Vince Imbat

How I Became a Professional Multipotentialite

Dec 7, 2020

Multipotentialite desk

This year, I realized I actually became a professional multipotentialite. The word multipotentialite was coined after the educational and psychological term “multipotentiality,” which was defined by Tamara Fisher as “the state of having many exceptional talents, any one or more of which could make for a great career for that person.”

A multipotentialite then is a person who is strongly drawn towards a variety of interests. One can argue that all human beings are drawn towards many interests at different points in their lives. However, some people, particularly children and young adults, experience tremendous anxiety over this that psychologists and educators have to invent a term to refer to their disposition. While this state of mind can be seen as a blessing for some, most people with it have been troubled by it one way or another. As Fisher continues:

On the bright side, they have many realistic options for future careers. But on the downside, some of them will struggle mightily trying to decide which choice to make. Particularly in the last couple years of high school and the first couple years of college, this monumentous decision with so many great possible outcomes can be a source of debilitating stress. The choice is ’exhausting and stressful,’ as one of my students said this year.

For those who have made peace with this state of mind, they’ve either explored their interests simultaneously or sequentially. A “successful” multipotentialite—someone who has achieved mastery and prestige in multiple interests—is called a “polymath.” Leonardo Da Vinci is perhaps the most famous polymath of all. Since multipotentiality only refers to the state of mind and not necessarily involve the “success” of an individual, we can make the argument that not all multipotentialites become polymaths, but all polymaths started out as multipotentialites.

It is important to note, however, that “success,” as society defines it, requires some measure of adhering to conventions, and this isn’t always attractive to multipotentialites. Actually, I would guess that most multipotentialites don’t care about these things. The majority will be motivated only by two things: (1) the satisfaction of doing whatever they care about and (2) the freedom to shift interests whenever they want. These two motivators don’t usually translate to “success” in mainstream terms, so multipotentialites create their own definition of success.

For me, personally, as long as I have these two things in my life, I have succeeded. Freedom and happiness are everything to me. Obviously, honoring my multipotentiality isn’t the only contributor to freedom and happiness, but it serves a major role in my life right now.

Another important note: The term “professional multipotentialite” is my own way of referring to multipotentialites who: (a) have accepted and made peace with their multipotentiality, (b) made an intention to make it an important part of their life, and (c) have made or are working out actions that would make it easier for them to pursue their multipotentiality.

# How I Realized I Was a Multipotentialite

I first learned about my “tendency” to shift interests after graduating from college in 2013. I remember Googling the following question: “What will I do with my life if I have too many interests?” This led me to a post by Emilie Wapnick, who introduced me to a whole new way of existing that was right under my nose. How can something that most of us did when we were children (play around and shift from one thing to another) vanish in adulthood? I was just amazed to realize this.

But back then, much of my experience with multipotentiality was connected to the stress of not knowing what career to pursue. I was still coming from this framework that I need to choose one thing. I was just 21 at that time and no one has ever told me that I could refuse to choose. The confusion was also partly amplified by my dark night of the soul in 2011, which prompted me to leave an old way of living, and with it, a clear career path. Nothing could make one as confused about where to go in life than trauma and leaving an old belief system.

And yet, learning about multipotentialites through Emilie’s blog gave me some hope. I took baby steps to attempt to construct a life that would allow me to accommodate a few if not all my interests. One of those (not so) baby steps was rejecting two opportunities to teach (one at a university and another at a high school) in favor of freelancing. While it was definitely a hard decision to make at that time, it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Freelancing, while not ideal, was flexible enough to allow me to dedicate enough time to explore my interests and learn more about myself. I have been a freelancer ever since graduating in 2013.

# The Struggles of Building a Multifaceted Life

Nevertheless, building a life around my different passions was a tough ride. From 2013–2019, I went through lots of frustrations particularly on just trying to set things up: my business, my routines, my habits, etc. The time I spent setting up my life robbed a lot of the time I could have spent nurturing my passions. This, in turn, made me feel guilty.

Many times, I wanted to shake off my multipotentiality and return to the “focus on one thing” credo. Having a traditional job could have solved a lot of my problems at that time: I would have had a strict schedule that I could organize around. Many multipotentialites have made this work with them and I now advocate that serious multipotentialites who would like to focus on nurturing their interests instead of building businesses could be greatly helped by the “good enough job” model. However, back then, I was mainly concerned about extending my freedom and freelancing sounded so good to let go.

Since then, I learned that there is more to constructing a multipotentialite life than choosing more flexible employment like freelancing. I realized that if I wanted to be a “professional” multipotentialite, I need the following:

  1. Time affluence
  2. Financial and material security
  3. A life system
  4. Reasonably good health

I discuss how I tackled the four below.

# 1. Time Affluence

The more time I have, the better.

In a day, I have roughly 12 hours of time to use for my passion (24 hours less sleeping time and whatever time I use to managing my life). I asked myself, “How much of those 12 hours am I able to dedicate to the things that make my heart sing?”

For me, it is always about those 12 hours. Unlike other people, I need to divide those 12 hours into three, five, or even more interests in any given day.

I reasoned to myself, it’s easy for me to say that I am interested in this or that thing, but to dedicate time for what I say is important to me is the only proof that what I tell myself is true. If I am not giving time to the things I say is important to me, I should probably have to accept one day that these things may not really be that important to me.

# 2. Financial and Material Security

Based on my experience, it doesn’t matter if you I have all those 12 hours in a day to pursue my interests if I always worrying whether I’ll have enough money next month. That anxiety eats up all my time. This is basic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And I don’t have to be rich or financially independent. I just have to have “peace of mind.”

The way I experience it (and others will also attest to this), creativity requires some measure of peace of mind. Yes, others were able to create masterpieces in the middle of chaos and even mental illness. But one can’t help to wonder, how much more they could have done if they were in a “better” place.

For me, like most ordinary mortals, if I don’t have some peace of mind, I won’t be able to pursue my interests happily. If I don’t find happiness in pursuing my interests, I will start associating them with negative emotions, which, in turn, will force me to abandon them altogether.

This is something I only realized after struggling a lot with anxiety over employment. I realized later on that if I really value my interests, I need a sustainable source of income. For people interested in building a multifaceted life, I would always recommend them to start with a “good enough job” first, which they would use to fund their runway to transition to a more enjoyable source of income (usually, freelancing or entrepreneurship). My reason for giving this advice is that while freelancing or entrepreneurship provides more flexibility of time, they can actually start to rob most of those 12 free hours because one needs to do A LOT: marketing, prospecting, onboarding, networking, setting up systems, doing your taxes, accounting, etc.

This is especially true when one is just starting out. Some people make it work. They jump right into freelancing or entrepreneurship while they pursue their interests simultaneously. But this model requires a lot of discipline. The question that one needs to ask if one is considering following such a path is this: “Do I have that discipline? Or do I still need to learn how to be my own boss?”

When I started to do freelancing, I just got out of college. College, unfortunately, did not teach productivity or time-management (weird because college is one of the most time-demanding places in the world!). So while I think I was more disciplined than most of my friends, I still struggled—a lot. I struggled with prioritizing my tasks, spending a lot of time with tasks that turned out to be complete wastes of time. I failed to manage my finances, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and always worried whether a new client would discover me next month. I failed to find and work with the right clients. I even had a legal threat once!

Freelancing is a complicated journey with a steep learning curve that people should stop treating it like a walk in a park. It isn’t. It requires the same dedication that you need to dedicate to your other interests if you are a serious multipotentialite. And this means that if you are pursuing learning how to freelance and nurturing your other interests at the same time, you need above-average discipline. And again, the question you need to ask yourself is do you have above-average discipline right now?

Looking back, I could have spared myself of all the anxiety that freelancing generated and kept most of my 12 hours for pursuing my passions if I just found myself a “good enough job” to start with (say a part-time job or a remote work job that is almost similar to freelancing less the marketing and prospecting for clients, which is time-consuming and, frankly, financially unstable when you are just starting out).

In 2017, I found my good enough job as an editor for a publishing services company based in the United States. It was a remote job position that required me to work about four hours a day for six days a week. I pursued my interests in the morning and worked in the afternoon. The pay was good and I never worried about money. In 2019, I transitioned into an even better job. I now only work for 5–10 days a month, while I make the same money I did in my previous job. I am grateful for all the time I have to pursue what makes my heart sing. I wish everyone who dreams of being a professional multipotentialite to find their own peace of mind, so they can start following their passions more happily.

# 3. Life System

I won’t stop repeating myself. It’s all about time.

Now, I realized further down my journey that it doesn’t matter if I have all my 12 hours and my financial life is settled if I am overwhelmed with information and tasks as I start pursuing my various interests.

What I found out was that I need to have a minimum viable life system in place that would help me plan, manage, track, and reflect on my various projects so I will, again, feel peace of mind and satisfaction from my work and my multipotentiality. This is so important that I will elaborate on this in a future post, but for now, it is sufficient to say that I need to have the following to start feeling in control of my creative life:

  1. A system that captures notes, tasks, events, reading materials, and other inputs in digital or physical inboxes
  2. A system that keeps me connected with my core desired mental states, values, purpose, mission, vision, and goals.
  3. A system that allows me to review #1 and #2 regularly so that my actions are always connected with my desires.

After many years of playing around this, I was finally able to setup my minimum vialble life system this 2020, and it has changed my life profoundly.

# 4. Reasonably Good Health

I don’t have to be a triathlete. I don’t have to have abs or biceps. But I do need to be healthy enough to be able to enjoy my free time. Managing a health problem, especially a chronic one, can feel like a part-time job by itself, especially just after diagnosis. So it doesn’t matter if I have all the time, money, or life system; if I am sick, I won’t be able to take full advantage of all those privileges. Health should be my top priority before everything else.

I know this very well. Just last year, which extended to the first half of this year, I dealt with an ear infection, which got worse and led to tinnitus. I wasn’t able to work or do art from January to February this year as I adjusted to the psychological effects of the nonstop ringing in my left ear. I was time affluent, I was making enough money, and I had an okay life system. But all my resources went to managing my health problem.

# It’s All About Emotions

Needs 2–4 are meant to address areas of my life that, if left uncovered, will (1) steal my free time and (2) prevent me from actually enjoying what is left from my hard-earned free time that I should be using to explore my passions. No matter how much free time I have, if I am experiencing a mix of fear, anxiety, stress, exhaustion, etc. brought by inadequacies in these three needs, I won’t be able to take full advantage of my time, which means my many interests won’t be nurtured.

I realized that to even give multipotentiality a chance, I needed to have a good handle on my own emotional states. I haven’t figured everything out, but this year, I have achieved equilibrium in all these four needs, enough to allow me to actually dedicate quality time to my passions:

  1. I have about 20 free days every month.
  2. I earn enough to not worry about money.
  3. I have established a minimum viable life system.
  4. I have reasonably good health.

# The Power of the Minimum Viable

Again, it is worth repeating that I don’t need to have all of these four needs covered perfectly in order to start being pro in pursuing my multipotentiality. I just have to have the minimum viable set up in all four areas that generate the peace of mind that I need to just start.

My framework will not work for everyone, but if you think it could work for you and you want to try it out for yourself, here is how you would know that you have a minimum viable multipotentialite system:

Once you got all these basic needs covered, you can start experiencing true multipotentialite freedom—the freedom to completely immerse yourself in any interest whenever you like and whatever way you like.