First, what exactly is this enormous long word? What does it mean?
Multipotentiality: “the capacity to develop in multiple ways; the state of having multiple potentialities.”
When this term is applied to gifted individuals, it takes on a deeper meaning: the ability to excel in multiple fields. It’s also dripping with latent anxiety, grief, stress, and frustration. What? Why would I say that?
The emotional impact
How would you feel if everyone asked you what you wanted to be when you grow up and you had 2 very different career paths that you loved open to you? Would you be excited, or would you be frustrated and stressed? What if you pick the wrong one? What if you try and fail? What if you have to abandon something you love just to do something else you love?
Yup, frustration and anxiety. Huge frustration. And grief. Why grief?
Would you be forever looking back and wishing you had taken the other path? Would you feel like you missed a door, missed an opportunity? Grief, yes, for what you gave up when you had to pick the ONE thing instead of doing ALL the things.
Living with multipotentiality
I’m not a therapist or counselor. You’ll need to go elsewhere for that – Paula Prober is an expert on this, as is Emilie Wapnick, who coined the term “multipotentialite.” No, I’m just your garden variety curious, creative, intellectual kind of person who struggles with multipotentiality.
It’s funny. I struggled as a teenager feeling like I had to pick that one thing and be an expert at it. I never dreamed that I would be where I am now – a place where I’m simultaneously using all of my abilities. While still learning more, I might add.
I am a writer, a fairly good one. It’s taken me a while to admit my strengths because it sounds like bragging to me.
I am a photographer. Good at that too.
I am an artist – not just photography, but multi-media. Good at that, learning and expanding new media and new ideas.
I am a graphic designer. Not professionally, but I use it to create school materials.
I am a teacher – a homeschooler, but also a co-op kind of teacher. I’m told I’m good at that, but I still feel very unsure of myself.
I am a naturalist – I know far more about bugs and nature than I probably should.
Sure, a lot of these things are cousins – they require some level of creativity. So you might laugh and say I’m stretching things a bit. That’s ok. Because today it’s drawing, tomorrow it might be a PhD in history. Today it’s designing curriculum, tomorrow it might be a prolific published author. My interests are wide and deep, so I keep diving into things and wanting to know more.
More. That key word. Gifted is just more, right? More of everything.
Go for it!
If you have a child who is struggling with multipotentiality (or you are yourself,) my best advice is to find a therapist who understand giftedness. After that, to accept who you are and what you’re capable of doing. Grieve over the things you cannot jump into 100% and jump in anyway. Go for it!
You have potential. Use it. Find a way to leverage things so that you’re using more than one potential. Industry needs multipotentialites – we need people who can flow from one career stream to another and meld them together.
I’m using my husband as an example (sorry Mr. Genius!) because he’s managed to do just that. He is a tech kind of guy who blended his potentials with an MBA, putting the know-how together with the management skills that every company needs. No one wants managers who are out of touch and clueless about how their business actually works, but that’s often what we get.
Elon Musk is another example of how industry needs multipotentialites. Of course, he’s more of a polymath – an official expert in multiple fields. Multipotentiality is about the potential, not the actual attainment of the label “expert.” Musk has unquestioningly reached the level of the label expert, with PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla as concrete proof. He’s blending multipotentialities together and trailing businesses behind him as he goes for his goals.
Parenting a multipotentialite
And for you parents trying to raise a multipotentialite, don’t limit them. Don’t force them to pick the one thing they should follow (finances allowing, of course!) Don’t tell them to pick their degree in college and stick with it – suggest a double (triple?) major or double degree instead. Let them soar. Support them as they navigate the one-note message that society tells them they need to follow.
Everyone asks “what do you want to be when you grow up?” No one understood when I thought to myself “all the things!” They just thought I was undecided. Lazy. Low expectations. I wish I could tell my teenage self what I’m doing now.