Why “one true calling” is a lie

Every one got asked a question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” at some point in their life — the first time, usually, when we are three, five, seven years old.

Five or six year olds might be 100% sure they want to become an astronaut, a witch or a zookeeper, but but hardly anyone truly knows how to answer this question when they get even a little older. As we grow up and learn more about the world it often becomes more and more complicated.

“See, the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have any interests — it’s that I had too many”, explains Emilie Wapnick, who describes herself as a “combination of artist, entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and coach”, in her TED speech. “In high school, I liked English and math and art and I built websites and I played guitar in a punk band called Frustrated Telephone Operator.”

The biggest problem with being interested in many things is the pressure to choose just one of them and turn it into a lifelong career. As we get older, we don’t get asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, but the question is already imprinted in our minds — and keeps us up at night.

“When someone asks you what you want to be, you can’t reply with 20 different things, though well-meaning adults will likely chuckle and be like, “Oh, how cute, but you can’t be a violin maker and a psychologist. You have to choose,” Wapnick says.

But in reality, there are thousands, millions of people who explore multiple fields in their life — kids just don’t hear about them.

The notion of the narrowly focused life — the destiny, the one true calling — is romanticized in our culture. We hear 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 have many different things you are meant to do? There is nothing wrong with feeling this way, Wapnick claims: it just means you are a multipotentialite.

A multipotentialite is a person with many interests and creative pursuits. Another term is “the Renaissance person. “Actually, during the Renaissance period, it was considered the ideal to be well-versed in multiple disciplines”, — Emilie Wapnick reminds.

Learning and practicing many things doesn’t mean you will become “Jack of all trades, master of none”. One of the biggest strengths of multipotentialites  is ablilty to create innovation by synthesising ideas, combining two or more fields and creating something new at the intersection. Another one is ablilty to learn new things quickly — after all, “Renaissance people” have had a lot of practice being a beginner! And the third multipotentialite superpower is adaptability, the ability to morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation.

Of course, not everybody is a multipotentialite, and that is okay.

“I hope that it is this: embrace your inner wiring, whatever that may be,” — Emilie Wapnick concludes. 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.”