When parents encourage their kids to specialize, it usually comes from a place of love. They want their children to be self-sufficient, and specialization seems like a safe path to a well-paying job. Older generations don’t always understand how different the economy is now and how important it has become to be adaptable and well versed.
In terms of career advice, reading The Start-up of You is the best thing I’ve come across since 2014 and I still refer to it up till today. I watched Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk last year and I was in awe, it felt like the last missing piece of advice had been found, finally someone had given me permission to try out different things, someone had told me it’s okay to not want to be just one thing. I’d be sharing key points from the book, my book reviews are usually me just copying and pasting stuff I like, so most of the words in this write up are Emilie Wapnick’s own — I tried to depict this by using italics.
Who the book is for
This book is for the people who don’t want to pick a single focus and abandon all their other interests. It’s for the curious, for those who find delight in learning new things, creating and morphing between identities.
A specialized life is portrayed as the only path to success, and it’s highly romanticized in our culture. We’ve all heard of the doctor who always knew she wanted to be a doctor, or the writer who wrote his first novel at the age of ten.
If person A puts ten thousand hours into learning a single trade, and person B spends twenty-five hundred hours learning four different trades, then person B is bound to be less “skilled” (i.e., more mediocre) in any given field, right? This argument is based on the idea that skill is the only quality that matters. I want to make the argument that creativity, ingenuity, and passion are equally important. Does someone with decades of musical training necessarily write more beautiful (or even more profitable) songs than a musician who has been playing for just a few years? Is a seasoned high school teacher more effective than a teacher who is just a few years into their career but is brimming with enthusiasm and passion for their work? The answer in both of these cases is no—or rather, not necessarily. Expertise matters, but it isn’t the sole factor in gauging our future success, career happiness, or social contributions.
Not Being “The Best” Isn’t the Same as Being Mediocre.
How to deal with your multiple Interests
The Group Hug approach
The Group Hug Approach is having one multifaceted job or business that allows you to wear many hats and shift between several domains at work.
The Slash Approach
The Slash Approach is having two or more part-time jobs and/or businesses that you flit between on a regular basis.
The Einstein Approach
The Einstein Approach is having one full-time job or business that fully supports you, while leaving you with enough time and energy to pursue your other passions on the side.
Fun Fact: Albert Einstein worked at the Swiss government patent office for many years while he used his spare time to work on his theories and inventions.
The Phoenix Approach
The Phoenix Approach is working in a single industry for several months or years and then shifting gears and starting a new career in a new industry.
Which Method should I use?
Emilie says “I wouldn’t dare tell my multipotentialite readers to choose one thing! Mix and match the four approaches as you please. Switch models every few years. Be a hybrid. It’s all good”
How does a person focus on several things and make progress on all of them?
First, remember that productivity is all about taking action that moves us toward our goals.
For multipotentialites, productivity is about more than just getting things done. We need to make sure that we’re working on the right things, that our schedule is conducive to getting things done, and that we understand when it is time to abandon a project and move on to the next.
Everyone has certain times of the day when their mind is at its sharpest and they have the greatest amount of creative energy. We should work on our most important projects during these optimal times.
If our schedule doesn’t allow us to work at optimal times (or provide us with much time at all), then when should we work on our priority projects? The answer is: whenever we can.
Knowing when to quit
When you lose interest in something, you must always consider the possibility that you’ve gotten what you came for; you have completed your mission. [ . . . ] That’s why you lose interest: not because you’re flawed or lazy or unable to focus, but because you’re finished.
Multipotentialites don’t quit when something becomes too hard; we quit because something has become too easy.
Handling Guilt and shame
It surely doesn’t always feel great changing jobs or domains but as a multipotentialite shifts in direction make complete sense. You know you are a multipotentialite so don’t approach a new interest with a ‘this is it!’ mentality. It is more constructive to say to yourself that you’re going to ‘try something on’ for a while and see where it takes you.
And if you ever wonder whether you’re truly making the right decision and whether your new interest would be worth the move, know that
There’s more excitement to come, you’ll acquire new skills, your life will be more interesting for it and you’ll meet all kinds of amazing people because you didn’t let yourself remain stuck in a field you’ve outgrown.
Changes don’t have to shatter your sense of identity. You are not your medium, you are not your job.
The Discomfort of being a beginner again and again
Starting something new is uncomfortable agreed but you must know that being bad at something is a necessary part of the process of becoming good (and then great) at it. Also keeping track of your small wins and celebrating it helps gives a true feeling of progress and you work for shorter increments, more frequently to help the information sink into your brain and muscle memory faster.
The Fear of not being the best
Even if you dedicate your life to one discipline, you will likely never reach number one. There will always be someone more skilled and someone less skilled than you- that’s just life.
Being effective matters more than being the best
Are clients happy with your work? Is your boss delighted?
Also, sometimes it’s a matter of how you present yourself, how you are perceived. Stress your transferable skills, how your multiple skill sets make you better. Make those connections explicit and frame your value as it relates to the needs of the person you’re trying to impress.
If you present yourself with confidence and link your skills to concrete results, the right people will want to work with you.
Yes, that feeling that you’re a fraud, that you shouldn’t be here, that one day everyone will wake up and realize it.
Everyone feels that way sometimes, you’re most likely preoccupied with what others might be thinking or saying, get back to work. You aren’t trying to deceive anyone. you’re just trying to do good work, and the effort to create something new *sometimes* always inspires uncertainty.
How to answer the Dreaded, “So, what do you do?”
First consider where you are and who’s asking the question, this helps you decide how comfortable you feel, then go ahead…
If you’re up for getting into a deeper conversation, you can reply with “I do many things” or I’ve got a bunch of different projects on the go right now” or even “I’m a multipotentialite”
Is there a broader term or category that encompasses much of what you do? use an umbrella title like I’m an artist or an educator
Talk about the people you help and what you accomplish through your work. E.g. I help people stay healthy
Take a risk. Show the world how awesome you are and help lessen the stigma around doing many things. You’ll feel better and you’ll make it easier for other multipotentialite to be who they are.
If you are or know someone with multiple interests please tell them
The truth is that you aren’t lacking a destiny or purpose. There is a very good reason for your insatiable curiosity: you’re someone who’s going to shake things up, create something novel, solve complex, multidimensional problems, make people’s lives better in your own unique way. Whatever your destinies are, you can’t step into them while stifling your multipotentiality.
My Current Interests: Accounting/Finance [9–5] + Computer Programming [ Started with a bit of Web dev last year now I’m content using just WordPress, Currently on a year long journey learning Python and Machine Learning — I hope I’d be back to talk about what I’ve been able to do with it] + Writing [ I do @ least 2 posts a month here and contribute to a couple of other places]
You should read my friend’s post on being a Nigerian multipotentialite, I enjoyed reading it and I decided to do this book review after reading her article.
Side note: * Whispers * She said she stumbled on Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk in her post but I remember that I recommended the TED talk to her — No Credit 😏🙄
I also enjoyed reading Tim Urban’s piece on picking a career, it’s quite lengthy but you should give it a shot even if takes you a couple of days to finish it like it took me.
When you think of your career as a tunnel, you lose the courage to make a career switch, even when your soul is begging for it. It makes switching careers feel incredibly risky and embarrassing, and it suggests that someone who does so is a failure. It also makes all kinds of multi-faceted, vibrant, mid-career people feel like they’re too old to make a bold switch or start a whole new path afresh.