Sunday, January 13, 2013

Multipotentiality: Realizing Who I Am

People know me as the comics guy, particularly the guy who created Zsazsa Zaturnnah. For a long time, I figured that this was to be my vocation, because making comics married a lot of my interests, including writing, illustrating, design, acting, comic books and other forms of geekology.

But I realized that my interests went beyond that.

If you're the kind of person who has a lot of seemingly disjointed interests, who's not really a specialist, who's not a master of one or two things, who finds yourself shifting from one field of interest to another, and being accused of an inability to focus, doesn't that feel frustrating?

It sure is. I've been there and I still am.

I've only recently discovered the term for that, rooted in psychology. It's called "multipotentiality," wherein a person has the potential to pursue numerous fields, a one-shoe-fits-a-lot-of-feet kind of person. It's also known as TMAs, or Too Many Aptitudes, characterized by the inability to be contented in one field. It's unlike people who have various interests but are only of the passing or casual kind, at best, and are comfortable in their expertise in one or two.

For the TMAs, or "multipotentialites" as coined by Emilie Wapnick in her Puttylike website, learning and application is part of their methodology and way of life.

I honestly don't known if there's a test for that. I wish there was, if only to confirm my hunch. But, historically, I've found myself dipping into very different things.

I've always found expression in drawing for sure. I've been drawing even before I started school. My mom would tell me that I also had a fondness for our science encyclopedias, which I would sometimes bring (instead of kiddie books) on out-of-town trips. Then there were the interior design magazines which I would look through over and over, checking out the floor plans and admiring the pictures. In elementary school, I would write poems and scripts, and perform in classroom plays. I even remember designing a "tablet" entertainment console, wherein a took a piece of bond paper and sketched out a "user interface" that integrated a television, radio, and a Betamax player.

In high school, I spent a few sessions learning BASIC programming. I also enjoyed participating in Student-Teacher Day, when select students would teach an actual lesson. (I taught the first part of the "Nibelungenlied.") While not writing love letters for classmates who wanted to impress girls, I was part of the school volleyball team, the drama club, and the cadet military training "model platoon," but also enjoyed geometry and calculus classes. For a few months after the school week, I was in a martial arts class. On weekends, I was mapping the up-and-down shifts of Billboard Top 10 singles, foolishly hoping I could find a trend that will help me predict the following week's charts. Then, of course, running tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons and Marvel Super Heroes.

In college, I tried to invent a language, complete with conjugations and an alphabet. (This was inspired by the Japanese classes I sat in for half a term.) I've also done the acting and singing thing, the choreographing thing, the PR thing, the event hosting thing. And in recent years, I've studied a bit about investing, cooking, fitness, web design...

I've recently been learning a bit about UX design, instructional design, and content marketing, if only to broaden my design and writing skills, and learning more about how to create better stories, design better corporate identities, and reading a lot about management.

And yet, I also signed up for an online songwriting course.

Where does all that take me? Well, not really being an an expert at something. Yes, it's lack of focus. But, perhaps, it's multipotentiality.

And if you can relate to my situation, welcome!

Many might see multipotentiality as a blessing, but it's not. Sort of. Though multipotentialites enjoy learning new things and integrating knowledge, the most obvious challenge is in a job market that rewards focused specialists. Right now, I don't have a job. When I look through the classifieds, I find jobs that I can do but I imagine to be not too fulfilling because of the limited scope. Or I find jobs that I like, but the requirements call for specialists, which I'm not. (So what do I do? Learn how to make a startup!)

The concrete solution was presented by Wapnick, as well as Ian Sanders, the author of the multipotentialite book "Mash Up!" According to them, multipotentialites need to find the overarching theme of all of their interests and use that theme as their core advocacy, the same way that bestselling author Chris Guillebeau ("The Art of Non-Conformity", "The $100 Startup") has "non-conformity" as his theme. While I discovered my overarching theme years ago, I didn't know how to apply it, or leverage it enough to fill a bank account.  Maybe now that I'm more aware, I can make something out of all the chaos, and earn decently from it.

But comics will still be in there. It's been a great medium for me and a lot of my interests. But, as my fellow multipotentialites would say, there's got to be more.

Image from vierdrie at Stock Xchange.

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