“There is no passion to be found playing small in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
– Nelson Mandela
I worried that there was something wrong with this, and something wrong with me for being unable to stick with anything. I worried that I was afraid of commitment, or that I was scattered, or that I was self-sabotaging, afraid of my own success.
The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling, the idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is and devote your life to it.
But what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way? What if there are a lot of different subjects that you’re curious about, and many different things you want to do? Well, there is no room for someone like you in this framework. And so you might feel alone. You might feel like you don’t have a purpose. And you might feel like there’s something wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with you. What you are is a multipotentialite.”
It’s easy to see your multipotentiality as a limitation or an affliction that you need to overcome. But what I’ve learned through speaking with people and writing about these ideas on my website, is that there are some tremendous strengths to being this way.
One: idea synthesis. That is, combining two or more fields and creating something new at the intersection. (…) Innovation happens at the intersections. That’s where the new ideas come from. And multipotentialites, with all of their backgrounds, are able to access a lot of these points of intersection.
The second multipotentialite superpower is rapid learning. When multipotentialites become interested in something, we go hard. We observe everything we can get our hands on. We’re also used to being beginners, because we’ve been beginners so many times in the past, and this means that we’re less afraid of trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zones. What’s more, many skills are transferable across disciplines, and we bring everything we’ve learned to every new area we pursue, so we’re rarely starting from scratch.
The third multipotentialite superpower is adaptability; that is, the ability to morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation. Abe Cajudo is sometimes a video director, sometimes a web designer,sometimes a Kickstarter consultant, sometimes a teacher, and sometimes, apparently, James Bond.
Idea synthesis, rapid learning and adaptability: three skills that multipotentialites are very adept at, and three skills that they might lose if pressured to narrow their focus. As a society, we have a vested interest in encouraging multipotentialites to be themselves. We have a lot of complex, multidimensional problems in the world right now, and we need creative, out-of-the-box thinkers to tackle them.
In fact, some of the best teams are comprised of a specialist and multipotentialite paired together. The specialist can dive in deep and implement ideas, while the multipotentialite brings a breadth of knowledge to the project. It’s a beautiful partnership. But we should all be designing lives and careersthat are aligned with how we’re wired. And sadly, multipotentialites are largely being encouraged simply to be more like their specialist peers.
(…) If you’re a specialist at heart, then by all means, specialize. That is where you’ll do your best work.
But to the multipotentialites in the room, including those of you who may have just realized in the last 12 minutes that you are one — to you I say: embrace your many passions. Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly — multipotentialites, the world needs us.”
Mainstream career advice tells us to “follow our passion”, but this advice is dead wrong. Research shows that people who take this approach are ultimately no more likely to enjoy or excel at their jobs. Instead, if you’re looking for a fulfilling career, here’s a new slogan to live by: Do what’s valuable.
Benjamin is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of 80,000 hours.
“There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you.”
– Richard Branson
When he was just 16 years old Luigi Prina entered and won a national aircraft modeling competition. When he went to collect the prize money the organizers asked the boy why his father couldn’t come and collect it himself…
“I have come to believe that coming true is not the only purpose of a dream. Its most important purpose is to get us in touch with where dreams come from, where passion comes from, where happiness comes from.”
Learn more from her TEDTalks video: http://on.ted.com/Bu