Here’s a question I’m sure you’ve been asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Seems like a fairly innocent question, doesn’t it? All parents/teachers/adult figures tend to ask it of small children. Some children answer with things like “firefighter” or “police woman”; some answer with things like “cupcake” and “lamp post”; some answer with “Beyonce”. But is there anybody else out there who, when asked this question, responded with something like “detective-astronaut-princess-florist”? Anybody else out there who wanted to be ALL of the things and saw no reason not to be? Anybody else who got progressively more anxious and worried as their life continued and they got older and the question kept coming back–albeit in different forms (“what are you going to major in at university?”)–and they began to realize that what society wanted was for them to pick one thing and devote their life to it?
I’m guessing there’s a few of you out there. Me, too. There’s a word for that–actually, there’s several. And none of those words are “abnormal” or “fickle” or “undisciplined”.
Nope. The word I’m looking for is multipotentialite.
In the winter of last year, my fellow eAmbassador Nadia sent me a TED Talk with a promise that I’d find it relevant to my interests. That video quite genuinely and profoundly changed my perspective on life and my place in it. It’s a talk by a fantastic human and entrepreneur named Emilie Wapnick, about the phenomenon she likes to call “multipotentialism.” There are other words for it that might be more familiar: generalist, scanner, polymath, and of course, the concept of Renaissance Person. I highly recommend watching the video before continuing–I’m going to try not to just repeat things that have already been so well-said!
Here are the quick points:
- Multipotentialite: a person with multiple passions, diverse interests, and a degree of skill in numerous fields/areas of expertise.
- The world is divided (more or less) into multipotentialites and specialists, who have “Their Thing” that is the center of their focus/passion/probable career path.
- Modern society is structured to skew heavily in favour of specialists: we romanticize the concept of the “One True Calling”.
- This means–unfortunately–society tends to view people without that One True Calling as indecisive, flighty, or even self-sabotaging.
- Nothing could be further from the truth! Multipotentialites are instead a valuable wellspring of innovation and adaptability. They just need to a) claim ownership of their Renaissance personality and b) create opportunities to use those multiple passions in their lives.
For all the students out there who are resonating with this, I’m sure you’re asking: “but how do you combine all these things together?” Especially in university, which is quite literally a specialist-based institution–its job is to make you an expert in one field. How can Renaissance students create space in their lives for their multiple passions and skills? How can they find opportunities that demand not just one of their talents but many? How, in short, can they allow their curiosity to run wild?
I’m going to use myself as an example to answer these questions. Settle in; take a deep breath. If you’re not used to it, the idea of juggling so many things is superhuman at best and completely overwhelming at worst, but I’ve found ways to make it work, and I’m here to show you how to do the same. Without further ado:
My Interests: A Seemingly Endless List
- Music (playing instruments, composing, musical appreciation, etc)
- Yoga; meditation
- Tai Chi
- Circus/performance arts: aerial silks, tightrope walking, poi, contact juggling, etc
- Français, Nihongo (Japanese), Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), Srpski (Serbian) – language AND culture
- Languages/linguistics in general
- Illustration (drawing; graphic/layout design)
- Typography & calligraphy
- Egyptology/archaeology (& philology, which is archaeology + linguistics!)
- Mythology/folklore in general
- Massage therapy
- Aromatherapy & herbal medicine (Ayurveda being complimentary to yoga)
- Tea making
- Writing (novels, poetry, essays, blog posts, etc)
- Worldbuilding and culturebuilding (ask me about gift economies or Sri Lankan agricultural practices any time)
- Social work/mental health
- Queer theory & gender studies (heyo asexuality awareness!)
- Agriculture & nutrition
- Travel (some dream destinations: Pamukkale, Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu)
- Philosophy (ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, etc)
- Mentorship & resource-sharing
- Creating support systems & transmitting knowledge
- And on, and on, and on…
It might seem unthinkable to some people, but in my mind, it makes perfect sense to want to channel equal amounts of energy and enthusiasm and effort into all of these things. To me, the thing that is unthinkable is to need to stifle these many interests in the service of a One True Calling.
Where do I find the space to let these various interests thrive? At Glendon, of course!
Glendon as A Renaissance College
The first thing I’d recommend to ANY multipotentialite student is to attend a school that focuses on liberal arts. The degree options are broad by nature: Philosophy, Sociology, International Studies (that’s so vague! it could mean anything!), Communications. These sweeping areas of study enable generalist students to cherry-pick from dozens of topics, all of which can still count towards a degree.
In specific, Glendon also has its Individualized Studies program, which is exactly what it sounds like: the student creates a customized degree that combines two or more areas of interest in a unique way. Talk about flexibility! If you want to read about experience with the Individualized Studies program, you can read an interview conducted by Nadia here.
That decision alone won’t provide you all the resources you need to nurture your multiple interests–but luckily, opportunities abound within the community! Here are some examples of experiences I’ve had at or because of Glendon that enabled me to combine multiple passions:
- Yoga, Tai Chi, Aromatherapy, Meditation, Mentorship: my summer job with Explore. Not only was I paid to teach yoga and other wellness-based practices, I was also able to exercise my French language skills! And I was constantly brewing custom-made teas and giving hand massages to my co-workers! And I made friends with a professional concert pianist! And I also made friends with a student who gave me an introductory lesson in poi!
- Illustration, Graphic/Layout Design, Typography: my work with Pro Tem, Glendon’s bilingual newspaper. This is my second year as Layout Designer, where I’ve been able to put my illustration/design skills to (paid) use! In the past, Pro Tem’s also been a place for me to publish my writing. Of course, my work with the lovely eAmbassadors and Student Recruitment also lets me explore my love of design through things like web design and imaging for social media (GL Snapchat filter, anyone?)
- Writing (specifically poetry/fiction), Music: Café Chantant, the open mic night held in Glendon’s very own Lunik Co-op Café. Typically there’s a mix of performances, from students with gutiars or ukeleles to three-part harmonies to poets to storytellers to jazz dancers. It’s a perfect testing ground for new material, and in my experience, there’s always been a student or two who want to hang out afterwards and talk about my poems or my book!
- French, Japanese, Ojibwe, etc: my degree in Linguistics and Language Studies tends to take care of this one, BUT–
- Japanese, Linguistics, Travel: I was able to combine all of these things when I was offered the chance to TRAVEL TO JAPAN for a week-long international linguistics conference in Oita. As a second-year student at Glendon–and part of the Research at York (RAY) program–I was trusted and respected enough to write and present a short paper at this conference half-way around the world. Did I mention I managed to secure funding for the trip as well?
- Social Work/Mental Health, Queer Theory, Gender Studies: this student blog offers me a platform to express my opinions and to share my resources related to these topics. In addition, the Glendon Women and Trans* Centre has tons of events geared towards these topics. In fact, I’ve been invited to be part of a panel next week in honour of Asexuality Awareness Week!
It’s not a perfect list, obviously, and some things have ended up puttering in the realm of occasional hobby/internet research binge (at least, until there’s space in my life for them to take center stage). But the point is that I feel like Glendon–both the environment and the community–makes it possible for me to pursue as many interests as I want, and to combine them in new and interesting ways. I don’t feel suffocated by a highly-specialized major; I don’t feel boxed into one specific career choice or set of opportunities. I feel free to embrace my intensely varied skill sets and interests, and to use them in conjunction with each other in professional settings in order to create valuable things for the world.
Fellow multipotentialites, what are your various interests and how have you found ways to combine them? Let me know in the comments or on social! (And if you want to know more about Emilie Wapnick’s amazing community for multipotentialites all over the world, check out Puttylike–among other things, it has one of the only email newsletters I will consistently read!)
With love and juggling,