Finding purpose as a multipotentialite

Square Peg in a Round Hole
A square peg forced into a round hole.

It seems that a week cannot go by without the publishing of a new article on finding one’s purpose. A cursory Google search brought up 196 million hits dedicated to doing so. Quizzes, personality typing tools, pep talks and “how to” books all dedicated to helping people to figure out what they want when they grow up, regardless of age. It is clearly a lucrative game. But I wonder if it’s really helping or it’s just a lunchtime mood booster for miserable office workers to see guys like Tony Robbins share their success stories from their palatial estates telling us how successful we’ll be if we follow his plan of self-discovery. For a price, of course.

What about those of us who have taken the personality tests, read the books, listened to the “experts” and find it disheartening to discover that we don’t fit into any one box? A few of us have lots of different interests that have changed and developed over time. What about people perfectly happy in one job for a while who then decide to do something else, only to hear “You don’t have the experience!” or “Your CV has too many different things on it!” from recruiters. Some of us are good at more than one thing and find it frustrating when we cannot apply our skills in our working lives. It’s time for us to find our collective voice.

For this type of person, reading (and writing) articles on finding your purpose or doing quizzes to identity your passion are counter-productive because they promote what career coach Emilie Wapnick calls “a narrowly focused life.” This may be fine for those who knew from age 3 that they wanted to be a Doctor. But, many people are what Wapnick calls multipotentialites.  It’s a great word that describes a person with “many interests and creative pursuits.”

Rather than focus on the negative aspects of possessing such a personality i.e. having a fractured CV or dealing with the problems of changing fields, Wapnick ascribes us 3 Superpowers. These are:
1. Idea synthesis (bringing ideas from a broad range of fields of expertise together to create new and interesting concepts)
2. Rapid Learning (people who are polygamous in their interests are generally good researchers and keen to learn all they can about their new subject of interest)
3. Adaptability (the ability to become whatever an employer needs them to be. They can draw on their vast past experiences and broad range of knowledge.

It is a model that stresses breadth and depth, rather than simply the depth of finding one thing to do for the rest of your life and sticking with it. These are attributes encouraged in higher education, but rarely drawn upon in the professional world outside of academia.

I for one will be exploring my newfound multipotentialite attributes and eschewing any more of the “specialist” focused online quizzes and purpose-finding books and articles.

Emilie Wapnick’s Ted Talk on Multipotentialites can be found here: