I’m A Multipotentialite: Here’s What That Means

In the first published article of PRISM Mag, PRISM Curator Juwan Holmes explains how he navigated multipotentiality and why it was important for him to openly embrace his diverse, multifaceted abilities for his identity, image, and career ambitions.

Juwan Holmes, Curator and Multipotentialite, at Graffiti Pier in April 2018.

We are often asked as children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We now recognize that adults posing these questions are trying to determine who we want to be, or who we are trying to become – but asking what we want to be is, for many, the first wrong step in our development.

This suggests that we are only to aim for one thing, that people will have only one achievement to represent them – and in present-day society, this appears to be true. We know most people for about 1-2 things because the nature of celebrity, lifestyle and pop culture is to center peoples’ one moment of success, and everything else before or after is of less importance. The currently recognized richest person in the present, Jeff Bezos, will be known for just that – being the world’s richest person, while in the present day we also know him as the founder and CEO of Amazon. We won’t remember Jeff Bezos as the Senior VP of hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co., and it’s unlikely that being the founder of spaceflight company Blue Origin or owner of The Washington Post will receive more than small paragraphs in his memoirs or biographies.

While these achievements are not on level playing fields, they cannot be dismissed while evaluating the life and career of Bezos – their would be no Amazon if he does not take the chance of leaping careers between Wall Street to banking in the 80s, and became an executive that has the resources and ability to leave his career and start anew in 1994. As outlined by Bezos’ business plan in the beginning, Amazon became the multiverse nucleus he always dreamed of. Minimal differences separate the Amazon vision from that within the makeup of a child’s mind: Their development will evolve and grow endlessly for years and there is no limit to the possibilities they possess.

For me, it is way more than another word – it was the key to unlocking a new path in my life.

When I was a child, I wanted to do many, many things and constantly fluctuated between what my ultimate ambitions were to be. I joined debate clubs where I hoped to learn the abilities that could make me a lawyer; I would read history books and the Constitution to further my hopes of becoming a politician and eventually, President; I would make myself the host or MC for events at my schools to practice for my future as a media personality. By the time I reached my senior year of high school, I had spent almost my entire childhood working toward becoming twenty different things, but was no closer to choosing one: I was applying to schools as a prospective student in journalism, or film studies, or for pre-law programs, or journalism, or entertainment, on and on and on…I realized very recently that the dysphoria around my ambitions was because of the perceived societal pressure that you are allowed only one monumental contribution in your life when in fact, life constantly proves that this is the direct opposite – you will make many contributions to life, hat may or may not garner the most recognition or impact.

Courtesy of The Multipotentialite Life. (C) 2019

I came across the term “multipotentialite” across Google once during my first year of college when looking for words to describe my diverse experiences on my resumé. I didn’t really attach myself to it at first, partially because it didn’t seem to be a well-known or even recognized term outside of a Wikipedia article; eventually, I learned more about the term and, well, came to terms with it. It was a perfect word to describe not just my experiences, but who I am.

So I began using it in conversation; People asked me about it and were shocked by the term’s meaning and my embracement of it, so I began to use it in my introductions, then my resumé, then my biographies; I stopped my routine of reciting 7 to 12 of my descriptors (“I’m an actor, artist, editor, writer, musician, poet, student…”) and went with the singular, simply complex ‘multipotentialite’, first to friends or associates, then to supervisors, then to strangers and job managers and colleagues. I decided to publicly describe myself with this word on the internet where was little use or discussion of it. Over the past two years, telling people I am a multipotentialite has earned mixed returns of responses – I have been told to stop using it, and told to never stop using it; many have claimed to have never heard of it, or remember the familiarity of hearing it a few times before; some focus on my use of it (especially during introductions) and some disregard it, maybe as if it’s just…another word. For me, it is way more than another word – it was the key to unlocking a new path in my life.

I realized very recently that the dysphoria around my ambitions was because of the perceived societal pressure that you are allowed only one monumental contribution in your life when in fact, life constantly proves that this is the direct opposite…

In 2018 I came across some TEDx Talks – Life Coach and multipotentialite Emilie Wapnick’s 2015 TEDxBend Lecture, “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling” was instrumental to me rebranding myself and it is cornerstone content for any multipotentialite. In her opening, Wapnick admits, “I’m someone who’s never been able to answer the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’…See, the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have any interests, it’s that I had too many.

“When you were first asked the question…you were about five years old, and the truth is that no one really cares what you say when you are that age. It’s considered an innocuous question posed to little kids to elicit cute replies…But this question is asked of us again and again as we get older in various forms…And at some point, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ goes from being the cute exercise it once was to the thing that keeps us up at night. Why? See, while this question inspires kids to dream about what they could be, it does not inspire them to dream about all that they could be.”

Wapnick continues on to tell the stories of mostly ‘ordinary’ people who have made strides in multiple different industries throughout their life, the history of the word (“Use whichever term you like or invent your own,” Wapnick says at a point. “I have to say I find it sort of fitting that as a community, we cannot agree on a single identity,”) and describes what she calls the three multipotentialite superpowers – 1. Idea Synthesis (intersecting two or more fields or concepts) 2. Rapid learning, and 3. Adaptability. She discusses concepts such as these constantly on her multipotentialite community Puttylike.com and in her book, “How to Be Everything”.

“…At some point, “what do you want to be when you grow up” goes from being the cute exercise it once was to the thing that keeps us up at night.”

Emilie Wapnick

In the end, Wapnick also makes a point to note that everyone cannot be a multipotentialite – that, “In fact, some of the best teams are comprised of a specialist and multipotentialite paired together…Sadly, multipotentialites are largely being encouraged simply to be more like their specialist peers.” While we would think that ‘specialists’ are direct contradictions to multipotentialites, I recognize that working with focused specialists maximizes a multipotentialite’s capabilities in an area of study, even though working with other polymaths also yields great results. They’re more comparable to the ‘A’ side or ‘B’ side of a vinyl, or the positive/negative ends of a battery – both are necessary but fulfill their functions in different ways.

Ben Vandgrift, Ella Saltmarshe, and Nicholas Grundy presented similar TEDx Lectures on multipotentiality; As Anthony Rahayel said in his 2014 TEDxLAU talk, “Yes, everything’s possible, everything’s happy when you do it because you are the center of your world.” In retrospect, the idea that all people can only commit to completing one larger goal is facetious. Society especially celebrates unique individuals for their versatility and adaptability, because so many do not get the opportunity to master multipotentiality.

I reflect on the bodies of work of some of culture’s multifaceted influencers: Prince, who would rarely acknowledge his most successful release,
Purple Rain, which simultaneously highlights his acting, musical, and talent management abilities; James Baldwin, a legendary activist who debated and critiqued history’s biggest figures while releasing critically acclaimed writings; and I see that they were willing to try many methods to delivering their message, no matter the risks they faced. I look at people from generations before and after mine – from Terry Crews, a NFL player turned award-winning actor, and simultaneously an advocate for ending sexual assault; or Marsai Martin, who at 14 is the star, creator and Executive Producer behind studio-backed film Little – and see many people that can fulfill dreams in multiple realms with excellence.

I can’t label Jeff Bezos, Crews, or any of the aforementioned as multipotentialites, because they may have a different term or no term at all to describe their life decisions, but thanks to their versatility I value everything I am capable of and hope to maximize my potential across a plethora of worlds and if all goes well, I’ll be recognized in more than one or two of them. We all should have the opportunity to unlock our inner Amazon.

I am Juwan, the Curator of PRISM Collaborative; Juwan, the writer of stories, poems, screenplays, scripts, songs, opinions, reviews, analysis, and journalism; Juwan the youth developer and social advocate; Juwan the actor, model, and filmmaker; Juwan the manager and organizer; Juwan the multipotentialite. They are planets that make up a singular, limitless, unique universe. My universe.

To Learn More about Multipotentiality, I encourage you visit life coach and multipotentialite Emilie Wapnick’s website Puttylike.com and watch her TEDxBend Lecture. To learn more about me as a multipotentialite and my work, please visit prismcollaborative.com/juwan-the-curator.

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