When my daughter was in 4th grade, I asked her the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She responded, “an astronaut and a doctor.” Not “or,” but “and.” I told her she had to choose one of them; she looked at me sadly and said, “but you told me I can do anything I want.” That was 15 years ago, and I still remember that look on her face. She was right; I was wrong. Ironically, I just realized in writing this that maybe she has found a way to do this through a different path. She is in graduate school majoring in International Environmental Science and Sustainability, what I lovingly call “saving the planet.” Maybe it was that early desire to love the planets (the astronaut) and wanting to “save” them (a doctor).
When I was a kid, I rarely played “house,” I played “office.” I liked to have papers, drawers with supplies, a phone (one connected to the wall, not a cell), and mail (paper mail, that is; no email in the 70s). I think that was the beginning of my desire for business. Although I’ve been a CPA, operations manager, CFO, HR Director, and entrepreneur, they are all still in an “office,” a business. Some might argue that I have expanded as an author and a podcaster, but I know they still all relate to my love of the business world. So I’m fascinated with the concept of a multipotentialite, but I’m obviously not one.
What is a multipotentialite? Emilie Wapnick recently did a TED Talk on this topic. I highly recommend it.
Emilie talks about her wide range of interests in pursuing a career – even back to when she was a young child and people would ask her what she wanted to do when she grew up. It wasn’t that she didn’t know (which is the case with most people, in my opinion) she just had so many interests she didn’t know which one to choose. Emilie calls herself a “multipotentialite,” someone with many interests, creative pursuits, and/or jobs.
Ironically, the night I first watched this talk, I was talking to an acquaintance who had also watched it. She had immediately found relief in this “title” as she had found herself in this same situation. She had many interests, many different roles, had started several companies, and friends and family kept telling her to “get a real job and settle down.” She recently started a new business (and I suppose it won’t be her last) helping others discover their potential – even if there are numerous ones!
This theory makes me wonder if it’s one reason why employees are not engaged in their work, and therefore are unable to discover joy in their work. Are they trapped, or bored, or feel they have so many other skills and talents they could be sharing? I’m a business specialist; call me a nerd if you want, but I find joy in that role. I want the multipotentialites to find the joy in their role as well. Are you one? Embrace it. Are multipotentialites around us? Are we suggesting or forcing them into that “one” right role? Let’s consider how we can help them discover the joy in their work and quit assuming they will choose just one role when they grow up.