-nothing-to-do kind of place. And, naturally, we’ll have all the time in (or rather, out of) the world.

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