“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

June 27, 2017

Emilie Wapnick is a career coach who celebrates the idea of a “multipotentialite“. In essence, it is a title for a person who has many interests, many jobs over a lifetime, and “many interlocking potentials.” I recently sat down for a coffee with an old friend of mine, and we talked about the idea of being young, indecisive, and way too open-minded.

Being little and innocent, getting asked the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” illicit some sort of great excitement. Your mind starts going over the possibility of being a princess, or a renowned performer at Carnegie Hall, or you remember how “cool” the school janitor is and you become so sure that your aspiration in life is to be a school janitor. What we don’t know, or think about at that stage of life is the fact that you have no ties with the royal family, you can’t play an instrument for shit, and being a school janitor is probably not the best paying job, and is heaps of physical labor.

When we grow up, the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” goes from being, as Emilie puts it, the “cute exercise it once was,” to the “thing that keeps us up at night.” This is because we are coerced to believe that we must select a single path that will determine our future and our lifestyle, and that seemingly, we won’t really be able to change our mind afterwards…but why don’t we talk about people that lead multiple careers? Teachers that are restaurant owners and professional dog groomers, athletes that are also psychotherapists, or violinists that are designers too?

In our society we are so inclined to romanticize the “one” – the one true calling, the one true love, our single destiny, our one hobby that we devote our spare time to after work. So what if you’re like me, a multipotentialite? Emilie’s talk taught me not to view multipotentiality as some sort of plague, but more so a quality that comes with a little extra bundle of advantages, including: idea synthesis, rapid learning, and adaptability. 

Instead of being troubled by the fact that we are multipotentialites, we should be celebrating the ability to be more creative, more entrepreneurial, and more malleable in nature by combining several fields and an eclectic mix of skills to generate something unique.


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  1. I remember seeing her TED Talk and being so impressed! That talk gave me permission to get my hands dirty and all of the things I love. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Absolutely. Well rounded individuals with multiple competencies are often the ones who change the world. And, many experts or famous people in their field got a late start in the field where they found success. That said I think there is a lot to be said for having multiple potentials and lacking focus. My most successful peers tend to be people that have multiple strengths, but they have still set goals and perfected a few fields, before moving on to their next experiment. the way, these people tend to be happy and financially secure. On the flipside, I know people who are quite competent in many areas, but who never managed to find a focus, never picked a particular path and these folks tend to a bit jaded and depressed.

  3. It’s so funny, but what I thought I wanted to be changed and evolved and I’m doing something I never even imagined would be a job. So you never know!

  4. Wow, thank you for introducing me to her.. I checked some of her stuff that I found on the internet and it kind of opened my eyes. I was always the kid who could do everything semi-good, but I wasn’t the best at anything. I always jumped (actually I am still doing that) from interest to interest, which was the reason why it’s really hard for me to find an appropriate college, because I am just not sure which path to take.
    Thanks for sharing again!

    1. You just described me too!! I dove head-first into what I was passionate about at the moment when I first started university and ended up changing my major. Not too much of a big deal, don’t overthink it 🙂 I’m glad you liked her stuff!

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