“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do than by the ones you did.” -Mark Twain
What do you call someone who is good at mathematics but also languages, is an amazing cook, a Read-A-Thon champion. . . and occasionally hangs upside-down an aerially suspended rope for kicks?
Jack of all trades? Ancient stuff! The new term in town used to describe someone like this is “multipotentialite.”
Who is a Multipotentialite?
Simply put, a “multipotentialite” is a person with many interests and passions. The word comes from the psychological term ‘multipotentiality’, which refers to a pattern found in people who are good at many things and therefore struggle to choose a niche subject or career to pursue.
Now it might appear to be just another new-age term coined recently to justify the don’t-give-a-damn-ness of lazy hipsters. *BZZZZZZZ* Wrong! Rather the concept originated ages ago, though it’s been refered to with numerous terms since then: renaissance person, scanners, polymaths, multipods, slashers, etc. are (in essence) the same thing. Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Aristotle, Archimedes, and even Queen’s lead guitarist “Brian May” is considered one.
A few things about Renaissance men…
“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding”- Da Vinci
A popular example when it comes to the Renaissance men is Leonardo Da Vinci, whose areas of interest included painting, sculpting, architecture, music, mathematics, engineering, geology, poetry, literature, cartography, and some more. He has been called the father of paleontology and has been credited for numerous scientific inventions.
Most great men from the Renaissance excelled in multiple disciplines, as it was an era when curiosity and the drive to be versatile were highly appreciated. There were no strict walls between subjects as they had not yet been consolidated into rigid academies. Rather Da Vinci’s insanely high level of creativity had an impact on what would later be identified as separate disciplines.
Then came the age of specialization, and people started grabbing a niche, mastering in it (and being content with it) or pursuing another passion in the form of a hobby, on the side.
In fact the top definition of the phrase “on the side” in Cambridge dictionary is “in addition to your main job.”
The resurrection of the Renaissance man as the more gender-neutral Multipotentialite:
But we don’t live in the Renaissance anymore, and Multipotentialites are harder to spot in the millennial world. In our world, where no sooner something becomes a fad, people run towards emulating it at the cost of losing their uniqueness and identity, it’s difficult to separate true multipotentialites from genuine fadsters. Rather, it’s quite difficult for genuine multipotentialites to recognize themselves as one.
Because of their multiple (sometimes contradictory and unrelated) interests, multipotentialites are often seen as flaky and unreliable. But a few years ago, Emilie Wapnick decided to change that through her website puttylike.
She’s now on a mission to get the word out about multipotentiality and has built a community to foster the same. Heck, she even coined the word “multipotentialite” as the idea of a “rennaisance man” or “slasher” fails to resonate closely with a…well, multipotentialite! (Click here to watch her TED talk and know more about Emily and her journey.)
Multipotentialite Talents or Pros of being one
The clash between full mastery in one subject and interest in many subjects isn’t new. Despite the internal and external challenges they face, multipotentialites have unique talents or “superpowers” (as Emily likes to call them) that need to be embraced and nurtured.
Some of these superpowers are as follows:
- Multipotentialites are apt at idea synthesis i.e. combining one discipline with another and coming up with something new at the intersection.
- They are speedy learners as they are used to moving from one interest to the next, often totally immersing themselves in the process, before moving on to the next thing.
Moreover, moving on to something new is a sign that they have mastered or got what they want out of the process.
- Their very nature makes them highly adaptable which is crucial for the survival of any business in this and coming centuries.
“While we cannot predict precisely what workers of the future will be doing — what future wants and needs workers will be satisfying — we can predict some things about how they will be doing it. Work will take on an experimental, trial-and-error character, and will take place in an environment of rich feedback, self-correction, adaptation, ongoing improvement, and continuous learning. The social order surrounding work will be a much more fluid descendant of today’s secure but stifling paycheck world on the one hand, and liberating but precarious world of free agency and contingent labor on the other.” (Venkatesh Rao; Breaking Smart)
Expert knowledge is getting obsolete increasingly fast. A lot of future jobs don’t exist now and they will require skills and knowledge that can’t yet be taught. Contrary to specific knowledge, what will matter more is our ability to develop a growth mindset, and hence, it makes sense to develop one’s cognitive abilities and generic skills.
According to author Michael Gelb, the world needs more left and right brain thinkers, in order to create solutions to the toughest challenges of our time. Challenges that require linear thinking as well as an ability to embrace chaos…
Multipotentialism is also known as the Da Vinci curse, except it’s just a boon in disguise if you believe knowledge of any kind is never worthless. In Da Vinci’s own words, “Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
Learn more on multipotentiality (Reference Books):
How to be everything; Emilie Wapnick
How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day; Michael J. Gelb
The Da Vinci Curse: Life Design for people with too many interests and talents; Leonardo Lospennato
Refuse to Choose; Barbara Sher
So are you a Multipotentialite? Probably you know someone who is? Do you think it’s a curse or a boon? Share your stories in the comments club below!
A Hasty Note: So a few chapters into Felicia Day’s book You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir, I realized this wacky lady is the best example of a revolutionary 21st century renaissance woman (or let’s just call her a multipotentialite), only she’s been doing it since the 80s. Just read this hilarious book (it has a foreword by Joss Whedon and everything, geeks!), and if it relates on any level–welcome to the weirdo world! Also, I’m going to check-out The Guild, like right now.