I learned a new word today. One that truly resonated with me
What is a a multipotentialite? In the words of Emile Wapnick, who coined the term:
Why am I fascinated with this word?
Because of the woman who “couldn’t” hire me for a project because she felt my energy and interests were too scattered (and then went on to hire someone close to me, telling that person I had turned her down–but that’s a whole other story).
Because of the conversation I had recently with a woman who read my post about “Embracing a Non-Traditional Career” who told me that a hiring manager friend of hers would “never hire her” because she, like me, “does a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.”
Because of the people who I have met throughout my life–the ones who seem to enjoy their lives the most by doing many different interesting things, rather than just that singular focused job that pays the bill and was supposed to define their careers.
Because of people like you and me, who thrive on learning, doing, creating, and exploring ideas in new an interesting ways.
I could basically quote more of Emilie Wapnick’s talk, so instead I will share it here so you can listen for yourself. Listen, learn, and hopefully begin to see the problems that come when people are fearful of working with multipotentiality–because it really does come down to other people trying to define one way of being and doing that doesn’t always work for individuals.
Endless possibilities, endless potential
Wapnick points out 3 superpowers of multipotentialites: synthesis, rapid learning, and adaptability. But I think that there are even more. I don’t just think this, I’ve lived it–I know it from my own experience. Here are a few other super powers we have:
Willingness to Explore
My first job out of college was an internship in a theatre–doing electrics (with a one show deal as a stage manater). Yes, I hung and focused lights, and ran shows. You see, I had fallen in love with lights during my college career and did my work study as an electrician. I designed lights for shows–actually the first student lighting designer of a mainstage production. While I was more interested in stage management and directing, those internships were already taken. I decided that I could learn and grow in any area, and so I dove into electric work.
I learned a lot that year, including that I didn’t want to do electrics forever. But the love of light taught me to see the world in multiple ways. In the future, it would guide how I directed shows, and how I designed my home. It also taught me practical electrical skills (which I can still use). That internship, in a strange and roundabout way, led me to take the leap and travel to Japan–all because I was willing to try something different from what I thought I wanted.
There are people so determined to do one specific job, they never discover their potential by doing something that pushes them. There is nothing wrong with specificity, it serves a purpose. However, I want you to know that there is also so much value in exploration and discovery. For me, that is part of living.
Detail Oriented, Focused, and Determined
One year, after I earned my MFA and before I (perhaps crazily) went back for a PhD, I worked for an Economics Institute. I spent most of my time gathering emails and weeding out bad addresses (this was before there were apps for collecting leads and emails). Not the most exciting work.
Sometimes I wrote or edited emails for the professor who headed this organization, because he barely knew how to turn on his computer let alone deal with email technology. I occasionally put an editorial eye to some of the articles that came in for the journal that this institute put out each year–slogging through economic concepts often presented in difficult to understand English. But this was rare, because my main job was to build our email list.
Did I love this job? No. But I did it with intention, focus, and commitment. I found ways to keep it fun–fascinated by the unique names people used for their emails, and the lists of economists from all over the world. I was committed to connecting with as many of them as possible, and determined to create a database that would be useful when I eventually moved on (not because of boredom but for another degree). I worked with the dogged determinism that comes with a commitment to doing your best work in everything you do.
That, I believe, is one of the skills of people who want to learn and grow all the time. In this sense, hiring someone with multiple interests and the determination to learn and grow means hiring someone who will get the job done in ways that you may not have even imagined. How can that be a bad thing?
Flexible and Improvisational
Wapnick defines adaptability as “the ability to morph into whatever you need to be.” Flexibility and the ability to improvise are related to this, but they are also so much more. To me, flexibility implies a willingness to compromise–something that is much needed in a world where people have become rooted in their belief systems and ways of thinking. I know, some think that compromise is weakness. I see it as a way to bring people together to new understandings.
The ability to improvise is the ability to change your approach and techniques once you understand a situation more clearly. It’s about finding solutions at the moment a problem arises–when the tech doesn’t work quite the way you had planned, when people are determined to argue rather than listen, when more (or fewer) people show up than you had expected, when any unexpected situation occurs.
A few days ago, my partner in Spark Collaborative, and I led a workshop for the Community Development Society conference entitled “The Revolutionary Potential of Play in Community Development.” (I’m including a video of the slide show for anyone interested).
During our discussion as to why play and improvisation is such a powerful tool, I came to a realization about myself. You see, Jessica only started studying improvisation a few years ago, through the world of performance improv. While I have done performance improv, I don’t enjoy it, and I don’t think of myself in that way. And yet, I improvise in everything that I do. Of course I plan, I organize, I coordinate . . . but I also have learned when it is time to adapt or improvise around those plans in order to achieve something even greater. I bring with me the knowledge and experiences that I have gathered throughout my career, and use them to improvise approaches whenever necessary.
That, my friends, is a skill I have developed because of my multipontentiality. It is a skill that serves me well in any job, project, situation, or challenge.
So I embrace this new word and this new understanding of the multiplicity of tools in personal, creative, productive tool box. I’m excited to know that I am not alone, and that there are other people out their who see the potential in having a multitude of interests, goals, and ideas.
Are you one of them? I’d love to meet you.