Are you a multipotentialite? (and what it means for your career)

Multipotentialites are fantastic, but often misunderstood people. The world needs them, yet doesn’t appreciate them. But by proactively managing your career to take advantage of your multipotentialite strengths, you will end up fulfilled and bringing more to the table than you ever thought possible.


What’s a multipotentialite?

In short, a multipotentialite is someone with many interests, who wants to pursue them as much as possible. This term was made popular by Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk a few years back (would definitely recommend giving that a watch), although it still has not reached a wider audience.

Famous multipotentialites

But, even though you might not be familiar with this particular term, you’re likely familiar with these people:

  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Beatrix Potter
  • Maya Angelou
  • Julia Child

Any of those ring a bell?

There are many, many more to list, but the essence is" we used to admire people who could do a lot of things, rather than focusing on one thing. And, as a modern multipotentialite, you can still absolutely do that.

What are the signs that you’re a multipotentialite? 

Every multipotentialite is different, there’s no doubt about that. But there are a few things multipotentialites have in common:

  • The thought of picking just one path in life fills you with dread. You just feel it’s not how it’s supposed to be for you.
  • You have a lot of ideas and interests you would want to pursue. Ideally right now.
  • If someone tells you to just focus on one thing and become a super expert at it, it just irritates you.
  • You thrive in variety.
  • You absolutely cannot stand boredom.
  • You are a very fast learner. You likely have been complimented on it.
  • You are flexible, and can usually adjust and adapt to a new situation quickly.
  • You can integrate ideas like there was no tomorrow. You see the bigger picture and connections that others just do not see.
  • Once you get what you came for from a job, challenge or interest, you’re ready to move on. You don’t need a ‘natural’ end to leave it behind – apparently there are a lot of PhDs abandoned in third year in the multipotentialite community.

Does that sound like you? Keep reading.

What does it mean to be a multipotentialite in the workplace? 

Well, this depends on the workplace, of course. If you’re in a place that allows you to put your many interests to use, build a role that encompasses your varied skills, and keeps you safe from boredom, you hit a jackpot. But that’s not the reality for most people.

While our ancestors admired those that had varied skills and interests, the last century or so has not been so kind to multipotentialites. From an early age, we get asked ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’, like there is only one thing we should be doing as adults. The one career we should pick before our brain is even done developing, and continue with it until retirement.

This definitely works for some people. Some people develop an interest in something, and that interest can sustain them. And good for them.

But, interestingly, long gone are the days when you started at a company fresh out of school or university, and it was that same company throwing you a retirement party. Movement has become a natural part of the current day careers.

But back to multipotentiality. Your boss, your colleagues, and the society at large, expect you to pick something and stick with it. To become an expert at it, and be satisfied with that. It would seem that you are only useful if you are focused on your speciality – if you don’t specialise, or niche down, you’re called fickle, a jack of all trades, and a few other things.

What they do not realise, is that they have a missing piece of the puzzle in their hands. Multipotentialites are not better than specialists. But they are vital to the success of any organisation or project. The path to success lies in specialists and multipotentialites working together.

Why is co-operation between multipotentialites and specialists necessary? 

Let’s think about it for a second. What specialists bring to the table is their knowledge, experience and expertise of the particular topic. You’ve got a question? They can probably answer it. They are the people who know the topic inside out. You need that knowledge and experience to inform the project, be it on technical matters of the topic, or e.g. procedures around how the project can be conducted. They’re absolutely a necessity, there’s no denying that.

But because they are so zoomed in on their topic, they often fail to see the bigger picture. The opportunities for cooperation with other departments or specialisms? Likely lost on them. That’s where multipotentialites come in. With their zoomed out attitude, openness to trying new things, wide range of knowledge and skills, and ability to integrate topics, they are what gives the project the extra sparkle. The glue that makes it bigger than just a sum of its parts.

If you’re a manager reading this, the sooner you understand this, the better.

Why are we not appreciating multipotentialites more? 

God, I wish I knew. As a multipotentialite myself, I died inside a little every time I was made to take off my colourful multipotentialite cape and put on specialist shoes. We all need to be specialists, I was told in one of my jobs. That’s what clients pay us for.

That’s the crux of the matter, I think. The world has become so complex over the years, that there simply is no possible way for one person to be an expert on everything. That has been the case for several centuries, though, so nothing new here. It’s the last century or so that has been particularly cruel to the multi-interested souls. The more we progressed as humans, particularly in technology, the more specialists we began to need.

But in that race for specialisation, we got lost. We forgot that we can’t just have a bunch of specialists working in their silos with other specialists. Someone needs to bring all this together.

That’s where multipotentialites come in.

We need them so desperately, yet we don’t help them grow. We tend to rely on them to nurture themselves. To fight to keep their broad interest base, while climbing through the organisation that expects them to be a specialist. Then, suddenly, when they’re managers, we want them to have an eye on everything. But how were they meant to nurture their natural ability to do so if you’ve been trying to push it out of them from day one if every course you ever put them on was either to make them even more specialised, or to give them soft skills so they can be more efficient specialists?

What can you do to nurture your multipotentiality? 

The first step would be to understand it. While multipotentialites might seem like a cohesive group, there are a number of sub-types, and which one you are matters! So pause to think about what makes you a multipotentialites, and ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Do I like to do a lot of things at once, or do I go through them sequentially?
  2. Do I need my career to satisfy my interests, or am I OK with a job that’s good enough, and pursuing my interests?

Once you’ve figured that out, and think that you’d rather do a lot of things at once, and want your job to satisfy you fully (or almost fully), it’s time for a chat with your manager.

Be honest – you are not simply a specialist in your field (remember: being a multipotentialite doesn’t mean you’re not also a specialist), but that you have this extra sparkle. Ask them to help you set goals that will challenge you to use your multipotentiality at work. Think if there are any courses you can do to help you. Will it be more DIY than it tends to be for specialists? Probably. But is it worth it to be your true self at work? 100%.

Discover more about multipotentialites, and how working with an identity coach or personal development coach could help you.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London, SE18
Written by Gaby Grzywacz, (ICF Dip. Coach) | Life/Career Coach for Multipotentialites
London, SE18

Gaby Grzywacz is an identity coach for multipotentialites. She helps those stuck in the corporate specialist silos discover, develop and embrace their multipotentialite nature, so that they can finally live a life that's in line with their strengths and values.

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