Some people are born knowing what they want to be when they grow up. Others figure it out in college. But there are still others who can’t decide, or move from career to career looking for the ultimate fit and just as soon as they think they’ve found it, they become bored.
Is there something wrong with them? No, says Emelie Wapnick, author of “How to Be Everything” (Harper Collins, out now). It’s just that they may be multipotentialites (aka multipods) — people with many interests and creative pursuits, not one true calling.
For these folks success isn’t defined by reaching the top of the career ladder and ringing the proverbial bell. Instead it’s about finding the right balance between money, meaning and variety.
“That’s what makes multipods happy,” says Wapnick, and she isn’t alone in her thoughts.
Leif Abraham, co-founder of Union Square-based business app AND CO, says that a new category of laborers has entered the workforce. Instead of multipods, he calls them “slash workers.”
“Not everyone fits in a specific box or is willing to be confined by a specific job description. They want to customize their own career paths,” he says.
And that’s what an increasing number of workers are doing, according to a survey conducted by AND CO. It found that 95 percent of the freelancers it polled sell two or more work functions (such as copywriter/photographer/graphic artist) when marketing their skills.
Not only that, but 70 percent work on two to four projects for different clients at the same time, rendering boredom unlikely.
If it all seems like too much work, then you’re probably not cut out for it. Abraham says that slash workers find stretching themselves “an adventure.”
Such is the case with Melissa Eboli. The 35-year-old Westchester resident has been a promotional model, an advertising assistant at Penthouse, a territory manager for Virgin Mobile, a personal trainer, a key account manager for appliance designer Fisher & Paykel, and she’s now the proprietor of her own business, Via Melissa, where she is a nutritional chef, recipe developer and blogger.
To some it might seem like the Fashion Institute of Technology graduate can’t figure out what she’s good at or what she wants to be when she grows up. But Eboli doesn’t see it that way.
“Work will always be there, so why not do what you’re passionate about?” she says.
Eboli’s way of thinking might buck conventional career planning theory, which says you climb the corporate ladder one rung at a time. But that’s not for everyone, according to Wapnick.
“Not everyone has a single, true calling,” she says. Her book argues that people who want to have multiple careers can be successful and serves as a guidebook for individuals who want to pursue the interests that drive them.
That way of thinking rings true for Brooklynite Mara LeCocq, 33, who is transitioning out of a highly acclaimed advertising career to focus on Secret Code, a personalized children’s book that stars “your girl as a hero” and helps grade-school girls embrace their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) potential.
Not everyone fits in a specific box or is willing to be confined by a specific job description.
That’s a trait common among multipotentialites, according to Wapnick. Wapnick herself graduated from law school, but has never worked as a lawyer; she studied film production and art, but paid her bills coding webpages. In addition to just finishing her book, Wapnik runs Puttylike.com, an online community that offers support and inspiration for multipods.
Some multipotentialites, like Nancy Halpern, 56, are certain that finding sustainable happiness in a single career isn’t an option. She has been everything from a fundraiser for nonprofits to a buyer for Bloomingdales to a vice president of operations for Target. The Yale graduate is now the CEO of KNH Associates, where she coaches executives in leadership.
“I get to a point in a career where I think, ‘I can’t stay in this any longer,’” says Halpern. It can take as much as a decade before she reaches that, but once she’s there, she makes the leap. “What else can I do? I’m motivated by an odd cocktail of fear and curiosity,” she says.
And while every now and then Haplern looks at some of her Yale classmates who are big shots, having taken more conventional roads, she says she doesn’t feel inferior.
“There’s always going to be someone who’s skinnier than me, too, you know what I mean?” she says. Besides, Halpern has still earned enough to buy an apartment on the Upper East Side.
Not only that, but she has her own measure for career success.
“Boredom is hell. What matters to me is being engaged,” she says.
Abraham recommends you list everything that you’re good at. “That’s what you have to sell,” he says, but he doesn’t stop there. “Think about your interests too,” he adds, suggesting that you find opportunities to explore those as well. Not only that, but if you’re working for yourself, you get to decide when and where you work as well. The trick is finding the right balance.
Multipods can find satisfaction several different ways, as long as their needs for money, meaning and variety are all met.
This can happen as an employee provided that the work you get paid for is enjoyable and offers sufficient time off for your other pursuits. Or if the scope of your work is broad enough to let you do many different things.
Multipods can also seek Nirvana as freelancers or become “serial specialists” who earn their paychecks by doing one focused thing very well over an extended period of time, only to cast it aside to do something else. During the transition, the trick is to quickly ramp-up to the new profession by acquiring skills via volunteer work or education and then figuring out how to sell the skills that transfer.