Photo Credit: Service Desk Show, James West
When I was a little girl, the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was easy to answer. I wanted to be a nurse. Being on the serving end of helping people in crisis was the stuff that even populated my nighttime dreams. It was my passion as a child.
In my teen years, teachers and other adults commended me on my writing. For years, kind people who actually read what I read have asked, “When are you going to write that book?” A much harder question for me than the earlier one.
Photography, music and drama clubs were my loves in high school and college, mixed with a budding political activism. That activism was baby steps at first, with rallies and protests. Long conversations over coffee on Saturday mornings. Nothing requiring much commitment. Our military conflicts were confusing to me (with seemingly never an end in sight). In my youth, I would write to soldiers serving in far countries…doing my small part to encourage them and humanize their situation. I still have a box of letters from those soldier pen-pals.
My girlhood goal was to do nursing overseas…among the poorest of the poor. Those strong youthful dreams directed me first to Emory University for nursing and grad school. Then a few years later to Yale University to teach. In the between time, my “poorest of the poor” turned out to be on the oncology unit of Grady Hospital, in Atlanta, Georgia’s inner city…
The “what do you want to do when you grow up?” question took on a life of its own. As did the question: “What are you doing these days?”
Depending on the season of life, it was cancer nursing, home-schooling mom, cross-cultural living, facilitating a cultural exchange program, teaching ESL, communications strategist/social media manager, and finally freelance writing.
Now…after all these seasons and address changes, the question, “What are you doing these days?” is mystifying. I almost feel a bit ashamed that I haven’t landed anywhere as a specialist in anything.
Just this morning, a friend posted on her Facebook page a TED talk that encouraged her…and it also encouraged me.
The speaker on the TED talk was writer, creator Emilie Wapnick. She describes herself as a multipotentialite which she defines as “someone with many interests and creative pursuits“. Wapnick is the founder of the website Puttylike…out of which has evolved a fascinating global community of other multipotentialites.
In her TED talk, Wapnick describes three “superpowers” of these multipotentialites. They are:
- Idea synthesis – “combining two or more fields and creating something new at the intersection”
- Rapid learning – multipotentialites “go hard” at learning. They have been beginners many times, therefore, they aren’t afraid to try a new way. They “rarely start from scratch”.
- Adaptability – “the ability to morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation”.
Now whether being a multipotentialite applies to my career journey…or yours, it is so refreshing to to be reminded that going in multiple directions professionally can be a normal and good thing.
I love “both/and” situations, and there are lots of them out there, if we open our eyes to see them. A few careers back, I had the opportunity of being a cancer nursing specialist, but looking ahead, being an expert in any given discipline is unlikely. Being decent, however, (maybe even good) at both this…and that is possible. Being a generalist works for me… However, I can still aim at being a versatilist (see below). How about you? Where are you in your career?Photo Credit: Gartner, Shi Wen, HR in Asia
You may have never heard the term multipotentialite or versatilist, but in America, especially in the summer, you may have heard of a utility infielder. “A utility infielder (UI) is a baseball player, usually one who does not have a regular starting role on the team and who is capable of playing more than one of the four defensive infield positions: second base, third base, shortstop, and less typically first base. Utility infielders are generally considered excellent defensive players who do not hit well enough to remain in the starting lineup, but can fill in at multiple defensive positions to give the various starters a rest, or replace a starter late in a game to provide improved defense when the team is winning.” – Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Dan Ryan, Ryan Search & Consulting
A utility infielder is definitely someone you want on your team. I’m married to one. Multipotentialite, versatilist, utility infielder. Whatever this person’s title, he or she brings their own special strengths.
Some days, dark days, I despair of some of my career choices and wonder if I’d been more focused, or less inclined to chase after this opportunity or that dream…would I have been more effective? Would I have made a greater difference? Today, and more days lately, I am content with the roads taken. Some of us have laser focus and sharp skills. Others of us are more like the Swiss Army utility knife. Both are indispensable. Both/and.Photo Credit: CBT Nuggets
Monday Morning Moment – Picking a Lane – It’s Never Too Late – Deb Mills – an example of a multipotentialite who is excellent in all his pursuits, best I can tell.