For a long time I felt like something was wrong with me.
I’ve heard so many people talk about the importance of specializing.
People in the self-help space espoused the benefits of finding your passion and putting everything you have into becoming great at doing that one thing.
Meanwhile more traditionally-minded folks stuck with rhetoric about how companies don’t want to hire a person who is a jack-of-all-trades. Rather, they want to build their companies around employees who are the best in the world at their particular jobs.
So, specialize. Focus on getting great at doing one thing, either because it’s your passion or because it’s what the markets want.
Both perspectives yielding this particular piece of advice made sense to me.
I have such a hard time living my life that way.
I always have.
Until recently, I had spent about the previous nine years trying to find that one thing that could come to define my work life.
I wanted that definition and certainty more than anything.
Who am I? When people ask me what I do, what do I tell them?
That search for answers — and those questions, coming up again and again — wore me down.
At age 32, I’ve had more “careers” — or at least, titles — some longer-lived than others, than most people have in a lifetime.
Hats I’ve worn over the years
- Software engineer
- Life coach
- Website designer & developer
- Basketball scout
- Basketball consultant
- Online marketing specialist
- Planning commissioner
- Graphic designer
- Cat sitter
- …and there are probably a few I’m leaving out.
While I often enjoyed the variety it brought, I fell into the habit of beating myself up for not being able to pick one thing like I was supposed to.
After all, it’s making that choice that puts you on the road to success, right? Otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels.
Furthermore, I kept feeling like this inability to choose was holding me back from doing work I could take pride in all the time.
Even worse, I thought it meant I was broken as a person.
I feel grateful and relieved to report that I recently read a book that finally changed that paradigm for me.
How to Be Everything
I came across Emilie Wapnick’s book How to Be Everything just a month ago after hearing someone talk about it on a podcast.
I devoured the book, taking pages and pages of notes immediately after receiving it.
Emilie told me that I am a multipotentialite, which she defines as someone with many interests and creative pursuits.
But more importantly, she went on to write about a few key things that shifted everything for me:
- I’m not alone.
- Being a multipotentialite does not mean that I am broken.
- As a multipotentialite, I can live a life — a work life! — that feels successful and fulfilling.
See, multipotentialites need variety (although the exact nature of variety depends on the person).
For me, I can see now that I’m just not wired to have one pursuit. Trying to put myself in that box makes me feel stuck, trapped, and like I’m running through mud.
But as she points out — and as I described above finding out the hard way — society doesn’t orient itself around building structures for helping multipotentialites. It’s not how schools or companies work.
Fortunately she shares numerous strategies in the book for how to build a great work life as a multipotentialite.
The one that resonated most with me is what she calls the slash approach (AKA the portfolio career), which entails having multiple part-time businesses that you split your time between.
I had kind of been doing that already, with one major caveat — I was doing it begrudgingly and resenting myself for doing it. That sentiment understandably held me back from doing my best work. Instead of enjoying the variety, I beat myself up for it — and even conducted self-sabotage to try to fit myself back into the one-career-fits-all box.
Now I finally feel like I can embrace the variety.
It changes everything.
What it means for me
I’m heading into the beginning of my four-year term as a City Councilor, which starts in ten days. I feel excited and invigorated.
In the meantime, I’m working with a new coach and mentor to help me grow my freelance website development business into something that feels better to me while supporting the other things I want to do.
I’m embracing learning new tools and technologies that excite me.
I’m pouring creative energy into HoopsThink again.
I feel good.
I feel energetic.
Finally, I feel glad to be myself, a multipotentialite.
It’s who I am.