I remember something my dad said to me when I was a teenager thinking about which courses to pick, which direction to take… he said, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
That flippant remark has always stuck with me.
It’s a tough question, “What shall I be when I grow up?” – and definitely not one I was equipped, or mature, enough to answer at 16!
I still don’t have an answer! (And probably never will…)
At that age, I didn’t have a thing.
(I still don’t have a thing!)
There wasn’t a subject at school I shone at. I was a B grade average student in most subjects.
There is this romantic idea that we all have a purpose, a thing. A calling.
But how true is that?
Are we putting too much pressure on ourselves, on our kids, to ‘pick one thing’ and stick to it?
What happens if you are interested in lots of topics? If you are naturally curious and creative?
Do you pick one thing then resign yourself to the fact that at some point you’ll get bored of it, then put up with being bored for the rest of your life?
Gone are the days where we train for a job for life. Thank goodness!
I can’t think of anything worse than doing the same things, in the same place, with the same people day in day out until I die!
And there’s the rub…
How do we reconcile this question when we live in such a dynamic and shifting world?
We look for references for comparison in others when we make decisions.
My sister Chloe is the artist, my brother Lewis is the musician, I was the writer. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be an author.
In 2013 I did that… I published my first book.
However, it wasn’t all it cracked up to be. While it was a proud achievement, I also realised that writing books, with nothing else, was not for me. The idea of sitting in front of a screen all day, just writing, is horrifying. I’d go insane! Yes, I like writing, but all the time? No thanks!
My siblings, too, wear many other hats, have done many different things. It would be misleading to say that they have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of ‘their thing’ – and so is the case for many of us.
So, now what?
This great TED talk challenges whether we need to even answer that question at all. For someone as young as Emilie Wapnick to realise this is admirable.
What if you don’t have ‘a thing’? – and why that’s OK…
In this TED talk, Emily describes herself as a ‘multipotentialite’.
I must confess, it does annoy me that everyone and everything must be labelled and categorised as if humans can be ordered onto a nice neat spreadsheet! However, if giving something a name to help others better understand your point of view is what it takes, you call yourself a ‘multipotentialite’ or a ‘pluralist‘, ‘scanner’ or a ‘polymath’ if that helps, but you don’t have to live it!
I enjoyed Emily’s reference to 3 ‘superpowers’:
1) Idea Synthesis
Combining two or more ideas and creating something at the intersection allows you to grow in different ways.
This is exactly how I imagine the current business I run and describe it with this Venn Diagram:
My favourite quote from this talk is:
“Innovation happens at the intersections”
2) Fast Learning
It’s rarely a waste of time to pursue something you are drawn to, even if you end up quitting, being able to assimilate new information quickly is an essential skill to grow your knowledge.
Because whatever it is, you will always learn new skills you can transfer into something else.
It keeps you curious, keeps you mentally agile and keeps you learning throughout your life. Allowing you to grow in different ways.
You can apply the knowledge you acquire along the journey in a different field entirely, one that you couldn’t have anticipated.
This is the ability to morph into whatever you need to be in a given situation
It’s a valuable skill because you can take on various roles, depending on your client’s needs.
We have a lot of complex, multidimensional problems in the world right now, we need more people that can pivot, adapt and think creatively, drawing on all their disparate sources of knowledge.
Because innovation happens at these intersections.
My husband, Graham, makes fun of me for getting bored so easily. His solution is the sticking plaster of temporary entertainment, like books, colouring pens, notebooks, art supplies etc. All good stuff for a hobby and to pass the time and relax of an evening – but what about having a purpose?
The challenge when you have so many interests is often not so much – ‘pick one thing and stick to it’ – it’s more, “What do I have a go at next? What’s my next journey of discovery?
The other significant challenge is having a big-picture – Deciding, where you want to go? What do you want to do? Who you want to be?
One thing I am certain of is that I don’t ever want to work for anyone else ever again, but what I’ll be doing next year, in three years, in five years… that’s all a work in progress!