The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” causes a lot of anxiety for many of us. While some people struggle to find a field that they’re passionate enough about to pursue as a lifelong career, others struggle with the opposite problem: having too many interests to settle on just one.
As someone who has spent her life working in multiple disciplines—from music to Web design to law—I have learned that the idea of a “monodestiny” is somewhat of a fallacy.
If you thrive in a specialist environment, then absolutely, becoming an expert in one area makes sense. However, if you are a person who is curious about a wide range of topics (what I refer to as a multipotentialite), then you do not need to pick one of those topics to the exclusion of all of your other interests. It is absolutely possible to integrate a plurality of subjects into your work and retain enough flexibility to explore new ideas.
Certain careers lend themselves better to people with multiple passions, including careers that involve some autonomy. This is why many entrepreneurs happen to be multipotentialites. Running a business (or working for a startup or small organization) requires a working knowledge of multiple areas: marketing, product creation, customer service, etc.
But it’s not just self-employment and forward-thinking companies that provide a good work environment for people with many interests. I have met multipotentialites in every field, even in some areas that are typically considered to be the domain of specialists like medicine, law and education.
Where to Start
Any career can be made more plural if approached with the right considerations. Here are a few things to think about when designing a career around multiple areas:
1. Play to Your Strengths
You don’t want a career that will require you to perform one skill repeatedly. As a multipotentialite, this will not be fulfilling. Instead, look for a career that requires you to use skills like idea synthesis, lateral thinking and fast skill acquisition in your daily work. These are qualities that come about naturally as a result of having a diverse background. They are what I refer to as the multipotentialite super powers.
If you are good at translating between modes of thought, for example, then working as a researcher or project manager might be fulfilling, since it would involve working with groups in different areas and bringing a larger vision to life.
If you enjoy synthesizing disparate ideas, then an interdisciplinary field like architecture, which combines design and engineering, or a career in the arts like documentary filmmaking or media production, might be a good choice.
2. Use One Medium to Explore Multiple Subjects
One medium can be used as a vehicle through which to explore multiple subjects. Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker, uses filmmaking quite literally as the lens through which he explores subjects ranging from jazz to baseball to the history of New York.
Teachers who introduce their students to a range of different concepts use this model, as do journalists who cover stories in many areas and lawyers who take a family law case one day and a intellectual property case the next. Many authors use writing as a vehicle through which to explore different ideas as each book looks at a new subject matter.
Do you have one medium or format that you feel comfortable with, that can be used as a vehicle through which to explore multiple subjects?
3. Use Multiple Formats to Explore One Theme or Idea
Instead of using one medium to explore many subjects, you might try the inverse: communicating one theme or idea through multiple formats.
For example, it’s not usual to find people who are writers/speakers/consultants/teachers, all at once. As Marci Alboher writes, these four “slashes” complement each other nicely. The idea is to find a message you care deeply about, then start using different methods to communicate this message and reach different audiences.
Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, brought hip hop culture to mainstream consciousness and lifted up his community through multiple formats: a record label, clothing line, television show, activism work, writing, speaking, etc. Dallas Clayton encourages children to dream big through his books, artwork, poetry, speaking and teaching.
Is there an issue you care deeply about, or a particular change you would like to inspire in the world? How can you deliver that message in various ways?
You Don’t Have to Choose
Contrary to what the dominant paradigm would have you believe, having interests across multiple disciplines is not a weakness. It does not make you a dilettante or jack-of-all-trades. Having many interests can be a source of great personal and financial fulfillment, and with a bit of creativity, almost any career can be made more plural in nature.
Have you combined many interests in one career? What strategies have worked for you?
Emilie Wapnick is a writer, speaker, coach, violinist, filmmaker and law school graduate. She is the founder of Puttylike.com, where she works with multipotentialites to help them integrate ALL of their interests into their lives.