I don’t have a “thing”.
I’m surrounded by people who have a “thing”. That “thing” that really sums up who they are, what they’re passionate about, what gets them out of bed in the morning.
And I don’t have one.
When I was in primary school, I wanted to be a singer and a farmer and a nurse and an actress and a teacher… and so on.
And I don’t mean one after the other.
I wanted to be them all at the same time.
As time went on, it was drilled into me (particularly by the education system) that I needed to narrow down my options. First with GCSE options, then A levels, then university. I consistently chose the broadest, least specialised options, because I was terrified of making the “wrong” decision and accidentally cutting myself off from a path I may want to take at a later date. But try as I might, the system as it stood and societal pressure to “pick a lane”, I ended up narrowing my focus further and further.
Over the next few years, I had a few jobs, all of which came under the umbrella of education: school library manager, early years teaching assistant, college progress coach. It was still somewhat varied, but I had convinced myself that my “thing” was education.
But I was so miserable.
The truth is, whatever job I had, it didn’t represent or satisfy the different “things” that I was passionate about. Sure, I enjoyed parts of each job, but as I focused on each one (librarian – my love of books, teaching assistant – my love of supporting learning, learner mentor – my love of providing emotional support) I felt pressured to throw myself entirely into that “thing” and I was so overworked that I had no time or energy to explore the other “things” as hobbies or side-ventures.
I was limiting myself.
My life didn’t represent all the things that I wanted it to, that made me feel like me. I felt like life was passing me by and I was missing out on so much.
I’m now 30 years old and I still haven’t found my “thing”.
I feel like a failure; I’m so far behind everyone else who knew from age 10 that they wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, an artist, a mechanic, and they ploughed straight through education and just… did it. They do their “thing” and they’re happy.
Is this why I’m unhappy; because I haven’t chosen a “thing”? Fuck, why can’t I just choose a thing??
Well settle down, anxious old brain of mine – there’s actually an answer to this.
I’m a multipotentialite.
“A what?” I hear you ask.
Well, it all started when I stumbled across Emilie Wapnick’s book, “How to be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up”*.
I was instantly drawn to this book because the subtitle just screamed “me”. I would say that the majority of personal growth/life choices/career advice books tend to take the “narrowing down” approach. What I mean by this is that most of them do look at your range of skills and interests, but ultimately seek to help you whittle it down until you ultimately select one career/path.
This book was different.
Instead of encouraging the reader to narrow their focus, Wapnick actually validates (and pretty much raves about the joy of) multipotentiality.
So what is multipotentiality?
According to its Wikipedia page (which I believe sums it up quite well), multipotentiality is:
an educational and psychological term referring to the ability and preference of a person, particularly one of strong intellectual or artistic curiosity, to excel in two or more different fields.
So, as I mentioned previously, we as a society tend to believe that it is preferable to specialise in one subject and stick with it – and for many people, this approach is what brings them the most happiness. Multipotentialites, however, find more joy and satisfaction in pursuing two or more paths, either simultaneously or sequentially, in periods of a couple of years or so.
Wapnick goes into detail about the four different multipotentialite approaches, and I won’t elaborate much more (read/listen to the book!) but basically reading this book has helped me to give myself permission not to desperately seek specialisation. Rather, I feel able to pursue various paths that make me happy, even if they seem (or even if they are) completely unrelated or mismatched.
My dream careers and life choices have changed somewhat since I wanted to be a singing farmer who teaches nursing on stage (or whatever I was planning at age seven), but How to be Everything* has given me the confidence to try on a few different hats and see what happens.
Are you a multipotentialite or do you know someone who is? Have you read How to be Everything? Tell me about your experience in the comments.
Please note: Links marked with a * are affiliate links. This means if you click the link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission from the seller at no extra cost to you. For my full disclosure, click here.