I was introduced to the term multipotentialite by a prospective client last week.
You are probably thinking, “What the….yet another classification, just another way to put me into a box.”
One thing I can say after giving close to 300 Birkman assessment feedback sessions as part of my Career Pivot evaluation over the last three years, none of us fit neatly into a box!
The term “multipotentialite” comes from Emilie Wapnick and her website Puttylike.
It stems from the psychology term Multipotentiality. The best definition I found came from an article titled, “Multipotentiality” by Tamara Fisher.
Tamara Fisher wrote:
Multipotentiality is the state of having many exceptional talents, any one or more of which could make for a great career for that person. Gifted children often (though of course not always) have multipotentiality. Their advanced intellectual abilities and their intense curiosity make them prime candidates for excelling in multiple areas. This can be both a blessing and a curse. On the bright side, they have many realistic options for future careers. But on the downside, some of them will struggle mightily trying to decide which choice to make. Particularly in the last couple years of high school and the first couple years of college, this monumentous decision with so many great possible outcomes can be a source of debilitating stress. The choice is “exhausting and stressful,” as one of my students said this year.
Barabara Sher, in her book, Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams, called these people scanners.
So, simply put, a multipotentialite is someone who has a lot of interests!
I can honestly say that I am a multipotentialite.
I wrote a post called What If You are Not Passionate About Anything back in 2012. It is found 30-50 times every single day by Google search. There are a lot of you who are wondering why you do not have one true calling.
In the post, I described my Birkman assessment interests:
- I am high mechanical. I like putting things together, both physically and logically. I am a recovering engineer.
- I am high social service. I like helping people. I spent most of my career in Learning and Development.
- I am high scientific. I like researching topics and discovering new ideas.
- I am high persuasive. I like to sell my ideas.
I have bounced around from job to job, industry to industry, and career to career because, characteristically, I get bored.
I am not driven by any one passion or interest.
For More: What If You are Not Passionate About Anything
Multipotentialites and Innovation
Wapnick writes on her About page:
Steve Jobs once defined creativity as “connecting things,” and said that sadly, most people don’t have enough dots to connect because they haven’t had many diverse experiences. (Check out the whole quote, it’s great.)
Innovation happens when you take knowledge from one field and use it to solve a problem in a completely unrelated field.
To stifle your puttylike nature is a crime, not just in terms of limiting your own potential, but to society as a whole. As multipotentialites, we must use our gift to innovate. It’s in our genes.
Innovation is the reason you’ve been blessed with this trait, and it’s what you’ve been called on to do. Never forget that.
Are You a Multipotentialite?
My guess is about 10-15% of general population demonstrate multipotentialite characteristics.
You might be a multipotentialite if you:
- Dive into a topic deeply but eventually grow tired of it and move on.
- Have divergent interests like business and art
- Change jobs every 3-5 years because you grow bored with the area
- Been referred to as a renaissance man or woman
The problem is the current economy wants specialists. Previously, I wrote a post called, Are You a Generalist or Specialist, and I got lots of feedback from people who are generalists. They commented that they are no longer sought after in today’s highly specialized work environment.
Society tells us we are supposed to have one passion. That does not work for multipotentialites.
Take a moment and watch Emile Wapnick’s TEDx talk on this topic.
Do you see yourself as a multipotentialite?
If this post resonates with you, please also read Are You a Square Peg Trying to Fill a Round Hole?
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Rebecca Souza says
I do believe that I am a multipotentialite if you:
◾Dive into a topic deeply but eventually grow tired of it and move on- I have found this to happen on many occasions. When planning for my wedding I read every book available in the library (yes the library if anyone can remember that), When my daughter became interested in soccer I made sure to learn about it enough that I could be one of the soccer coaches for years. I kept going to college and received 2 masters degrees (even though they fit together) in two different areas.
◾Have divergent interests like business and art- I love all aspects of business. I find it to be extremely interesting. Even though I profess to be HR when there was down time at the company I decided to assist in the inventory cycle and sell the extra parts we found on the shelf to the clients who originally ordered them. I also bake and decorate cakes, do crafts on the weekend, and sew.
When someone ever came to me with a question at work if I didn’t immediately have the answer I made it my mission to find it and learn as much about the question and answer in order to better respond.
I think that this is a great descriptor for many people,
Thank you for the good read, again.
In today’s world of specialization multi-potentialites find it hard to find a place where they fit. Most need to find their niche working for themselves. That is what I have done.
Kalissha Knighton says
I’m interested to know how you found your niche.
My niche was found over a very long period of time. I tried a lot of things before I landed with Career Pivot. I believe all of the twists and turns helped me acquire the skills that I use today.
Hatem Kotb says
Hope I “get there” one day. I’ve worked as a Project Coordinator, Software Developer, Business Analyst & now I am a Data Analyst.
Not to mention a Taekwondo Athlete, part-time photographer & cyclist :).
I get really lost in all my interests…and it is affecting my career and life!
Joao Perdomo says
I am definitely a multipotentialite. It has been my curse my entire life. I am extremely curious and love learning about anything and everything. Everything from Quantum Mechanics, to Biology to Programming to Languages and History. I feel trapped by it sometimes because Indive really deep into a certain subject and once I learn everything I want to I get bored or lose interest. It has caused me tremendous heartache my entire life. Always hearing from people when I was of college age go to Medical School from some people, others become a software engineer, others say you should be an actor, my guidance counselor simply said choose something cause you would be great at anything your very intelligent. Well thats the problem I cam never choose. Lol. Most of the time it is a blessing because like my wife says “I can always ask you anything and you usually will know something or everything about it” and other times its a curse like when it comes to stability im my career. Get frustrated because Inlose interest in things once they arent new or I find them too simple. Feel like its not even worth doing. Always looking for that “dare to be great!”. Jack of all trades and master of none. Well of some but you get the jist.
You are not alone!
Sajal Saun says
Yeah..i am in the same condition..:(
Andrews Nycollas says
I always been interested in different areas at school, I was very good at math and physics, but was very well also in all other matters. Not because I was a genius or anything, but because I liked most subjects and found some of them in all the others. Over time I was getting tired of mathematics and physics and I focused on arts. But no one art, all of them.
I started writing and love what I wrote. I began doodling whenever I found a piece of blank paper. I saved money and bought a guitar and some magazines to go learning alone. I joined a theater and in my first piece company, I was already the villain of the piece.
I liked so much of creating stories that I focused on writing and I learn a little about it. I started doing screenplay classes, where I discovered other interesting areas involving from performing arts and writing to music and drawing, all in one thing: I found my place! I thought. The film is indeed an incredible area that can join all the other arts in which I had fallen in love in one. But over time… I got tired.
I was sure the film would be my area of expertise, but I was wrong.
It turns out that the stories that I had, I have, to tell are much more complex and multidimensional that the stories commonly told in the movies. I had to find an area that gave me the freedom to give the viewer the freedom to stop being just spectators and decide where he would like the history to go. It was then that I discovered the games.
When I was little I dreamed of creating games, not for some complex or concrete reason, I just wanted to be part of the creation of what many times was the closest thing to a friend that I had: Okay! So let’s researching it!
I researched and found that living in Brazil, where I was born and still living, I had no where to study … Except for some illegal magazines that came with tutorials of many things among them “game creation.” I bought every magazine I found, read all, I started my games, not understanding anything.
Later, after the film classes – Realize that I mixed the timeline of the story telling something in context but out of chronology deliberately – a bit before I get tired, I discovered that an educational institution in the city where I live, was with a Digital Games class. My goodness! My childhood dream come true! I was selected, I studied one year, was one of the best students, certainly the most productive … So, for lack of money I had to stop class – Life is sad -.
Now I’m here, at home, not knowing what to do with a guitar in my hand, a sketchbook on computer desk in front of me, several projects in half (movies, games, plays, etc), training to play a championship of a certain virtual sports, etc.
My name is Andrews Nycollas, I am a writer, designer, producer, director, filmmaker, programmer, actor, composer, singer, musician, magician, archer, warrior, minion, boss, villain and hero. And I am glad to know that I am not alone.
I just saw your comment. No you are not alone. There are a lot of us.
Steven Cargill says
This sounds like a new spin on an old topic. What was described are just “potential” polymaths, except that unlike polymaths, they have yet to demonstrate the intelligence and drive to gain a significant level of mastery over multiple different domains of subject matter. Even a polymath is usually nothing more than a highly intellectual person, although it’s not unheard of for a person to become one by necessity.
Labels really DO amount to gross oversimplifications though. People who struggle to figure out what they want to be because they think they have to fit neatly inside of one of the narrowly defined societal roles are already heading down the wrong path.
In my experience these people have lots and lots of interests rather than interests in two or three domains. I have only done assessments on two people who fall into this category. I wrote this post after being introduced to Emilie.
I do not know what the right answer is but it is interesting.
Robinette smith says
Thank You!!! Because I couldn’t make up my mine, I drop out of College, and it ruin my life. I’ve worked many jobs and i am still not satisfied in what i want to do I really do. I basically have many skills and i feel that i am every where like, all over the place!! So really don’t have a passion for anything!!! What Should I DO???
What I have found is multi-potentialites like to learn and learn and learn and…. Is that true for you?
So I belong to the same group as all of you here. But I amm thinking… aren’t we just over lazy? Don’t want to push hard through difficulties? Personally, I like starting new things, keeping with the old ones is boring, but I usually stop before I get to the highest level. I don’t know if I excuse it by loosing my interest in the thing, or thinking it’s not meaningful and I need to find something meaningful. The problem is that I don’t like conflicts? Anyone here who is like that? And I think I had pretty good and loving childhood and. I didn’t have to do many chores. Which maybe cause my reluctance to doing something unpleasant. In this case I feel, even with writing which I really thought I want to do, that I don’t have enough drive in me to finish a project, to do the boring hard work that needs to be done, maybe even rewrite the whole book again if it needs to be done. I might simply give up and look for new interesting things so that’s what I am asking.
Are you multipotentialites the same? We have this drive to learn new things, but isn’t it just because we avoid hard unpleasant work in what we were learning before?
Thanks for your thoughts in advance. I am really curious to hear them.
The commonality is multipotentialites love to learn. It is the learning process that drives you.
Very cool. Very inspiring!
Glad you like it. So maybe multipotentialites have it all wrong and they are just too scared to push and devote some more time to thinking deeper, even when it gets a little boring (or at least not as much exciting).
I would not call the individual in the video a multipotentialite. Not in the least!!
For a true multipotentialite I don’t think it’s laziness at all. I have pushed through the difficulties and discomfort in the past and there have been many. Let me tell you part of my story.
I had a very successful career in a very competitive field. One where only a small percentage actually achieve success. I pushed and worked my tail off to be successful and thought I had finally found my thing. 6 years into it and the boredom started setting in. I changed things up and made myself stick it out. I stuck it out 3 more years before I acknowledged to myself that the boredom was not going away and instead was leading to burn out. I was doing myself and my clients a disservice by persevering. Everyone thought I was nuts when I announced I was quitting. I had a successful career and had no idea what I was going to do next. But I had never been more relieved than at that moment.
My point is that I did hang in there because I believed I should be doing what society expected… find one thing and stick to it. I believed I was lazy or lacked perseverance or that SOMETHING was wrong with me. But the fact is I’m just not wired that way. The concept that we are lazy is only continuing the harmful dialogue that something is wrong with us because we don’t fit into the mold with everyone else. It took until I was in my 40s to say screw that and have the courage to follow my own path regardless of all the naysayers.
I only recently discovered there was even a term or others like me. I thought I was an anomaly. There’s nothing wrong with us. We’re not lazy. We are just programmed different and once you truly embrace that, the pieces will fall into place as long as you’re not afraid to follow them.
I’m proud to say this is definitely me Marc ! Glad I’m not alone!
You are most definitely not alone.
Ruthann Panipinto says
Yep, finally see myself described! MY question is how do you BRAND (a word I despise as it sounds so commercial!) yourself when you are a “multipotentialite”? That’s been my struggle.
Even the title of my Linked In page is blaaahh.
Yes, you do have a brand. I had one multi-potentialite that I branded a “cause driven, people oriented geek” which we all know is an oxymoron.
BTW, most of us struggle branding ourselves. Let me know if you want some help.
How about a “logical creative”?
I need some help with branding myself pls..
Devorah Levine says
Thank you! I’ve just realized tonight, that this is exactly me. A multipotentialite. I’m always moving on to learning new things, and I am great at what I’ve already done. I would tell people- my talent is learning new skills. But at the same time I’ve been frustrated about my career, or really this winding road of a million different projects. It’s kind of meta reading all the comments. And amazing to have a place to feel like I belong and never feeling like I belong.
You definitely are not alone. There are a lot of us out there.
I have just figured this term and read the previous post about it and i said to my self ” this is like me writing this post 20 yeays from now”, someone finally understands me. I am currently in college and so confused what to major in. I am running out
of time. Basically, every general requirement classes I take, I enjoy it and get very interested but in the end i can only pick one major. I am not smart in school, i am very lazy. But that is because i am so confused on what to do so i have no passion for school. I need help choosing a major, i already took 388383838383847474 tests and i am not sure what it is right for me.
There may be no right answer and that is alright. Pick the one that draws you in the most.
You took the words right of me! You just described me. I have struggled with finding my passion for years and I have even been regarded as vision-less and direction-less. I was really searching for people with similar characteristics to see if I was normal as I was beginning to think maybe I need medical help for not having a passion in one thing. Thank you for sharing this and it feels comforting to know there are people out there who share the same character as me. I have been out of job for two years now and I was already changing career into teaching (considering I had worked in customer service, IT business application support, Finncial control, HR, Performance mngt, sales/marketing and more recently pro bono consulting for SMEs).. even at that, I seem to feel dissatisfied that I had no passion enough to go for one single thing (set up a conglomerate/entrepreneur or the other) and follow through and was already considering myself as having a defect. Sigh… I can honestly say that I am a multipotentialite.! Where do I go from here? One step at a time..
Also I can honestly say I have achieved a great deal of learning but by the general standards I haven’t amounted to much as I seem stuck in a place. I’m solutions oriented and always want to engage in development initiatives and problem solving yet I’m not so good at selling myself (I usually prefer my outcomes to prove my worth) and as such an often wrongly perceived .
Tanya Coller says
I have found my people.
My husband jokes that my hobby is trying new hobbies. I would often worry that my career is trying new careers. But similar to this article, I read a quote from a personality assessment recently that completely resonated with me and helped normalized my fears.
“If there’s a challenge Campaigners face when selecting a career, it isn’t that they lack talent or options or drive, it’s that there are so many things out there that are just cool.”
I was so brainwashed into thinking you had to find one specialty that I have stared into the face of homelessness many times. In fact, I am on the brink right now. Thank goodness I have finally got a category I fit in and know that others are like this too. I thought I was all alone and worried about how I was going to survive. This will help a lot. Peace of mind is a big deal when it comes to handling challenges and obstacles.
Sachet you are not the only one who was brainwashed. You are one of the 47,000 people who have read this post.