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The Power of the Multipotentialite

One of the reasons I enjoy working in Higher Education is that I love helping students connect what they do and learn in school to what they’re passionate about out of school. At work, I supervise a team of 15 student workers, and one of my goals is to help them reflect on how the skills they learn on the job can be transferred to their future careers and passions. A few months ago, I was designing a professional development program for my team. I talked to each of the student workers one-on-one to find out what their ambitions for after college were so that I could design the program to match their passions and career interests. I found that a lot of them were not sure what they wanted to do after college, so I decided that one of the components of my professional development program would be to help the students identify their passions and start narrowing in on a career path. I started researching articles, videos, and activities about how to help college students identify their passions, and I found one TedTalk that completely changed how I thought about the topic.

Emilie Wapnick’s TedTalk called “Why some of us don’t have one true calling” talks about what it means to be a multipotentialite. She defines a multipotentialite as someone with many interests and creative pursuits. Multipotentialites don’t have one core passion that drives them; they explore multiple passions, either concurrently or at different times in their life. This is similar to being a “Renaissance Man” or a polymath (check out this blog post for more about being a polymath specifically). What I especially like about how Wapnick describes multipotentialites is that she emphasizes why being one is so beneficial. She highlights three “superpowers” that multipotentialites have.

  1. Idea Synthesis – Innovation comes from the intersection of existing fields. Multipotentialites have an increased ability to understand multiple disciplines, see where they intersect, and develop new ideas that connect the topics. Consequently, this can help them think creatively. 
  2. Rapid Learning – Multipotentialites are used to discovering and pursuing new passions all the time. They are skilled at constantly soaking up information about new topics and trying new things. This allows them to acquire a breadth of knowledge that they can draw from when starting a new pursuit.
  3. Adaptability – Having experienced multiple different passions allows multipotentialites to morph into whatever role a situation calls for. They can adapt their skills and behaviors to match whatever is needed for a given project or pursuit.

Learning about multipotentialites taught me that I was approaching professional development and career readiness all wrong. I set out to help my student workers narrow in on a passion or career path when that’s the opposite of what multipotentialites need. I assumed that everyone on the team was, or should be, a specialist (Wapnick describes specialists as the opposite of multipotentialites in that they specialize in their depth of knowledge and experience in one particular field). There’s nothing wrong with being a specialist, and narrowing in on a streamlined passion. It can be helpful for specialists when considering professional development and career preparation. However, there’s also nothing wrong with being a multipotentialite. This TedTalk helped me realize that for multipotentialites, the best professional development is helping them cultivate their multiple passions and recognize how to harness their superpowers.

*Leadership Lesson*

Watch Emilie Wapnick’s TedTalk and learn what she has to say about these multi-talented individuals. Think you might be a multipotentialite? Reflect on the three superpowers and how they might manifest in your own life. Or, use them to help someone you know!

  1. What are some content areas that you are knowledgeable about? How can you connect some of your areas of expertise to come up with creative new ideas?
  2. What are some skills that you have acquired through current or previous passions? Are there other areas where those skills might prove to be useful?
  3. What are some new things you want to try in your personal or professional life? How can you adapt the skills and expertise that you have acquired to best serve these new pursuits?

*Meet the Author*

Morgan has been with Leadership Inspirations for three years. He has a B.A. in Integrated Educational Studies from Chapman University and is currently pursuing a M.A. in Leadership Development while working in Higher Education Student Affairs.

Favorite quote: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end” – John Lennon

Fun facts: 1) I once trained my pet goldfish to play basketball 2) When I was little I wanted to be a Disneyland parking attendant 3) I’m a big Justin Timberlake fan