What If You Don’t Have One True Calling?
Make a nervous smile for me if the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has ever made you shiver with uncertainty. Feel that twinge of contempt if you’ve noticed your friends all fit neatly into categorized careers—doctors, lawyers, accountants, managers, etc.—and you’re still not sure what to call yourself.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like you have too many interests to find your “one true calling.”
But what if the idea of that “one true calling” is a myth? What if you’re not supposed to find it? What if your one true calling is a combination of things that don’t fit together in a tidy category?
My friend and incredibly smart colleague—Emilie Wapnick—runs a website called Puttlylike for people in exactly this situation. She calls them “multipotentialites”—people who have many callings instead of one. In a recent TEDx talk, she explains three compelling reasons why—if those situations I described above fit you—you’re actually ahead of the game and in a position to create something truly unique.
The term multipotentialite fits me perfectly. I spent most of my youth worried about what I was supposed to be doing with myself. When I was little, adults would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I had all the typical seven-year-old answers—astronaut, doctor, lawyer, police man, rock star. But I never answered the same way twice. If one week I wanted to be a lawyer, it was only a week later astronaut was the answer of choice. I think, after a stint of watching Indiana Jones films, I wanted to be an archeologist for a short while.
This is life for most kids. But then most kids grow up and pick something. I never did. I tried, but it didn’t work. As soon as I settled on one thing, I became bored and dissatisfied.
I never became any of the things I said I wanted to be when I was a kid, but I did (and still do) latch onto aspects of them all in building my career today. I love science and exploration like an astronaut does, and I let it strongly influence my writing. I enjoy focusing my work on helping people like a doctor enjoys helping her patients. And being a relatively unknown blogger on the Internet is pretty close to rock stardom, right?
I still often don’t know what to call myself when someone asks (though I’m always working on my elevator pitch). But I do feel like I benefit from the three major advantages that Emilie argues multipotentialites have:
- We’re innovative. Because our passions and interests are often in varied fields, we naturally see opportunities to take the good ideas from one and inject them into another. This is the way most great innovation throughout history has happened. Someone with a lot of knowledge and experience in one field sees it not being used effectively in another and decides to do something about it.
- We’re rapid learners. We’ve spent our whole lives being beginners. We learn new things all the time, so starting at the beginning to learn something difficult isn’t scary on unappealing to us. In fact, we like it, and it’s what helps us grow when we see opportunities to improve ourselves.
- We’re adaptable. The more times you refine who you are and what you do, the better you keep up with the world around you. We don’t accept skills we learned ages ago as “good enough.” We push ourselves to learn more and change to keep with the times. According to that science-y concept of evolution, this is what will keep us relevant (and in the gene pool) for the long-term.
You only have to look back a few hundred years to the renaissance—one of the most creative periods of human history—to find many working examples of the benefits of being a multipotentialite. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli are fine cases to study. Something drove them to excel in many fields. And they succeeded. The world celebrates their creations hundreds of years after they’re gone. And they’ll continue to do so for many more.
If you’ve wrung your hands over the uncertainty and frustrations that come from living a life of many interests, try to remember today that even though it comes with irritations, if you embrace it and let it guide you, it will make you a smarter, stronger person.