6 Signs You’re A Multipotentialite (aka Versatilist)

The Multipotentialite

Throughout life someone somewhere will encourage, even insist you specialise. To follow your ‘passion.’ To focus.

But what if you have more than one passion? What if you just don’t fit the pigeonhole? Family and teachers may’ve written you off as a generalist. After all even the proverbs in our language deride the ‘Jack of all trades, but master of none.’

You might just be what Emilie Wapnick calls a ‘multipotentialite.’ What in the past, in my frustration at either being asked to deny much of the real value I bring, or being written off, I’ve termed the ‘versatilist.’ A recognition that you can be passionate, and excel in, multiple domains.

Not a generalist but a versatilist. A multipotentialite.

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It’s the reason this, my personal blog covers such a gamut of interests: Motorbikes, travel, parenting, leadership, technology, and more. So how can you tell if you’re a multipotentialite?

1. Serial Interests

Growing up the versatilist immerses themself in serial interests. This is not the equivalent of ‘having a hobby.’ More like mastering something as quickly as possible, then seeming to move on entirely. For me this included cycling, motorcycling, waterskiing, camping, hiking, sailing, photography, and computers. It led to leadership roles in Boy Scouts, St John’s Ambulance, and Youth For Christ.

Later this led to professional roles in youth work, sales, instructing scuba, and sailing across oceans, interspersed with my career in IT.

Even in IT I’ve programmed, administered, supported, architected, designed and implemented computer systems. Also worked in sales, marketing, service delivery, people management, and IT evangelism.

Chances are if you become passionate almost to the exclusion of everything (& everyone) else, only to move onto another passion 6 months later…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

2. Gear Snob

One of the side effects of wanting to master your current passion is the drive to get the best gear you can. Again this shows the difference between the generalist and the versatilist. To a generalist, any guitar will do. They’ll make do with the camera on their phone. They’re happy to rent scuba gear. To borrow camping equipment.

You on the other hand may struggle with affording the latest and best gear. Perhaps you spend hours researching holidays, gadgets, and vehicles, to ensure you can get the most (diverse) value you possibly can.

If you can explain the best brands in just about any domain, because you own so much of it…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

3. Versatile Purchaser

Not only are you obsessed with the best gear, but the most versatile as well.

Consider car(s): Do you have a ‘People Mover’ (MPV – Multi-Purpose Vehicle) or 4WD (SUV – Sports Utility Vehicle)? Something you can, and do, take off-road, through city streets, and down to the beach. A car that you can use to help a friend shift furniture, tow a trailer across the country, or reconfigure to take the entire soccer team to ice cream? Or maybe you have more than one car. The idea of ‘Transport-as-a-Service’ where you simply get exactly the vehicle you need when you need it sounds awesome.

For me this extended to my motorbike: A Ducati Multistrada. Multistrada literally means ‘many roads.’ A motorbike as performant on a track, touring over long distances, commuting in city traffic, or heading off-road.

Also to our boat: A Gemini Rigid Inflatable. As comfortable with a dozen divers out to sea, as towing someone on waterski’s. A boat we’d moor in the city for a night out, and beach when camping. Light, tough, comfortable, versatile.

If you ever feel that you’re next house, or car, or [major purchase here] simply doesn’t do all of the things you want, that you simply need something that may not even exist, just maybe…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

4. Participant

This is an interesting one, but you may find that you simply cannot sit in the audience. You become restless. Package tours are too passe. You’d much rather be exploring on your own. The traveller rather than the tourist. Nothing wrong with tourists, it’s just they’re not you.

Concerts are ok, but you’d much rather be on-stage. Even when taking part in participatory activities like diving, you yearn to be the Dive Master. To be on the helm when sailing.

This isn’t a control thing, at least not entirely. More a mastery thing. This is the difference between the generalist and the versatilist.

For the generalist, ‘good enough’ in any domain, ‘is.’ For the specialist, ‘good enough’ in any domain other than their speciality, ‘is.’ For the multipotentialite, ‘good enough’ simply ‘isn’t’ in anything they attempt.

If you prefer to participate yourself, much rather than simply watch others experience the joy of mastery…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

5. Cartographer

Models and maps are how the multipotentialite navigates the world. It’s how they master new skills so quickly. If there isn’t a map or a model, the versatilist will at least conceive of one, if not document them.

If you find you have a model to explain everything from trust (T = (C+R+I)/SO) to the AV and Sound system at church…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

6. Autonomy

Perhaps this one is because it’s hard to follow a single system of command and control when you have such diverse interests. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to be told how and when to do something when you’ve already modeled the most effective path.

If you find that there’s a blur between your professional and personal interests to the point that you thrive in roles where you can dictate when, where, with whom, and how you work…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

Ignore The Madding Crowd

If you are a versatilist, you’re going to have to overcome the existentialist threat of societal norms. Everything from exasperation at the sheds full of expensive, now disused, top notch equipment you still own; to managers, teachers, and investors insisting you focus.

This constant refrain to focus is a demeaning war of attrition. Don’t settle for anything less than the richness of your full diversity, endless energy, and constant curiosity. Be all you are and add colour to the monochrome of life.

And those projects you haven’t completed? That’s ok. You’ll come back to them…

…or something better.

 

Delight In Purposelessness

It seems we've become consumed with the “Purpose Driven Life.” Everything is about improving our health, our career, our income, our status, our safety, our happiness. The world.

It has filled us, and bubbled over to our kids. Most western kids are driven (literally and figuratively) to a ceaseless kaleidoscope of school, tutoring, sports, music, dance, and other extra-mural achievement. Even at home they're treated like employees and paid for chores.

Anything, and everything, that could conceivably contribute to 'success.' A capitalist, western, vision of success that has everything to do with wealth and status.

Remember when you played without purpose? When you built a fort; jumped on your bike after school and cycled around the neighourhood; just kicked leaves; or lay on the grass looking at shapes in the clouds.

No purpose, no plan, no goal.

Wasn't that delightful?

Yeah. I'm going to do more of that.

 

The Ideal Personal Trainer

Here's the standard first session of the average personal trainer. The humiliating measurements:

  • Height, “That's impossible to change, so who cares”
  • Pulse, “Probably a touch high, but meh”
  • Weight, “Hmm, embarrassing”
  • Waist, “Ok, ouch”
  • Body fat %, “Seriously, do you have to use the bigger calipers?”
  • Flexibility, “I totally thought I could touch my toes”
  • Core strength (situp), “Righto, you've made your point, I'm a middle-aged lump of lard, sell me your pain”

Step two is to 'set your goals,' why do you want to [lose weight, get thinner, increase strength]? Invariably all that comes to mind is vacuous superficiality: “Well, I want to look good. Buy a new suit for work, you know. Attract the ladies. [Awkward chuckle]”

Finally the run through the gym, setting the weights embarrassingly low after that slim mum who's just bench-pressed her bodyweight and a half.

If you're lucky, you might get a modern trainer who will also discuss eating. Then sagely remind you that “80% of weightloss is what you put in your mouth.” So watch your diet, ok.

Ok.

They might even stretch to a No sugar, low carb, Atkins, Paleo or other eating plan.

Sigh.

6 weeks or months later, after an initial 5 kgs, things have plateaued. Again. Your increasingly expensive personal trainer may be indulgent, sympathetic even. Yet not even mildly embarrassed. Their coaching is scientifically based, so the problem must be yours. You're not following the diet or doing the exercise.

D'you know what I'm talking about? I've endured this countless times over the years.

I've lost up to 18 kgs in a three month period. Entirely removed fat (in the early years) and sugar (more recently) from my diet. I've gym'd, swum, cycled, boot camped, and walked. Biggest loser challenges, boxercise. Yet since getting married I've been below the 'ton' just once. Briefly.

There is no problem with my motivation, my attitude, my commitment. Every other sphere of my life reflects dedication, passion, and high achievement. So what gives?

Empathy

Your average trainer is not remotely empathetic. Sympathetic? Sure. But they can't possibly be empathetic. Pretty much all of the trainers I've ever come across have always been athletic. Mostly elite athletes.

I've never been remotely athletic. Just ask any of my PT teachers at school, heck, just ask my peers. You know that kid chosen last in any 'pick your teams.' Yeah me.

Not that I don't enjoy sport. Volleyball, surf paddleskiing, scuba diving, sailing, waterskiing, cycling, and multi-day hikes. Non contact, leisure is my thing. Not alpha domination, or gruelling sacrifice.

Theirs is not the commute across snarling traffic to the political morass or overwhelming stress of the corporate office. Theirs not chosing between the canteen (everything either brown or orange), the food court (carb city), or the soul destroying sandwich at your desk. It's rare they're ever 'on the road' in strange beds and foreign timezones. Topped and tailed with hours in an economy seat and airplane food. Choosing between the catch up work, or dinner with the family, or sleep.

Not that any of this is an excuse. I simply argue that your average trainer is too far removed from your average lump of lard to even begin to relate and drive sustainable change.

Don't believe me? When last did your gym or exercise program contact you to find out why you missed a session? Miss a payment and contact to the wazoo, miss a session and crickets.

Interdependence

Secondly, my experience shows an entire lack of attention to interdependence in fitness training. Oh there'll be an admonition to fuel up before a competition, or to rest up, but this is tactical at best.

Everything is connected, your relationships, your mental state, emotions, work pressures. Even when they do understand, there's nothing in their training script to address that. Most people lose 20% more weight and perform better simply by just sleeping more. Scientifically lack of sleep is shown to stop any positive benefits from diet and/or exercise.

The Holistic Trainer

How good would it be if the trainer didn't subject you to those humiliating measurements in the first place. If their goal wasn't number of trainees by number of sessions, or number of trainees completing the marathon (boosting their company profile).

How about if your goals were: “I'd like to be healthy, have energy to achieve an outstanding career, be a great role model for my kids, and live longer.”

Foundation

Imagine your trainer then initially set foundational goals. Like, “For the next two weeks aim to increase sleep by 30 minutes every night. That's all.” You could collaboratively measure that with an app like Sleep Cycle or a Fitbit. They could even track your resting pulse over time. Arguably a better indicator of health and fitness than your BMI or how many pushups you complete.

Fun, Family and Social

Then imagine your exercise routine extended beyond the bi-weekly group session to something like:

  • Take the dog for a walk twice before breakfast, or with your spouse after work. Again easy to measure with something like a fitbit or smartphone app.

Imagine sessions were:

  • On Friday evening we're going to play frisbee, bring your kids
  • Saturday morning is beach volleyball or a bushwalk or a game of indoor soccer
  • Next term we're going to fall about laughing on paddleboards

Individual, team, and family games that not only introduce exercise, but interpersonal skills, and healthy competition.

In other words including your family, and moving for fun.

Not a medicine or a chore.

Something you can't wait to enjoy. Sessions you'd invite your friends to, which become a natural part of your social life.

Natural Cadence

They could plan a year program considering the natural rhythm of the calendar, public holidays, Christmas, Easter, even member birthdays. As well as local events like cycle rides, runs, Spartans and Tough Mudders.

The intent would be to gradually increase intensity through fun activities. Then over time (potentially years) as fitness allows, introduce dedicated training. The object never to necessarily be an elite athlete, but a whole happy, healthy person with the fitness to achieve personal goals. Over time these would increase. You might begin with completing your city “fun run” and later want to climb Mount Kiliminjaro, or do the Kokoda Track.

Or not. That's ok too.

One Food At A Time

How about a competition with all members of the group to “quit chips” for January, then add something else to cut every month. Perhaps chocolate for Lent, saving Easter Bunny Butts for posterity.

Of course you need to replace the crap with something nutritious and healthy. Another competition might be for each member of the group to find a healthy food court meal to add once a month.

Renewing the Mind

Your trainer could recommend TED talks, podcasts and books (audible books to listen on all those long walks) that promote mental health and strength, resilience and relationships.

Once a month after an evening session you could have a BBQ, family members again invited, and one person could do a presentation, or simply tell a story about one of the things they learned in the month.

There's a Program

I'd totally join a program like that. Wouldn't you?

Not a six month “weight loss” boot camp, but an indefinite, holistic, life program.

One where you're surrounded by friends, and introduce movement into your whole life, individual, family and group, in a fun way.

More a community than a program that acknowledges the interconnectedness of your whole life. That isn't about becoming an elite athlete, but a healthy, happy, energetic, alive individual.

Alas, no fitness trainer, or personal coach I've ever met would introduce a program like that.

Because they're interested in their goals, not yours. Or yours only inasmuch as they contribute to their (business) goals.

 

The Importance Of Asking

A strange thing happens sometime into a romantic relationship. After the infatuation. Beyond the honeymoon period.

One day your significant other will be upset with you. Because the telepathy no longer works.

The lawn needs mowing, dishes need doing, car needs filling, laundry needs tidying up, bath, homework, dinner – whatever it is, whatever your gender, whatever your role in the relationship – there is a critical task you've neglected. Chances are you didn't even notice it.

For some reason the time you took to be consciously kind when you were madly in love no longer exists. For some reason those idiosyncracies you so easily overlooked become irksome. It's like you've fallen in love with someone who no longer even speaks the same language.

Which is exactly what's happened.

You have.

There's an insidious temptation to think “Surely if they love me, I shouldn't have to ask them to do …”

Why not?

No-one has the same experience, history, or genetic make-up as you. They see the world through different eyes. If you don't believe me try this thought experiment: The next time you walk through a shopping centre together ask each other what you noticed was on sale. Chances are you and your partner saw entirely different bargains, even though you 'experienced' exactly the same shops.

So rather than building resentment because they haven't accomplished something you expected them to simply ask them to do it. Courteously, with respect.

Rather than tell yourself the story that they don't value you, give them a chance by voicing how you see the world.

How often?

As often as it needs for you stay deliriously in love with each other. After 21 years of marriage Lucy still has to ask me to do the 'obvious.' And I her.

If I'm honest, this can still be after an argument. We're still discovering each others blind spots, but our assumption is not that we don't love each other [any longer]. Our base assumption is that we do love and value each other, so it must be because of some other reason that we've neglected the obvious.

So, the next time you need something doing, simply ask.