Multipotentialite – jack of all trades, master of none – problem?

“The old paradigm said people have one job and do one thing. Maybe the new one says ‘I do what I like and I reserve the right to multitask and change what I like at a moment’s notice without explanation’.”

It’s a bit of a mouthful, but this week I have learnt that I am a multipotentialite. I came across Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk, ‘Why some of us don’t have one true calling’ , and as I got listening I had one of those aha moments which happens when someone expresses something that you deeply know to be true but have never heard articulated before. A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. They are the opposite of a specialist. Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring and mastering new skills. They use their versatile creativity to innovate and solve problems.

Until last year, I worked as a GP for 10 years, which I see now, provided me with the perfect multipotentialite playground; GPs being the ultimate medical generalists. GPs never quite know what clinical conundrum will present itself next or what unusual scenario will unfold within the confines of the consultation and there is a certain thrill in co-constructing an outcome that resonates with your patient from a unknown, unique, uncharted territory. That was one of the things I loved about the role. My second choice of medical career would have been in emergency medicine because it provided the same delightful knickerbocker glory of situations. Hearing the description of a multipotentialite helped me understand why the generalist life was for me; it allowed me to flex my metaphorical muscles in many different areas of medicine and human life. 

It also helps me understand where I am now. Strangely, I have always said even in the best times as a doctor, “I think I have another career in me”. I wasn’t able to say what that was or when it might happen but I always had a feeling there would be more. At school, I struggled to know what I wanted to do. At the time, it felt like indecision. Now, reframed, it was not indecision but because my natural propensity to want to try it all, that made it difficult to choose. Often, I have grieved the shrinking of subjects that happened throughout my senior school career. I wish I had been able to hold onto creative subjects for longer. I wonder what would have happened if I had continued to be supported to create art and experiment with creative writing back then. 

It seems to me that my multipotentiality is both friend and foe. As I lean into the next phase of my working life, I have so many things that I am interested in and so many things that I would like to take further, that it is hard to forge a path onward. Really, it is a joy that there is not enough time in my day to do all the things I want to. I could truly fill my days five times over with writing, creating, gardening, connecting, reading, considering, engaging, learning, listening and finding out about the world. It is exciting to have a brain that sees potential in every encounter, that wonders about the opportunity here and considers the value in bringing that thing over there to life. But how to find the next right thing? How to focus the mind to bring something to fruition? 

Over the last six months, I have described my working life as ‘bitty’, ‘all over the place’ and ‘chaotic’. When people have asked me what I’m doing, I have joked that I have no idea what is going on as my fingers are in so many pies. I have felt awkward explaining it all. Maybe because of a  deep-seated worry that ‘no-one who is doing so many things can really be taken seriously’. ‘First she leaves her perfectly good, respectable, professional job and now, she’s doing who knows what’…..says my ego. Maybe I’ve got this all wrong though. Maybe the fact that I have been trying out writing blogs, teaching, consulting and podcasting alongside enjoying gardening, reading, crocheting, drawing and writing poetry is actually my superpower. I’m doing it because I’m made that way. The multipotentialite in me is being nourished. The old paradigm said people have one job and do one thing. Maybe the new one says ‘I do what I like and I reserve the right to multitask and change what I like at a moment’s notice without explanation’.

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