Disclaimer: I am not trying to sell you a new job (although we are hiring if you’re awesome and want to work with me) but this blog does ask you to examine your idea of “careerism”. If you stop half way, you may suffer from the following symptoms: confusion, anxiety, nausea, uncontrollable weeping and intense itchiness of the feet. If you do experience any of these, don’t worry, it’ll pass once you get off your butt and change your stars.
A while ago a friend of mine described himself as a “multipotentialite”.
Polymath, jack-of-all-trades, generalist, slasher, Renaissance person – these are all descriptors that have historically described people whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas – physical, intellectual, social and artistic.
Yet the society we live in, despite admiring a few people with hugely diverse skills and interests (like Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Tim Ferris), mostly tells a pro-specialist narrative. From a young age, we’re not taught to answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” with more than one answer. Instead, tradition encourages us to take one path, to focus on one interest, to build one career and to value the idea of a ‘true calling’.
Multipotentialite is the latest name for people who shuck this ‘true calling’ tradition and chase after multiple passions and interests. Coined by Emilie Wapnick, it’s an idea that resonated with me from the moment I heard the word and even more so when I heard her TEDXtalk.
“See, the problem [in school] wasn’t that I didn’t have any interests -” Wapnick says, “- it’s that I had too many.”
That was me. I thought.
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to turn any of this into a career. I thought that I would eventually have to pick one thing, deny all of my other passions, and just resign myself to being bored […] I worried that there was something wrong with this, and something wrong with me for being unable to stick with anything. I worried that I was afraid of commitment, or that I was scattered, or that I was self-sabotaging, afraid of my own success.”
That is me. I thought. I mean, I only just wrote a whole blog about this exact frustration about identity and career and brands and personal anxiety.
Throwing the idea of multipotentiality into definition, last month I left my job for a new adventure at a fintech startup.
Moving companies was an idea I first vocalised towards the end of March 2016. Or rather, I rolled out of bed one morning, looked my friend in the eye and told him I was researching “in house” roles in fintech.
I hadn’t actually started searching yet (unless you count unsolicited LinkedIn messages from recruiters) but that conversation set an intention. It lodged in my chest and hammered away with my heartbeat.
That spring morning was also the first time someone asked me, “why?”
Why fintech? Why go client-side? Why a mobile-first bank and not one of the crowdfunding initiatives or P2P platforms that are more established?
It’s probably fair to assume that anyone who hasn’t seen me since school (or even the early years of university) would be fairly surprised to find out where I’ve ended up. People who’ve come to know me more recently will be less perplexed given my overt fascination on social media and nerdy natterings in the pub. Even as recently as a year ago, if someone had said that at age 25 I’d be working in technology with a focus in finance, I’d have laughed at them.
I’m best known as bookish, a reader-in-residence, a self-professed word-nerd.
My first love remains words – written, spoken, performed – I love the way language hovers between the real and the fictional. Opening up doors to alternative worlds and different minds, language is inherently social and stories are our first and most primal virtual reality.
A lot of people therefore expect that I could quit everything, at any moment, to just write. Writing is as important to me as breathing (honestly perhaps more so); it’s catharsis, like the lights turning on, and long spells without writing turn me into a crabby Sasquatch.
But whilst I’m still plugging away at that
ridiculous , feverish, damp blanket novel (it’s going no where fast slowly but surely towards the half way finished mark), I’m most productive when I’m doing more than one thing. My procrastination monkey is a cheeky bugger and my interests are eclectic. As a writer in London, even mundane moments drip-feed the narrative whilst more unusual moments work as writing fodder – stories of train journeys where delays make friends of perfect strangers, of brothels in Barcelona overheard at a bar, of games between players who barely know they’re playing.
Fintech, however, is also something I find fascinating.
Despite being about as far away from writing a crime novel as is pizza making, financial technology first came to my attention in March 2015.
— Gemma Godfrey (@GCGodfrey) September 4, 2016
Run by former editors and journalists, my old work was built on genuine knowledge and love for the media. Moreover, not only was there huge support for activities like blogging about current affairs, but everyone – from interns up – was encouraged to spend time trying to bring in new clients they cared about. Learning curve? Huge. But as part of one of my initiatives, I came across an article by Anna Irrera on fintech. The concept intrigued me.
In this small but booming space, I saw people trying to solve fundamental problems with society. Money matters to us all and demands were finally being made for for transparency and responsibility, fairness and awareness of environmental and social issues. Startups, most with a cause at their core, were seemingly trying to address much of what was wrong in traditional financial services in order to build a better, fairer, more sustainable future of money.
Yet issues in fintech’s rhetoric were already appearing in the great twitter echochamber – for example, on gender equality there was a lot of talking but proof of the walking had yet to be made. So I wrote a blog on women in fintech (or lack thereof) and started to follow people online, read what they shared, commented when I saw things I didn’t understand or found puzzling.
As Wapnick describes of multipotentialites – I fell for the new subject hard.
The more I learnt, the more I wanted to learn. The more I saw what people were trying to do, the more I wanted to be part of it. And now I am (you can find out more here).
I’m still a writer. I’m still a logophile with a bookish heart. Personally – if you go back to that previous post on creativity and genius – I believe most writers will have generalist, multipotentialite tendencies. Our curiosity, ability to learn new things quickly, and synthesise ideas is very similar to what Wapnick describes.
Juggling my love of reading and words with all the other interests – tech, AI, finance, sustainability, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, and so on – therefore no longer seems so daunting. I can be all I want to be, explore all I want to explore, reach for every fig on the tree.
And so can you.
If you think you might be more generalist than specialist, more multipotentialite than destined for one thing, embrace it. Embrace it, explore it, evolve it.