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Jack of All Trades, Master of Opportunity

Why Generalists Thrive in Turbulent Times

I've always been a curious kid. Since I was young, I've tried my hand at anything that caught my interest. I dabbled in painting, played instruments, coded on Neopets and Myspace, played a ton of sports, spent sophomore year in the photography darkroom, consumed books like no tomorrow...the list goes on.

I quickly noticed a pattern. I loved that initial new learning phase – the chase of new knowledge – but found myself rapidly reaching my threshold for boredom. I then moved on to the next new and shiny thing before ever truly mastering any one skill or topic. This realization made me question myself and how I fit into the world, especially one where specialists seemed to be so highly valued.

Eventually, I took a personality psychology class in my second year of university, where I stumbled upon the term "multipotentialite". Now I wear the badge of "Jack of All Trades, Master of None" with pride. Why, you ask?

Understanding multipotentiality, polymaths, and generalists

First, let's talk about the term "multipotentialite." Although the concept existed as far back as 1972, it wasn't officially coined until Emilie Wapnick featured it in her Ted Talk in 2015:

A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life....when it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on.

Sound familiar?

Multipotentialites can excel in multiple areas, but they aren't to be confused with polymaths, says Isis Jade. It's in the name – multipotentiality concerns itself with the talent potential someone naturally has across a wide spread of topics and skills, not necessarily achieving mastery in any of them. However, a "true polymath identifies themselves with their levels of mastery and expertise in a variety of subjects”.

In a similar fashion, multipotentialites deviate from generalists in that the latter possess a broad knowledge base and skill set across multiple areas, while the former have the potential to amass that knowledge and skill set.

The value of multipotentialites in an unstable economy

While multipotentialites may not pursue mastery in a single domain like polymaths, their natural talent potential across a wide range of topics and skills is what sets them apart. This versatility becomes especially valuable in our ever-changing and unpredictable economy. As we try to navigate these turbulent times, where job security seems uncertain and traditional career paths leading to financial security are no longer guaranteed, the benefit of having and fulfilling that potential shines through. This serves as a valuable safety net – and provides a competitive edge – in this particular unstable economy.

Even though the job market itself may not seem as grim by the numbers as it was a couple years back, its nature has dramatically changed. This is, in part, thanks to a harmful trend seen in employers: chasing profit and prioritizing short-term gains instead of long-term investments into employee growth and satisfaction. In short, companies have become less loyal to their employees. This contributes to the increasing frequency at which employees leave their jobs, leading companies to notice a downward trend in employment length and ultimately, investing less into employee growth and retention initiatives. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, and if we can't get out of it, can we at least find a way to ride out the storm? Or call upon our inner dandelion and thrive amidst the harsh conditions?

Adaptability and resilience in multipotentialites

In my mind, there are three groups of multipotentialites:

  1. A skill-oriented multipotentialite

  2. A knowledge-oriented multipotentialite

  3. A blended multipotentialite

As the names are self explanatory, let's look at how these different forms can all thrive in a world which still values specialization over generalization (to a degree):

  • A skill-oriented multipotentialite is able to quickly develop and apply their skills across a wide variety of job roles, while likely staying within a small set of related sectors. They would have slightly more resilience than adaptability, as they could avoid layoffs by moving horizontally across the organization.

  • A knowledge-oriented multipotentialite can rapidly and efficiently absorb the information needed, allowing them to move across a wide variety of sectors while applying a well-honed, smaller set of skills and remaining within a related set of job titles. They, compared to the skill-oriented group, would have slightly more adaptability than resilience.

  • And of course, a blended multipotentialite would have the most adaptability and resilience, as outperforming in both areas has a compounding effect on the transferability of their knowledge and skill set. These folks would be able to hop and skip jobs to their hearts' contents (as long as their resumes aren't full of 6 month long stints).

Even by itself, adaptability is a characteristic which companies are beginning to value from a financial perspective as coffers empty and budgets tighten. This downsizing has shifted desire away from specialists to generalists, as smaller head counts mean a greater need for those employees who are capable of contributing to multiple areas within a company – aka multipotentialites.

All in all, it seems the tides are changing for generalists. Specializing will never go out of style, but at least we are reaching a balance between the value assigned to both. Maybe even a larger swing toward generalization (especially with the emergence of AI – but that's a topic for another day) is coming in the near future.

The process of embracing multipotentiality & building a thriving career

While still a work in progress, embracing my multipotentiality has been liberating. By accepting my multipotential nature and no longer pushing myself to specialize in one thing, I've been able to evolve into something I see as special: a generalist. My natural curiosity, subsequent wide range of mid-level knowledge and similarly-rated skills allow me to draw connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, bringing a unique perspective to every problem I approach and solution I design.

Accepting this unchangeable part of myself has gotten me to the point where I can work 16 hours a week and enjoy what I experience as a comfortable, nay, enjoyable, life. The freedom that comes with this extra free time enables me to volunteer, pursue passion projects, and have knowledge soaking sessions where I just browse and let my mind take me where it takes me.

But being a multipotentialite is a double-edged sword. Despite my minimum work hours, I constantly find myself in over my head, with all of my ongoing and half-baked projects, the intimidatingly long list of the topics I want to research, the thoughts in my head flitting from topic to topic...but I finally recognize – and maybe you do now, too – the power of generalizing.

"Jack of all trades, master of none" is not a bad thing to say of someone. In fact, it's probably one of the nicer things you can say to someone:

A jack of all trades is a master of none, but often times better than a master of one.

Hacking your way into multipotentiality

If you're struggling to find a job, or nervous about starting the journey of leaving your current position, you can "hack your way into multipotentiality" by implementing a growth mindset. If you're not concerned about your job, there's still loads of fun (and internal peace!) in developing this type of mindset.

A few resources I can recommend for this, and to explore the topic of generalists further, are:

  1. 📚 "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" by David Epstein

  2. 🎬 Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dwek

    1. Or, if you prefer reading, read Dwek's article "What Having a 'Growth Mindset' Actually Means"

  3. 📝 The Neuroscience of Growth Mindset and Intrinsic Motivation

  4. 🎬 How to Build Self-Discipline: The Mindset Method

Wrapping up

So, what can you expect from me in the future? Definitely not any relative consistency in the topics I write about. But what you can expect is a lot of curiosity, an open mind, maybe some tips, and a jovial attitude. From user experience design and psychology to blockchain and software engineering to work-life balance and productivity, you'll get a fresh perspective and hopefully – be able to spark a meaningful conversation.

So join me in further exploring and embracing my multipotentiality because I am still 110% that curious kid at heart. I still love that initial learning phase, and this newsletter will be an expression of that love.

Thanks for reading! If this ignited any insights or you have any comments/feedback/topic suggestions to offer, drop me a line on Farcaster or leave a comment. If you really vibed, share it with a friend 💌

See you for the next article, who knows what it'll be about!


Down the rabbit hole we go

Here are some cool things to click on that led me down some deep internet holes recently:

I am not affiliated with any of links, they are just cool things I've come across in my own browsing :)

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