Growing up, I didn’t know what to answer when people asked me what I wanted to be. And honestly, even today, despite the fact that I do full-time photography, I’m still unsure of how to categorize myself. If you ever felt like you didn’t really know where you belonged, not because you have no interests but because you have too many, then keep on reading. Perhaps it will change the way you see yourself.
I wish I could say I was the clever person who thought about the topic in this article. (If it was the case, I would probably have gotten my life together earlier.) But that’s not the case. I am writing this article because I fell into this amazing TEDxBend video by Emilie Wapnick called “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling”. You can watch it right here. It really hit the spot and I thought many other people were probably in the same situation as I was. I’ve never heard about “multipotentiality” before but boy I wish I did. Emilie is the founder and creative director of Puttylike, a website for people who have many interests and creative pursuits. And of course, as a multipotentialite herself, she does different things like writing, speaking, teaching, designing, art making, researching, philosophize, exploring, and thinking.
According to Wikipedia, “Multipotentiality” is defined by: “an educational and psychological term referring to the ability and preference of a person, particularly one of strong intellectual or artistic curiosity, to excel in two or more different fields. It can also refer to an individual whose interests span multiple fields or areas, rather than being strong in just one.[…] By contrast, those whose interests lie mostly within a single field are called “specialists.”
How it translated it in my mind was: “My sister is a nurse. My father is a notary. They are specialists.” They do one thing and they do it REALLY well. What about me? I like to write, I like to take pictures, I like to edit them, I like to make videos, I like to do graphic design… What am I supposed to do with all those interests? Why can’t I do one thing and be REALLY good at it just like a specialist? This is what society encourages people to do. This is the example I’ve had in my family and this is what I thought I had to do since I was a little girl. “Just pick a job and stick with it for God’s sake!” (This is probably what my parents thought of me at some point even though they’ve been loving enough never to actually say it.) I kept on looking and looking…
I was always questioning myself. What am I? Then I watched Emilie’s video and I understood a lot of things. What has never been told to me is that I’ve never had to choose.
The advantages of being a multipotentialite
1. Idea synthesis
Emilie says that idea synthesis is combining two or more fields and creating something new at the intersection. Our multiple backgrounds allow us to innovate. She then gives an example of a company that shares interests in cartography, televisualisation, travel, mathematics, and design to create custom geographically inspired jewelry. So I thought “Hey if they can do it, why couldn’t I with all my different interests?”
I used to read and write a lot when I was younger. A LOT. And now I see how it serves me when I write articles and even emails to my clients. It comes easily and I deeply enjoy this form of communication. Does it have anything to do with photography? Not really, but it ends up helping me in my career.
In the 90s-00s, I grew up watching “Musique Plus” music video channel – a Canadian version of MTV. I’ve always been a huge music fan and I know this influences me when I edit my videos. I feel a rhythm between the images and the beat. I didn’t study it, I can’t explain it, but there are connections in my brain that come together when I create them.
In the early 2000s, I started to work as a hairdresser. I had a strong interest in makeup artistry. What would it have anything to do with photography? Well, colorization and dodge and burn came really easily and quickly. I realized afterward – without even noticing it – that my notions of color combinations and makeup contouring came really handy when I was editing my images.
2. Rapid learning
Emilie keeps on explaining: “Many skills are transferable across disciplines and we bring everything we’ve learned to every new area we pursue”. During my “multiple professional experiences”, I’ve had to learn a lot of different software. They didn’t have anything in common (one could be to create blood test labels in a hospital and the other one to make appointments for clients at a physiotherapy clinic.) But when it came time to learn Photoshop, Lightroom, Photomechanic, Luminar or Aurora, I didn’t have such a hard time compared to some of my colleagues. Why? Because I’ve already developed this skill somewhere in my life. I am sure you can relate to this kind of experience too.
Emilie describes adaptability by the ability to “take on different roles depending on their client’s needs”. I think this is a pretty cool advantage. Why only offer your client to take his pictures when you have the capacity to offer him two or three connected services at once?
Funny enough, I feel like my sports life is pretty much a perfect parallel to my professional life: I can get away a lot of things. I am not the best, but I am not the worse. I can run at a good pace – but I can’t sprint at blazing speed or run a marathon for hours. I can do Olympic Weightlifting with decent weight on the bar and technique, but I am far from calling myself an Olympic Weightlifter. I am polyvalent and I can rapidly adapt to new techniques because I have a wealth of experience.
Isn’t it great?
If you look at the big picture, all those interests we’ve had in our lives since our childhoods come together to create who we are and what we do. For those who feel the same as I do, who are curious and like to touch many things at the same time: you don’t have to limit yourself. You can develop all you want to be. Emilie concludes her speech by saying that multipotentialites might end up losing their skills if they’re pressured to narrow their focus: we don’t have to fit in a mold. “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!”
So, the good news: if you want to be a violin maker AND a psychologist, like Dr. Bob Childs, you can. If you want to be a magazine editor, an illustrator, an entrepreneur, a teacher AND a creative director like Amy-Ann, YOU CAN! Now let’s get to work and create this strange, unusual and exciting life we are meant to live!