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What the heck is a multipotentialite and how do I know if I am one?

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLAUDIA FISCHER

WORDS BY SHEENA MCGORLICK

Scrap the ‘one’ true calling for multiple true callings.

From a young age, we are faced with the hard-hitting question: What do you want to be when youre older?”. Some of the common answers are A doctor!”, An actor!” or An astronaut!”. As adults posing this question to young children, we’re left with a heart-warming feeling upon hearing their answers.

They are so full of hope, ambition and curiosity with their whole goddamn future ahead of them. But it’s rare that you’ll receive this type of answer from a child: Well, Id like to be a musician, but also run a baking business while working as a website coder.”


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In a world that rewards conformity, we’re conditioned to believe there is one linear path for us. The subjects we choose in school are to be carefully selected to ladder up to a potential university degree that will hurtle us towards the career we have always wanted. Or, at least, think we want. If we dare to veer off course, we’re considered unambitious, reactive or directionless.

I didnt even entertain the thought of quitting my journalism degree to study fashion design or the possibility of quitting my six-year-secure advertising gig to start my own pottery business (while handcrafting jewellery for Etsy on the side). I was on the one-track career train.

While it’s very common to have a side hustle’ alongside our day job, and while it seems every second person now calls themself a slashie, what isnt as common is changing careers every few years. Similarly, it’s rare to find someone who holds two jobs simultaneously, in entirely different industries, because they hold multiple passions and dont want to stick to just one career. The term used to describe those who havent stuck to one linear path isnt job hopperor indecisive.  It is, in fact, ‘multipotentialite’.

A woman named Emilie Wapnick first coined the term in 2010. She’s the author of How to be Everything and the founder and director of puttylike.com, both resources used to support people of all ages and backgrounds who have multiple passions and dont want to be just one thing. Through these channels, Emilie reassures us that having multiple ambitions, projects and curiosities does not make us flaky. Rather, these qualities can be our biggest strengths.

In Emilies popular TED talk, ‘Why Some of Us Dont Have One True Calling‘, she shares an anecdote of her experience after finishing high school. Emilie began to notice a pattern whereby she’d develop an interest in an area, dive right in, then ultimately become consumed by this interest.

She’d go on to find herself particularly good at whatever ‘it’ was, before hitting a point of boredom. Nevertheless, she’d push herself to persist, as she had already spent so much time and money in the field. But in the end, she would give up. She’d then find another interest in a completely different field and the same pattern would repeat, over and over.

Like many of us from an early age, Emilie was conditioned to believe she needed to pick one pathway and stick with it. The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticised in our culture,” Emilie explains in her talk. Its the idea of destiny or the ‘one true calling’, the idea that we each have One Great Thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth.”

It’s this very notion that Emilie fought against to be where she is today – a successful multipotentialite, teaching others how to embrace their diverging interests and passions. 

From theory to practice

A self-confessed mulitpotentialite, Fin Macdonald would once dread being asked: “So, what do you do with yourself?”. She felt inadequate and flaky and would be envious of those who ‘stuck it out’ in an industry, climbing the ladder and becoming knowledgeable or skilled in a particular area.

Simultaneously, she’d try to imagine that kind of life for herself, but it never quite fit. I couldnt possibly imagine it – what that life even looked like. How could I not get bored and constantly wonder what if?”, she tells me.

Now based in Melbourne, Fin’s knowledge and experience are varied. She has worked in event management, studied (and dropped out of) a nutritional medicine degree, and has a strong administrative background from years of professional experience in the insurance sector. She recently changed tack once again, working on a philanthropic project that brings communities together through dinner parties.

These dinners act as fundraisers for small, local charities who don’t necessarily have the funds, expertise or labour to host a dinner. I put this together with a decent framework and contingency plans should anything go wrong. It was combining my passion for food, being inclusive as possible, and bringing people together,” she explains.

After telling a friend about the passion project, she was met with exclamations of her talent and brilliance. Fin dismissed the comments immediately. Im average at a bunch of things but not an expert in any. I just get bored easily,” she replied. Her friend then explained the concept of a multipotentialite and recommended Emilie’s book, which Fin says totally changed her perspective. “I felt relieved, validated, proud and excited that Im not alone, but I can also begin to understand myself.

All of my passions, combined into my career path, should not be seen as a side hustle. It should be taken as seriously as anyone elses, not fobbed off flippantly as another flaky creative,” she says. We need to, as a society, reprogram our view on what makes someone successful. Success, to me, is not climbing the corporate ladder and this should not be expected of anyone.”

As the current state of Melbourne’s job market is relatively bleak, Fins most recent plan is multifaceted. She hopes to build her illustration business as her primary source of income, continue to collaboratively organise fundraiser dinners as her passion project, and maybe study horticulture in the next few years, so she can contribute to looking after the precious land we reside on. To be honest, though, ask me in seven months’ time and this plan could look very different,” she tells me.

Overcoming 2020

Given the year that 2020 gave us, it’s safe to say it certainly unveiled the multipotentialite in many of us. Many people lost their jobs but went on to discover that this was a blessing in disguise which led them down an entirely different path that ultimately provided much more fulfilment.

There are those of us who finally had the downtime to pause and reflect on what our passion actually is and what drives us to jump out of bed in the morning. For everyone who has been called a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” or a “zig-zagger”, there is no better time than now, in 2021, to turn around and proudly reply “The term is actually multipotentialite, Karen.”

To find out if you’re a multipotentialite, head here.

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