And, some of us have an easier time answering that question than others!
Yielding to the Pressure to Choose a Career Path
In a recent TED Talk, “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling,” Emilie Wapnick, a career coach, writer, and artist shed some illuminating light on the implications of this ubiquitous question that most of us hear by the time that we’re five years old. Emilie rightly points out that “While this question inspires kids to dream about what they could be, it does not inspire them to dream about ALL they can be.” Instead, we’re encourage to narrow our focus and be specific.
Like me, you may have been a child who was “what do you want to be when you grow up” challenged. As I look back on what I was most interested in during my childhood, I know now that the most authentic answer for me was that I wanted to be a “college graduate” when I grew up. During my childhood and teenage years, I could not see my life past attending past college. Getting into college and finding a way to pay for it were the only goals that held my focus and and that I could wrap my head around.
However, I knew that I was supposed to answer that question with a specific career role like doctor, lawyer, and teacher. But, I never felt connected with any of those specific career roles. So, I decided on “business woman,” which was a generic and good enough answer in the 80s and early 90s.
Emilie talks about how she felt afflicted by having too many interests and describes a repeating pattern of pursuing an interest, achieving mastery, getting bored, and moving on. I believe that this pattern is more common for most people than we’re willing to admit for a variety of reasons.
For most of my career, I’ve held the somewhat uncomfortable idea that I was more of a “generalist.” Honestly, it seemed like those who knew what they wanted “to be” early on and stayed focused on that were living a much happier life than me.
Despite my observation about “specialists” seeming happier, I was not able to force myself to choose one interest to pursue as a career. My undergraduate and graduate studies clearly demonstrated my need not to be constrained by one subject or even one clique.
I added another major during my undergraduate studies because I was bored. So, I graduated with undergraduate degrees in business and information technology. I also socialized with 6 different distinct social groups on campus. Five years after completing my undergraduate studies, I went back to graduate school and got a master’s degree in psychology and still managed to explore a variety of subjects during that time.
Lately, I had started to think of myself as “divergent,” inspired by Veronica Roth’s book and movie series. Tris, the main character of this series, discovers that the results of her aptitude test, which is designed to help determine the “faction” or adult living group that all 16 year olds will be assigned, provides an “inconclusive” result.
Instead of revealing Tris’ “one true” faction, the test reveals that she has aptitude for 3 of the 5 factions, which are dauntless (the brave), amity (the peaceful), erudite (the intelligent), abnegation (the selfless), and candor (the honest)). Young people with test results like Tris’ are labeled as “divergent” and considered to be a threat to society (i.e., a threat to order). Fortunately, Tris’ test administrator is sympathetic and falsifies her test results to allow her to choose a faction for her own protection.
Embracing and Living Your Inner Career Wiring
Fortunately, we don’t live in a post-apocalyptic society that sees multiple aptitudes as a threat that must be eliminated! However, Emilie does highlight the idea that our society seems to have assigned the meaning of “wrong” and “abnormal” to doing many things.
If Emilie’s story or my story sounds familiar to you for yourself or someone you know, Emilie’s come up with a better and more confident word to describe your experience than the “generalist” term that I’ve been using. What new gem of a word can you add to your vocabulary?
Say this new six syllable word out loud with me: Multi-potential-ite. Does it feel as good to you as it does to me?
Emilie defines a person with multipotentiality as “someone with many interests and creative pursuits.” And, she acknowledges that it’s very easy to see multipotentiality as an affliction and something to overcome in our current culture that tends to prize and “romanticize” pursuing a more narrowly focused “one true calling.”
One important point that I’ve realized is that many of the career roles that I’ve held didn’t exist in form or title 20 years ago. I could not have said I want to be a “systems analyst” or a “content marketing manager” when I grew up. Diversity and evolution is a fact of life and we all are wired differently on a spectrum of countless attributes. So, releasing ourselves and future generations from the tyranny of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” seems like a smart move.
If you or someone you know has been plagued by and experienced anxiety related to the idea of finding your “one true calling,” then watching Emilie’s talk may provide some needed liberation from that notion. She’ll help you:
- Discover the 3 superpowers of multipotentialites
- Start to think about what vital intersections exist in your own life and career
- Begin to understand how the superpowers of multipotentialites combined with the talents of all our specialists collaborators can help change the world for the better.
Emilie, many of my friends and I, thank you!
Would love to read and respond to your comments!
Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net: graur razvan ionut (Job Stock Photo) and Ambro (Woman Sitting On Briefcase).