The Multipotentialite
by Katherine Rickard


February 7, 2014

Multipotentialite: A person with many interests and creative pursuits in life.
-Emilie Wapnick

On January 28, 2014, the Jeffco Gifted and Talented Department and Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children (JAGC) hosted a presentation by Emilie Wapnick on multipotentiality. The presentation was very enlightening, but shouldn’t have been. An issue I have certainly struggled with in my life, but just assumed “I wasn’t applying myself enough to stick with one direction in life.” Emilie, however, shed light on how this can be a good thing and that multipotentialites will be the innovators of the future.

Emilie pointed out that during the Renaissance it was believed that people should be well versed in all categories of life. That our minds are ever expanding. When the Industrialization era came, it brought the need for specialization. People were expected to do one job their whole lives and schools were made to fit this need. Our society is still stuck in this idea that we must each have one career for our whole life. However, our world is changing; people with various interests who are creative and innovative, and, above all, flexible will be in great demand. As Emilie stated in her presentation, “Innovation happens at the intersection of two disciplines.”

A multipotentialite is a person who pursues an interest in depth. But eventually boredom sets in, then the person moves on to the next interest. When we see this in our kids, we worry, “Will they ever stick to one thing?” Instead, we should be supporting them. If we don’t, these kids tend to suffer from anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed, existential dilemmas, and/or shame associated with the inability to choose a direction or with changing direction. The pressure to “know the [one thing] you will be when you grow up” is daunting to a multipotentialite. Ways to support a multipotentialite are:

  1. Expose them to a lot of subjects and new ideas. Emilie recommended Ted Talks http://www.ted.com/.
  2. Share in their interests.
  3. Be supportive – no matter how bizarre their interest may seem.
  4. Don’t project identities on to them. Encourage learning for learning’s sake.
  5. Teach structure – can be small things like ‘you get one extracurricular activity per semester.’
  6. Encourage them to be a self starter.
  7. Encourage them to connect and integrate their interests. Find patterns across disciplines.
  8. Help them think about their Why(s) – why do they want to be a ??? when they grow up?
  9. Actively talk with them about how you can do many things.
  10.  Lead by example.

Above all, remember that being a multipotentialite is normal and healthy.

Emilie has a very informative web site http://puttylike.com/ and she also has a page for parents with the slideshow of her presentation here: http://puttylike.com/parents/.