Do you have so many interests that you literally do not know what to do with your life? Or perhaps you have a woefully low boredom threshold and are sure that, whatever you are obsessed with now, you'll eventually lose interest and let it go—so that you can start something new and totally unrelated instead?
If so, you're not alone.
Portland-based Emilie Wapnick felt the same way. Frustrated by society's pressure to choose her "one true calling," she set out to forge a different path. In 2010 Wapnick founded Puttylike.com, an online resource for people who have many passions and creative pursuits. To date, the business has spawned a blog, a digital guide, courses and a book, Renaissance Business, which helps people with multiple interests—just like you—combine all their passions and build businesses without narrowing their focus. Wapnick herself graduated from the Faculty of Law at McGill University before launching a career as a web designer, musician, filmmaker, writer, speaker and career coach.
Some of us don't have one true calling
In her inspiring TED Talk on the subject, Wapnick celebrates the "multipotentialite"—someone who has a talent and knowledge of many things. Multipotentialites, she explains, are not wired to pursue a single, overriding passion and devote their life to it. Instead, what really interests them is having the freedom to explore a dynamic range of jobs and interests over the course of a lifetime. In the past, these people were known as Renaissance Men. Examples include Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
Wapnick believes that multipotentialites do not have one true calling, but many. And they often feel anxious when speaking about their multifaceted careers and interests since there's a risk that society will judge them harshly for it. People who are curious about lots of different subjects, and want to do many things, are often made to feel like they lack purpose and discipline. They are made to feel like there is something wrong with them.
There's nothing wrong with you, urges Wapnick. In fact, multipotentialites have three superpowers that people who specialize typically lose—and these strengths can produce some truly inspiring results.
1. Idea synthesis
When multipotentialites pursue all the fields they are interested in, they develop a diverse mix of skills and experience. Innovation happens when these experiences synthesize, creating something new at the intersection.
Wapnick gives the example of Sha Hwang, a designer and technologist, and Rachel Binx, a data visualizer, developer and designer. Together, they drew on their eclectic mix of design, cartography, travel and mathematics skills to found Meshu, a business that creates custom, geographically-inspired jewelry. Hwang and Binx did not pluck this idea out of thin air. It occurred because they were able to access a mix of experiences and bring them all together to create something unique and exciting.
2. Rapid learning
Because multipotentialites are used to starting at the bottom in every new arena they pursue, they are able to learn extremely quickly. Plus, they happily embrace the skills they used in other disciplines, bringing everything they've ever learned to each new challenge. This means that most multipotentialites can learn deeper and faster than the average Joe, building layer upon layer of interconnected skill. It explains how a child concert pianist can use her muscle memory to become the fastest typist in town.
"It's never a waste of time to pursue something you're drawn to, even if you end up quitting," says Wapnick. "You might apply that knowledge in a different field entirely, in a way that you couldn't have anticipated."
Adaptability, explains Wapnick, is the ability to morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation. She gives the example of Abe Cajudo, a multipotentialite video director, web designer, Kickstarter consultant and teacher who is valuable to clients because he can wear many hats, and take on various roles, depending on his client's needs.
Fast Company magazine identifies adaptability as the most significant skill to develop in order to thrive in the 21st century. In an era of rapid change, businesses need adaptable, insightful, out-of-the-box thinkers to keep ideas flowing. Some of the best teams are comprised of a specialist and multipotentialite paired together, says Wapnick. "The specialist can dive in deep and implement ideas, while the multipotentialite brings a breadth of knowledge to the project. It's a beautiful partnership."
So if anyone asks you where you're going to be in five years' time, stop panicking. Smile, and tell them, you have absolutely no idea. You're a multipotentialite, and that means you can do all the things you love equally and build a financially comfortable life in the process. In the words of Emilie Wapnick: "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."