Year is 2010. We are sitting in our high school auditorium. My friend Valerie, a brilliant violinist, sits on stage and plays the opening notes of a familiar wordless melody. Her seamless playing of every note draws a hush over the students. The violin’s melody serenades us, enveloping us in the crescendo of each note before it fades away. Moved, my heart swells. It whispers, This playing is perfect. Valerie is a master.
Valerie continues to play. Soon, though, another thought creeps in it:
What is the thing I want to perfect?
Valerie stops. The song is over. As my concentration breaks, a disheartened thought enters, one that will linger for years:
What should I dedicate my life to? …and what if I choose wrong?
We think of career as if we have one shot. With so many options of what to be, of what to study, of what passions to dedicate time to, of jobs to work, how do we choose?
I find myself without a plan. I find myself spinning in the unknowingness constantly, do I move left or right? Up or down? Backwards or forwards? Through the constant questioning, I find myself standing in the same spot, day after day after day, and not due to lack of effort. I am trying. I am trying so, so hard.
Anxiety is historically uncharacteristic for me. Loneliness is too. As is Immobility. Frozenness. Quietness. Erraticism. Dullness. Trepidation. Reservation. All of them. But now, they govern me. My bright and life-loving former self ceded to a fear-based, risk-averse, stagnant, confused, timid version of me. It might not appear like it outside. It’s happening increasingly on the inside, like an unwanted dictator settling into the cushion on her new throne. I am governed by Fear.
I know it. And I hate it. My shoulders have never been so tensed for so long. My eyebrows are furled, and at the end of each day, I have a tremendous ache along my brow line. It aches as if I have spent the entire day exercising them, through really, they have just been squeezed in tension for hours.
This fear of making a wrong move has caused a temporary, nauseating paralysis in my life. I am too scared to take a new job, to move to a new city, to pursue a Masters Degree, to pick up a new hobby, to do anything new, because I am petrified that I will pick the wrong thing.
The fear has become this palpable and governing thing. It’s devastatingly real. I feel like an animal that’s been dead for so long that it’s muscles are now frozen into one particular position. I do not feel confident that I can move myself, change my shape, carry myself into a new career or a new place. I feel immobilized.
It is worsened by the deep knowing that this struggle is not some external force. The struggle is in my own brain. Knowing that the problem is inside of me makes me feel that I, innately, am broken too.
Today, a little sunlight shone in, giving me hope in a new perspective on career. For a long time, I upheld the idea of a singular profession – nurse or writer or psychotherapist or poet. Until today, when I discovered Emilie Wapnick’s community of people who believe the contrary – who believe that being a little good at a lot of things is a good thing. Emilie has named us “multipotentialites.” According to Emilie, multipotentialites are people who are not specialists at one particular field, but who are multi-interested in several fields. The intersection of those fields combined becomes our speciality, but it may not fit into one standard career path. It’s not only ok, but good! Really good.
The discovery has been quietly liberating, introducing me to the notion that maybe my own core belief about career is not so fixed. Instead of feeling like a failure at many roles, I am challenging myself to embrace the many roles. I am not a failure of a nurse, I tell myself. I am a nurse….AND ALSO, I am a nurse who fits more in a niche nursing role (travel medicine). AND ALSO – I am a writer. And I am not a failure of a writer, but I am a writer who does more than just write. AND ALSO – I am an artist, not the best artist in the world, but an artist who appreciates sketching and pottery and dance.
Emilie has created a community for people who feel similarly, who feel that defining themselves as a specialist is not the most effective implementation of their skills nor use of their personality type. Instead, they are people with many skills, skills that often are not associated with a particular career path.
I am a word-based person. I tend to believe that if there isn’t a word for it, it doesn’t exist. Emilie gave me a big gift today – by creating a word to explain what I am. A multipotentialite. This week, I am learning to embrace a new idea of identity, a new way to understand my many passions. I am learning to let go of the idea of a singular calling.
Instead of feeling lost, I am trying to feel grateful, grateful for the many vocations. What a gift it is to feel so many passions calling my name.
Instead of asking ourselves “What is my career?” ask “What are my careers?”
Instead of “What is my passion?” ask “What are my passions?”
And check out Emilie’s community of other well-rounded people at puttylike.com!