When you’re five years old, the question “What do you want to do when you grow up?” is fun. You just yell out firefighter, veterinarian, or pirate and every adult in the room cheers you on.
But for a good number of folks, as you grow older, this question starts to spur anxiety rather than imagination. These are the people whose high school aptitude tests come back inconclusive, who struggle to narrow it down to just two majors at university, and who scan all those blog posts on uncovering your passion searching for answers.
“I’m supposed to do just one thing for my entire life?” they ask with a shudder. “That sounds so … boring. How could I ever choose?”
Folks like this, who can’t seem to figure out what they want to do when they grow up (or who fail to settle on a single answer), often feel terrible about it. “Am I indecisive? Uncommitted? Lazy?” they ask themselves. But in a much viewed and inspiring TEDxBend talk, career coach and writer Emilie Wapnick has a message for this anxiety-prone group: There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just a multipotentialite.
You’re not a scatterbrain. You’re a superhero
A what? Whether you call the perpetually curious “multipotentialites,” as Wapnick suggests, or opt for a more traditional term like Renaissance man (or woman), polymath, or generalist, the point is the same. Many of us feel like we’re flawed if we can’t claim a passion for a single career path. Instead, we should celebrate our unique strengths.
Wapnick’s main argument is that those with a tendency to leap from one interest to the next have three “superpowers” that are particularly valuable in this day and age:
- Idea synthesis. Multipotentialites excel at “combining two or more fields and creating something new at the intersection. Innovation happens at the intersections.”
- Rapid learning. If you do something enough, you inevitably get good at it, and that includes learning. “We’re used to being beginners, because we’ve been beginners so many times in the past,” says Wapnick, “and this means we’re less afraid of trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zones. What’s more, many skills are transferrable across discipline.”