in summaries

Are you the kind of person who has multiple passions and interests in life? Do you like so many things that you simply cannot choose one to go deep and then you suffer to find your place in the world? The author Emilie Wapnick has been through this frustration until she understood that the problem was not hers, but instead in the world which does not recognize the value of multipotentiality! In how to be everything, you will learn what multipotentiality is, to identify the main challenges that every multipotentialite faces and how to create a successful career embracing all of your current interests and the ones yet to come!

How to be Everything: A guide for those who (still) don’t know what they want to be when they grow up

Emilie Wapnick’s background

The professional background of the Canadian author looks like a “zig-zag”. She majored in Law and have worn several hats: guitar player, web designer, videographer, blogger, entrepreneur, and writer. In theory, she could have deepened in any of these verticals but in practice, she was not able to do so. Despite not having specialized nor worked full time in any of these professions, she does not even regret her way up here and in the next lines, you will understand why.

Having only one calling is a myth

Since we live in a society in which the notion of work and career is predominantly influenced by the industrial model, which has specialization as a great premise, we learn from an early age to believe that we should be only one thing in life.

It all starts at childhood when adults ask us the classical question: what do you want to be when you grow up? This apparently innocent question added to the influences from family, school, university and other institutions lead us to believe in the romantic concept of the solo calling. In other words, that very idea that each one of us has been assigned with only one thing to do as a profession in this life.

To further prove this point the author brings up that almost every language has a version to the popular saying “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”, which tends to depreciate people who do not specialize in something. The same happens in Portuguese with the expression “quem faz muita coisa, não faz nenhuma bem”, in Spanish “quien mucho abarca poco aprieta” and so on.

Well, and what happens if we do not fit in the expert ideal?

Let’s say you are curious about some subjects and would like to do several different things in your life that do not relate to any existing profession. Let’s say you cannot or do not want to have only one career and come to the conclusion this one call many have does not exist to you. Does this mean your life lack purpose?

According to the author, it does not…

Indeed, your life does have a purpose. Your curiosity can lead you to a great source of creativity to solve complex problems and improve the lives of people in a unique way. From now on, you must accept this very nature that seeks for variety and turn it into what makes you special.

There are several synonyms that describe the quest for variety

These are the most common terms used to describe the constant search for variety in knowledge and abilities:

  • Multipotentialite: someone who has several interests
  • “Apprenticer”: someone who lives the apprenticism, meaning, a lifestyle focused on the ongoing development of new skills. This term was coined by mathias luz (myself 🙂 )
  • Polymath: someone who has learned a lot about different subjects
  • Renaissance soul: a person that is interested and knows a lot about several things
  • Jack-of-all-trades: a person who can do a good enough job in several domains
  • Generalist: someone whose abilities, interests and habits are varied and not specialized
  • Scanner: someone with an immense curiosity about several subjects unrelated to each other. Term created by Barbara Sher in her book Refuse to Choose!
  • Puttylike: a person capable of assuming different identities and easily executing several tasks

Although alike, each of these synonyms holds its own nuance.

Mutipotentialite/Scanner highlights the curiosity, while learner/polymath/renaissance soul focuses on accumulated abilities, having Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin as major benchmarks. Jack-of-all-trades, on the other hand, focus on abilities instead of knowledge, while generalist suggests little depth, but a great width of knowledge.

Be proud of being a multipotentialite

 Emilie defends that we must be proud of our multipotentiality and gives us good reasons to do so.

First, people mistake the concept of “not being the best in the world” for “being mediocre”, which does not make any sense. There is a great gap between being the best at something and being “so-so”. Taking soccer as an example, is one necessarily supposed to be Neymar to have a successful career as a soccer player?

Another reason she gives is that multipotentialites can be specialists in some skills without being aware of it. Even though many of their interests have a short life, we can clearly highlight 5 ways in which they stand out:

1. Synthesis of ideas

Multipotentialites are great synthesizers, because they take concepts apparently unrelated and come up with something new out of this mess. Frequently, it is people from outside – and not the experts – who bring solutions to problems that appear to be unsolvable. There are several examples in history proving it.

Aristotle has been a doctor before becoming a philosopher. Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod and bifocal lens before he became a politician and had several other roles. Leonardo da Vinci, the most known polymath of all times, was an artist, engineer, botanic, mathematician, etc… (the list seems endless).

2. Fast learning

Absorbing new knowledge and turning them into abilities is the multipotentialite’ thing! The reason for that is that they are often in beginner’s level at something. So, they get used to the frustration and to the weird feeling that arises in the process of starting something from scratch. Also, when they come in and out of an area, they gain more tools and confidence to learn new things. This confidence accelerates learning because multipotentialites are more open to coming out of their comfort zone and going to the stretch zone, in which learning really happens.

3. Adaptability

By nature, multipotentialites can act differently in different contexts. Because they rely on a ‘toolbox’ with more experiences and abilities in varied situations than most individuals, they develop the ability of adaptation and resilience in constantly-changing environments.

4. Holistic thinking

For the same previous reason, multipotentialites see much better how distinct ideas connect to form the world. It bestows them a unique ability to establish new relations, study problems and conjugate solutions in a way that only holistic thinking allows for.

5. Empathy

Once multipotentialites have the natural tendency for connection, including human connection, this expands the understanding they hold on human nature. This curiosity generates a disposition above average for listening, which is one of the fundamental pillars of empathy. Because of that, “multis” can feel or put themselves in other people’s shoes more easily.

There is no preset career for multipotentialites, instead 3 common elements

The reality brought by the author is that there is no single career for all multipotentialites. Although they share an insatiable curiosity on several topics, each one of them has his/her own interests, values and priorities.

However, this is not at all an excuse for not having professional accomplishment. In fact, many “infinite variety gene” people live as architects, project managers, and entrepreneurs. For others, those professions would never work out.

In order to get a clearer picture on this question, the author interviewed hundreds of “multis” personal and financially fulfilled. The main finding in this process was that all of them have 3 common elements in their careers: money, purpose, and variety.

 Money

To “multis”, money is understood as a mean to the making of their projects. And how much money does it take? There is no right amount because this is something very personal. What really matters is to be aware of what are our needs, goals, values, and circumstances. This process requires a lot of experimentation for reaching an optimal point that sustains our multipotentiality. In the meantime, make sure you have at least the minimum to cover basic needs.

Purpose

Those who are thirsty for variety need a purpose to have a happy life. There are no rules on how one’s purpose should be like because each one has his own truth. Identifying the activities that give us the sense of purpose also takes experimentation. Even though the truth only comes from testing, in the meantime you can ask yourself two questions proposed by the author:

  • Which activities in the past have brought you more fulfillment?
  • Which elements in these activities have made you feel more alive?

There is no problem if you do something just for fun or money or any other reason that is not popularly taken as “noble”. What matters is finding the thread of motivation that primes us to action. The path itself will teach us the rest along the way.

Variety

Professional vocational guidance usually does not recognize the need for variety, which is a prerequisite for multis. In practice, variety means having enough flexibility to pivot between abilities and projects with a frequency that makes sense to each one. The greater the interdisciplinarity of your area or project, the shorter the thirst for variety. As well as the two previous elements, testing is still the watchword.

In your experiments, your attention must be on the following question: as you take in and off activities from your schedule, what are the stress level and project speed that are sustainable for you?

Remind yourself that you do not need to get stressed out or bored for lacking different activities to do. Is your ideal 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ou 10 projects at a time?

Find your multipotentiality work model

According to Emilie, each multipotentialite lies somewhere within the simultaneity-sequentiality spectrum. Depending on the quantity and the way you prefer to lead your projects, you can start off with the work models below, test them out and build your own model. Most multipotentialites use some of the next 4 models or some combination of them.

“Group Hug” Model

To follow this model means having a job or business that allows you to wear different hats and navigate through different domains. In terms of a job, we are talking about a position like project manager or any other that is generic enough to allow for variations in exercise. If it is a business context, an entrepreneur or a professional freelancer is also capable of printing the same plurality in their routines.

Additionally, multis that identify more with Group Hug have the following preferences:

  • They like to lead multidisciplinary projects in which they can apply diverse abilities
  • They want their work to fully (or almost fully) reflect their identity
  • They feel a lot of anxiety when they do not see connection between the activities they execute
  • They prefer to have synchronicity between the subject they are focusing at the moment and its contribution to the whole

Slash Model

As the title suggests, this model embraces two or more part-time jobs or business between which one navigates regularly.

Let’s say you want to learn to paint houses, to cook and to teach.

In the morning you can do freelance jobs as a painter, in the afternoon you can cook at a restaurant, and in the evening you can give English lessons.

Usually, these multipotentialites go through the following stages until they have a good definition of their lifestyles:

1. They transition from full-time to part-time doing the same job as before.

2. They accept other part-time opportunities that become slash #1, slash #2, slash #3 and iterate until getting a sustainable amount of slashes in terms of purpose, money, and variety.

To ease your relating with this model, here are the characteristics of a slash approach ‘multi’:

  • They like to alternate between areas frequently
  • They enjoy working in specialized areas or niche markets, but without the compromise of becoming specialists
  • They do not care if their passions unite logically to represent their identity
  • They value more freedom and flexibility than stability
  • Artists usually love this model

Regardless of which model is your favorite, the slash approach is also useful during periods of transition between areas. This is because it gives the flexibility needed to have an income with the previous ability while the new one is being harnessed.

Einstein Model

Did you know that the German physicist Albert Einstein served as a public worker for the Swiss government? Yes, he was well paid to evaluate patent applications during the day and left work in the afternoon with enough energy to follow his intellectual pursuit afterwards.

This is exactly the logic of the model affectionately named after the genius of relativity: having a job or business that fully sustains you and still gives time and energy to play with your passions.

Einsteinian multis usually:

  • Prefer stability over flexibility
  • Want the paid job to be interesting, but not the most important part of life
  • Find meaning and joy in feeding passions as hobbies

Phoenix Model

How about working in one industry for several months or years and later move to a new industry? This is exactly what phoenix multipotentialites do. Upon every closed cycle. they rebirth from the ashes of the previous area and advance to the next one, fulfilling their need for variety in a sequential way. Usually, they are mistaken as specialists and show the following characteristics:

  • They are obsessed with one subject for a long period of time
  • They go deep into specific areas and in details, if needed, to accomplish something
  • They do not need variety happening simultaneously to have a happy day.

A good example of the phoenix style is the author Tim Ferriss, the author of the book 4-hour workweek.

Put your multipotentiality in practice

The writer’s opinion is that being a multipotentialite is wonderful and embracing different passions even better. At the same time, having been blessed with this psychological trait comes with some challenges that must be faced if we want to put our multipotentiality in practice and release all of our potential. Generally, multis tend to have difficulties in the following topics: routine scheduling, decision making, and attitude.

Routine scheduling

Prioritize your projects according to the hours of the day when you have the best mood and energy to execute them. If your work model does not allow you to organize yourself in that way, work whenever you can. This may mean waking up earlier, sleeping later, using a part of your lunchtime or weekends to do so.

Another way of working in your projects is through immersion. The common examples are language courses done at the country concerned and bootcamps on the most varied subjects. The advantage of immersion is the high level of focus and energy that are essential to execute a meaningful progress at once.

In terms of specific scheduling, here are two suggestions:

If you are more simultaneous, try having your schedule structured with times for each activity to facilitate coming out of one task and getting into another.

On the other hand, if your nature is more sequential, you may prefer to have less structure, since you probably have only one priority of work to manage.

Decision Making

Multipotentialites do not necessarily leave when things get hard. Most of the times, we abandon some project when it starts to get easy. When the challenge goes away, we lose interest and want to explore something new.

Above all, the “multipotentialites leave when they get what they came for“, also known as “personal endpoint“.

This logic may seem strange to many because most of us are guided by an external goal. Be it winning a prize, a competition or achieving a job position or status, people usually recognize the end of a cycle when they reach these attainments.

In spite of that, if what is important for a multipotentialite is joining a certain company to learn a certain skill and then leave it instead of building a career, it’s ok. Provided that you have attained your personal endpoint. It does not matter what other people think. The metric is totally internal.

Another very important point for multis is to not mistake internal resistance for lack of motivation. It is easy to mistake them because they generate similar sensations such as procrastination, anxiety, and boredom.

For evolutionary reasons, they happen in any growth process. Procrastination, anxiety, fear, and pain are just our primitive brain, more known as the limbic system, caring for our stay in the current state, meaning, our survival. If you feel physical sensations in your body such as a pain in the chest or any kind of suffocation, it is probably internal resistance speaking out loud.

Although lack of motivation may appear mixed with similar emotions, boredom is the one which stands out the most. The physical sensations may happen in a softer way, but in this case, it is more a mental play than emotional.

Having clarity over these two phenomena can avoid several mistaken decisions regarding when to start, abandon or finish a project.

Nonetheless, do not freak out if you have not developed this clarity yet. Over time and a lot of self-observation, you will understand your own signs in a way that you can clear off unnecessary self-sabotage.

Attitude

It is not enough to have a good organization and making good decisions. Since we understand that internal resistance and procrastination are part of the process, it is very important to follow a few rituals that put down the barriers so we have more attitude. As obvious as it may seem, without attitude nothing happens.

Below are a few tools that we can use separately or combined as part of pre-work rituals:

Meditation

Meditation is an ancient technique that is very mainstream in nowadays. Its benefits to health and well-being are already widely accepted. To the same extent, it helps to reduce internal barriers and increase our attitude.

If you have never meditated, there are several ways to start. Sit down for 5 minutes and observe carefully any physical phenomenon in your body. It can be your breath or any part of it. When a thought comes, accept it and simply come back to focusing on your physical being. To facilitate the process, you can use a recording or an app for guided meditation such as Calm.

Exercising

It is nothing new that exercising increases our blood flow and the oxygen to the brain, which also helps in concentration and attitude. Leave the mental and go on to the physical. It does not matter the intensity walk, run, swim, workout, cyclel, do yoga or anything that works out for you. Your multipotentiality will thank you!

Journaling

Keeping a diary as a ritual generates several benefits and, as well as meditation, it is also quite in vogue lately. One of its advantages is the possibility of writing down the things for which we are grateful, what also diminishes internal resistances. Be it something you consider small or big, list it down and feel genuine gratitude for it. In this way, a positive state of spirit will follow naturally.

Another possibility is to fit in an intention ritual for your day. Write down that which would make your day. This is the moment in which you look at your most important tasks and drive your mental energy to their execution. How about testing and seeing how it helps towards your attitude?

Working environment

In this question, there are no rules because it is something quite personal. The main premise is to display your working environment in a way that gives you peace and facilitate your creation process. It can be having your desk tide up, having your favorite working tools at hand or having the environment as a whole in a cozy manner.

Timer

Unfortunately, this tool does not get the attention it deserves among so many productivity tools available. A simple timer can be of immense help to elevate our attitude before the tasks by the fact that it pulls a trigger of scarcity in our minds.

Be it utilizing the pomodoro technique, which recommends 4 sets of 25 minutes of total immersion with 5 minutes breaks, or any other time frame, the message remains: try a timer!

Having a supportive partner or group

As social beings, sharing life with other people is the source of happiness to the human being. And it is no different in relation to sharing our goals. Having a supportive community around us with whom we can share our struggles gives us the strength to keep going in spite of the difficulties that will inevitably come. Have at least a partner with whom you can exchange ideas and have more attitude!

As a final message, the author leaves us with the following citation: “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Conclusion

It is fine to have several interests and not be able to choose a career in the traditional sense. After all, having only one calling is nothing but a socially imposed myth. At the same time, having self-accomplishment as a multipotentialite is not easy. First, it is necessary to be proud of and recognize the 5 main skills of a “multi”. Following, put them in practice while observing the 3 essential ingredients of the multipotentialite lifestyle: money, purpose, and variety.

Finally, experimenting a lot is the way to create your own work model starting from one of the 4 presented. Be it in a job or in your own business, make sure you organize your routine and develop a bias to action. In this manner, there is no space for self-sabotage in the decision-making process regarding when to finish or begin a new project.

How about you?


What do you think of Barbara’s ideas on How to Be Everything?

Can you relate to any?

I would love to talk to you in the comments below. 🙂

Anyways, I think you might also like to read Refuse to Choose!