Emilie Wapnick spent years of her life feeling like there was something wrong with her. While friends and peers were specializing and settling into their professions, she found it difficult to choose just one path. She had many aptitudes and interests, and was successful at many of her pursuits, yet she didn't feel right settling into just one.

Then one day it hit her: there was nothing wrong with her, it's just that she was a multipotentialite. This is the term for someone who has many interests and capabilities, and may thrive more in a generalist role than as a specialist.

In a recent interview, she told me how this newfound clarity about her "sweet spot" in the workplace relieved the pressure of having to find the one thing that she should dedicate her life to. Instead, she realized that there were many fellow multipotentialites throughout history (such as Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs) who had applied their diverse, multi-disciplinary gift sets to difficult problems and changed the arc of history.

In Wapnick's new book How To Be Everything, she describes four multipotentialite work models that she discovered in her research of her fellow generalists:

The Group Hug Approach

This model allows you to apply many different skills or areas of interest in the same job, rather than having to cobble together multiple jobs in order to use them. For example, someone who enjoys multidimensional projects that utilize completely different skillsets, or someone who loves variety in their job but dislikes having a lot of disconnected projects going at once is the perfect candidate for this work model. Also, many early-stage entrepreneurs find that their job requires that they place many different roles while wearing the same organizational hat.

The Slash Approach

A second work model involves stringing together multiple jobs and/or businesses that allow you to pursue multiple interests simultaneously. For example, you might be a copywriter/baker/consultant/tutor if those are four areas or profit centers that you have going simultaneously as you assemble your portfolio of work. Not all of these have to be for profit, however. Many multipotentialites adopt pursuits for the sheer joy of engaging in work they love and satisfying their curiosity.

The Einstein Approach

Wapnick named this work model after the famed scientist, who worked for years at the US Patent office while simultaneously pursuing the theories that would make him famous. His job was simply a stable means of supporting his true area of interest, which was mathematics and physics. If you value stability over flexibility, or if you want to have some income while taking risks in other areas of your work, this might be a great approach for you. (Sometimes it's best to keep your day job while launching your business.)

The Phoenix Approach

The final work model is to work for a while in one industry, then shift gears into another career or industry. This allows a multipotentialite to develop expertise during a season of intense focus, but still know that the plan is to move on to something else in order to satisfy the need for variety. If you have the ability to commit yourself to one thing for a period of months or years, or like going deep into an area before moving on, this might be the best approach for you.

Of course, Wapnick says it's OK to mix and match these work models as needed. There's no perfect approach that will fit everyone. However, knowing that you are not alone in your multipotentialite tendencies, and that there is a framework for helping you find meaning, money, and variety in your career can relieve the pressure of being a generalist in the midst of specialists.

Published on: Apr 30, 2017