“I’ve never found my thing. You know….the thing.”
“I feel like everyone else has a career and I’m still trying to figure it out.”
“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
“I don’t know what my passion is. I have too many interests.”
I can’t tell you how many times women I have coached with or who have attended my retreats and workshops have woefully muttered some iteration of these sentences to me.
I used to feel the same way. I remember, a few years ago, as I was trying to make sense of What I Wanted To Do When I Grew Up, I created a sort of mind map of all the things I loved to do. I would stare at that piece of paper for hours on end, hoping that somehow all the incredibly disparate loves that I had (writing, adventuring, supporting women in birth, cooking, photography) would magically meld into a Real Career before my eyes, if only I considered it for long enough, and remained uncompromising in my efforts.
During my mind map days, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the work of a woman named Emilie Wapnick, and her community, Puttylike. Emilie coined the term mulitpotentialite, referring to individuals who have multiple passions and interests. She was, and still is, rocking the world of anyone who has ever felt like they were supposed to find one “Thing” and stick with it, but couldn’t.
Multipotentialites tend to follow one of two patterns. Scanners thrive by becoming the jack of all trades and master of none. They like to have a great number of different and diverse projects on the go at the same time. Divers, on the other hand, like to dive deep into a particular hobby, field of interest, or passion for a few years, learn everything they can possibly learn about it, and then move on.
In a world that idolizes those with singular passions and still prefers that the answer to “what do you do” be something easy to conceptualize, multipotentialites often spend the majority of their lives feeling like there’s something wrong with them. Their decisions to quit what they’ve been working on and move on are perceived as being flaky, irresponsible, or confusing. It’s assumed that they’ve failed, in some way, rather than making a conscious decision to pivot.
Elizabeth Gilbert did a fantastic talk about the value of following curiosity rather than passion, and in doing so, she gave many of us scanners and divers a giant permission slip to follow what interests us, without the need to make meaning (or careers!) out of the things that pique our curiosity.
To me, this seems like a much gentler approach to living one’s life. The pressure that we exert on ourselves and that is placed upon us by others to abide by societally-defined norms around our careers (and, well, everything) can be crushing. I’ve coached with so many women who have spent a lot of time, energy, and frustration on what seems like a wild goose chase of trying to find meaningful work that also adheres to commonly-held notions of what a career should look like.
Generally, in my own life and in my coaching work,
I have come to be very skeptical of things that
a) seem like rules (especially somewhat nefarious arbitrary rules)
b) seem to cause suffering when we try to contort ourselves into the kind of people who can follow them.
Also, I’ve noticed that half (or more!) of the work of living our lives in a way that better reflects who we are and what we value is about self-acceptance rather than finding *new and improved* ways of becoming someone we’re not – someone we imagine ourselves being if only we weren’t so ___(fill in the blank with your own particular self-loathing)___. Accepting your own multipotentialism is the first step toward learning how to work with it – and have it work for you.
How about you? Do you identify as a multipotentialite? Did you breathe any deep sighs of relief after reading this?
(p.s.: You Are Ok. You are always Ok. It’s usually just the rest of the world that’s whack).