Recall a group setting where everyone was meeting for the first time. Maybe it was a conference, a class, a book club etc…Inevitably, the facilitator asked everyone to stand up, introduce themselves, and share what they like to do for fun.
These moments always make me sweat. Everyone else seems so sure of themselves! They confidently stand up, can remember their own name in a spontaneous public speaking setting, and easily rattle off one or two things that intensely interest them. Then I stand up, and if I gave an honest answer it would sound something like this:
“Hi. My name is uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Rob, and I like writing, reading, playing video games, playing live rock and roll, attending concerts, writing and producing songs, writing poetry, downhill skiing, ummm there was a time when I was really into zentangle, I like painting, but Im not good at it… Oh! I like drawing little cartoons, making YouTube videos, playing Dungeons and Dragons, playing the piano, playing the violin, playing the guitar, playing the bass guitar, singing in choirs, acting in plays, history, astronomy, thinking about the vastness of space and our relative insignificance in the face of it, pubic speaking (when I have been given ample time to prepare), building things, cooking to a recipe, photography, watching ants (really its super fascinating), listening to progressive rock and metal, talking about progressive rock and metal, blogging, researching everything there is to know about my favorite bands…”
It would just go on and on and on. Instead though, in these situations my mind frantically tries to grab hold of just one or two of these ideas as they rush past in a mental conga-line and I always sit down thinking that I have not adequately expressed to the rest of the group just who they are dealing with.
Does this sound familiar? No? Just me? Yeah, I was afraid of that. Just kidding. Many people have this “problem.” They are called multipotentialites.
Multipotientialites Through History
Also sometimes referred to as a polymath (although the two words are not exactly synonymous), a multipotentialite is an individual with a wide array of interests or pursuits. These are the folks we refer to when we say, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
These are the people in your life, whom every time you encounter them, are foaming at the mouth with passion about some new pursuit. They are the friend, who last week, was working frantically on a book of insect poetry and this week has started a how-to YouTube channel about competitive soap carving!
If that is you, do not despair! There are many people like you! Unfortunately, we live in a world that has tailored itself to the specialist. The person who, in my opinion, has an unhealthy obsession with and great talent for the ONE THING.
Because of this societal focus on specialists, for a long time, I thought I was broken. I thought I was a flake. A person who was incapable of finishing what they started, and because of this, I would never amount to much. I also thought I was alone with my affliction.
Lucky for me, someone invented the internet! (Probably a specialist. uhg!) The internet helped me to discover that not only am I not alone, but that we multipotentialites are quite numerous, and powerful! Let me throw some names at you:
Aristotle, Leonardo DaVinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Fig Newton (Just kidding, he was probably a specialist), Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, Brian May.
A fun and interesting story about Sir Isaac Newton as described by Bill Bryson in his book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” goes as follows:
“In 1864 Dr. Halley came to visit at Cambridge [and] after they had some time together the Dr. asked him what he thought the curve would be, described by the Planets, supposing the force of attraction toward the Sun to be reciprocal to the square of their distance from it.”
Newton replied by telling him it would be an ellipse. When his excited colleague asked him how he knew this, Newton replied that he had already calculated it. When pressed for the calculation, Newton said it was somewhere in his papers, but he didn’t remember where he put it. As Bryson describes, this would be like someone saying, “…he had found a cure for cancer but couldn’t remember where he had put the formula.”
We multipotentialites understand that story only too well. Newton had moved on. He had worked with great passion on something, produced a result, and then moved on to his next interest. It did not occur to him to pursue the thing further. He was too busy with his new shiny thing!
Newton, a multipotentialite, had a significant impact on the world, and so can you.
No Cape Required
The good news is, if you are a multipotentialite, you can turn this to your advantage. According to Emilie Wapnick, TED speaker, and author of the book “How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up,” there are seven “superpowers” that multipotentialites often display:
- Contextual Thinking: Due to your wide range of interests, you are able to see the broader implications of a problem, thus you are able to make a more informed decision about it.
- Translating Between Modes of Thought: Due to your wide range of experience, you are able to speak the language of people in varied fields. In large multidisciplinary teams, you can act as a bridge between individuals of different disciplines.
- Wearing Many Hats: You know how to do many things “pretty well,” and so you rarely “need” to ask for help. You’ve got this!
- Fast Skill Acquisition: You have tried so many things, that being a “beginner” is kind of your thing. You know how to navigate being a beginner, and quickly accumulate the new skills you need to succeed.
- Impact/Inspiration: Your enthusiasm for everything you undertake makes you an excellent and inspiring leader!
- Concoction: You are always thinking of new projects, new ways to do things, and different angles for approaching and solving stubborn problems. It’s second nature to you.
- Idea Synthesis: You know how to do A LOT of things. You can also see the connection between those things that others might not. You can synthesize those things and make something completely new!
If you would like to know more about these super powers, visit Emilie Wapnik’s website at puttylike.com
So, don’t despair multipotentialite! You are not broken, not a flake, not alone. No. You are amazing and you are needed. Embrace your gift! You are part of a very historically significant subset of individuals. You are indeed, a superhero! (Don’t let it go to your head.)
Hey thanks for reading my blog! Did you know that I am also a novelist? You can get your hands on my book “Descendants of Hope” by clicking here. Also, you can join my mailing list by clicking here! You will get updates when I post new articles to the website and I will occasionally send you updates on the progress of my newest novel! Also, when I think of a cool thing to make and give to my email subscribers, you will get that cool thing too! I hope you like competitive soap carving videos!