Multipotentialite, don’t choose a career (2)

I promised I’d explain in this second part why it’s so important to take a step back.

In the first part, we talked about the pressures we face from our parents and relatives, but this time, we’re going to dive into the distorted vision of success that our modern Western society can give us.

Let’s talk about the “royal road” that we’re all supposed to follow. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the path we’re supposed to take after we’ve found our passion, which means getting the “right” education (only one), the “right” job (only one), and the “right” career (only one).

Yesterday: Leonardo da Vinci and the “Renaissance Spirits

Let’s take first a step back in time to the Renaissance era and look at the great Leonardo da Vinci. He was the ultimate Renaissance man – painter, scientist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, sculptor, architect, botanist, town planner, musician, poet, philosopher, writer, and even a party planner. This guy did it all!

This dear Leonardo represents for me the uninhibited multipotential that we should all remain (because we are born, and we remain, multipotential).

Moreover, he was encouraged and supported (including by the rich and the kings) to “scan” in all directions. Because at that time, innovation, curiosity and invention were encouraged. The world was undergoing a series of political, economic, social and intellectual changes, and everyone was drawing their place in it by freeing themselves from the shackles (political or religious) of the past.

Da Vinci was not the only one, at that time and later, to engage in everything that interested him. Nikola Tesla was also a multipotentialist who loved flying machines and studied German, mathematics, and religion before creating the first alternating current motor.

In fact, many societies before our so-called modern one valued the evolution of the world and reinventing things, leaving room for both the multipotentialites and the specialists.

When you were born in the United States in 1880, you knew nothing about trains, electricity or department stores. Twenty years later, many people were changing their lives, their jobs, their careers, thanks to the arrival of new technologies, which created new activities, new opportunities, new jobs. And the North American culture encouraged, and still encourages, innovation and the multiplication of skills.

It’s important to realize that success in a career is contextual and depends on the norms and codes of society in a given place and time. So, let’s break free from the narrow-minded vision of success that’s been imposed on us and explore our passions to become the ultimate Renaissance millennials.

Today: a world of specialisation

Welcome to the area of specialists – where we’re expected to choose a career in our early twenties and stick with it until we retire. But it wasn’t always this way. The world as we know it today dates back to the 1950s.

A new era

After the Second World War and particularly in the 1960s, the norm of salaried work took off.

People left the countryside in droves and flocked to the cities to work in newly created companies. The war had facilitated a technological advancement in many fields, and coupled with the need for reconstruction, led to the “thirty glorious years,” the prosperous decades of full employment.

Back then, it was possible to enter a company without any training, learn a trade, and evolve throughout one’s career. Our parents and grandparents experienced this. Lucky bastards.

However, workers, especially those in manufacturing, accepted “Fordist” cadences and extremely difficult conditions in exchange for access to the consumer society, made possible by wage increases.

But the social revolutions at the end of the 1960s changed everything. Working hours were reduced: in 1982, for instance François Mitterrand introduced in France social laws such as the 39-hour week and the fifth week of paid vacations. Later, the 35-hour week was introduced. Then, Tim Ferriss introduced the 4-hour workweek. But that’s another story.

By the 1980s, as technology and electronics were introduced into production tools, versatility, mobility, and the questioning of traditional hierarchies became essential. New jobs were being created, and it was still possible to start without a predefined career plan.

But… with the economic crises and changes that followed, work became more precarious, and traditional industries like steel or textile disappeared. Careers became less and less stable, and the permanent contract no longer meant a contract for life. It’s no wonder that people are now questioning the idea of choosing one career for life.

The arrival of specialists

In the nineties, there was, in principle, more room for multipotential employees.

The managerial model evolved over the years, moving from a very vertical hierarchy to more horizontality.

We saw the emergence of “liberated companies”, in which employees are invited to make decisions freely and to take it in turns to assume the functions of leaders. And let’s not forget the rise of the internet, which has spawned new businesses and telecommuting, and made it easier to become your own boss. The new freelance era make it much easier to become one’s own boss. And therefore to exercise several activities in parallel, and organise one’s life as one wishes.

But don’t be fooled.

While there’s more room for multipotential employees, everyone now has to build their own career and be proactive about it. You’re not just competing for a job, you’re competing for a lasting job because more and more positions are precarious. So, you need to make yourself known, stand out, and build your personal brand.

And there’s more!

Moreover, specialisation is now at the heart of the economic model of Western societies. And it will be more and more so with the increasing complexity of technologies and professions.

More and more highly specialised professions appeared. In the nineties, you could “know a little about the web” and join an agency, and learn as the medium developed.

Today, a community manager (already a very specific job) will have to focus even more, for example on a specific social network, to stand out from the competition for the same position. The same goes for engineers, architects… Many jobs today require to deep in a very specific field.

A nightmare for a multipotentialite.

The other category of workers is the one that can be called the “lumberjacks” or the “hard workers”: these are people who work in “metro-busy-daily” jobs, who can handle routine and repetitive tasks. For some, it is a choice: this regularity reassures them.

Another nightmare for the multipotential ones…

So today, because of the legacy of the last decades, we value above all the “specialist” profile. The royal path is to choose a field and become an expert. It’s not just for employees, but for entrepreneurs as well. Find a niche, become a Master, and dominate your field. It’s not easy, but it’s the best shot you’ve got.

Multipotential people tend to feel abnormal in a society that does not value their profile.

Hard to be multiple in a world that loves boxes!

In addition to this contextual specialisation – an economic parameter -, there is also a psychological parameter: human beings spontaneously put others, things, the world, into boxes.

It is archaic: it comes from the need to understand the world around us, to be able to protect ourselves from dangers. Humans as well as animals need to know if the other (human being, animal, plant, noise, image…) are “friends” or “enemies”. Is the shape at the top of the hill a saber-toothed tiger or just a rock? And that other human coming towards me, does he want me good or bad?

These are generalities, “à-priori” drawn from quick observation, without much analysis. But they have become spontaneous and generalised mechanisms of our way of seeing the world. And the others, obviously. So we need to “put things in boxes”, it is a normal behaviour. We have to accept it.

This leads to clichés, often reductive, but which statistically contain a part of truth. This reflex is detrimental to a good number of “categories” of humans. People who wear glasses are more intelligent, the “lascars” from the suburbs only know rap music, the “country people” are less educated. We need to know if the other is male or female, which makes life difficult for people who do not recognise themselves in one sex or gender.

And of course, this applies to the world of work. We segment the others, our group, or our social class, in our city, our country. There are the “little people” and the “bourgeois”, the “workers” and the “rich”. And today, especially in Western societies (and from my own experience, especially in France), the first question we ask, the first box we choose, that seems “politically correct”, is the profession. The job we do. Because this allows us to imagine (clichés, clichés again) what is the intellectual level, the income level, the origin and the social environment of the other person. His status, his class. To see if he/she is “above” or “below” in the hierarchy. It’s ugly, but it’s human.

Thus, every day, multipotential people quickly find themselves in the difficulty of indicating “their” box to their interlocutors. And almost, as we often use the verb “to be”, to say “who” they are. For the others, it is easy: Sylvain is an accountant, Juliette is a hairdresser, Alexandre (or rather Mr. Durand) is the CEO. That’s how it is.

What can already help is to correct one’s vocabulary, and to bring nuance (and more truth) when we are asked the famous question:

“What do you do for a living?”

First, by putting aside the verb “to be.” The one that locks you into a single role. Find turns of phrase that separate you from your activity as such.

For example: “I am currently working as a department manager”. By adding also, if the context allows it, more details about your projects (“But my project is to do a training in the field of nutrition”) or “connotating” information (I invent this new adjective on the spot): “I manage the shelves of an organic store, I am very interested in ecology and nutrition”.

This allows others to put you in the box they need to put you in, but in the present tense. And there is nothing to stop us from expanding a little, or a lot, to adjust their perception of your reality – your complexity.

You can also make fun of their opinion, of the image they have developed in their head. Sometimes it’s even easier.

Tomorrow: a world in upheaval

On one side, we are specialising jobs and even studies: to face the growth of unemployment and precarious jobs, the school reforms are going towards a tightening of the teaching and the increased specialisation of the subjects.

One must be “employable”, as close as possible to the economic market, to the demands of employers.

But on the other hand, by choosing only one speciality, one is probably condemning oneself to future unemployment. It is now impossible to know if one’s profession will still exist in five years – and even hairdressers or pharmacists have to worry about that.

I remember the time when all students were pushed to become web designers. Thousands of them entered the job market at the same time, hoping to find a job easily and quickly. In reality, even if they got a permanent job, given the strong competition, it was poorly, very poorly paid. And India or China started to offer the same skills at much lower rates.

Today, same with coding. Because I haven’t talked about artificial intelligence yet.

These economic changes are rather beneficial for multipotential people, who get bored quickly if their job does not allow them to do different things, varied activities, and to learn continuously. You may feel penalised in traditional companies, which want a long-term workforce. 

But the reality is that companies are no longer able to guarantee you a job for life. Unless they evolve, adapt. And for that, they’ll need you. This is one of the cards you can play.

Moreover, the world is changing, transforming, very quickly. And nobody can really know where it is going. Work is changing at great speed and so is the professional environment. There will be many changes in work spaces, work methodologies or even services associated with the professional environment.

study by the Dares (statistical service of the French Ministry of Labor) shows that today 9 out of 10 new hires are made on fixed-term contracts. Companies want to make their payroll more flexible. But it is also due to the new aspirations of employees, especially the youngest, who want to free themselves from traditional employment contracts.

This is a fundamental trend. Multi-job profiles are becoming more common, and the massive arrival of freelancers in companies is changing the situation: there is less and less separation between “those who are in” (employees) and “those who are out” (freelancers).

This is a reality that we must accept and take into account. And take advantage of: the more work “in phases” or missions will develop, the less pressure you will be under to have a salaried job, and a single profession.

And above all, those who will do best will be the multipotential ones, thanks to their ability to learn quickly, to feel the wind change and new opportunities take shape, and their adaptability.

in 2030,“the pace of change will be so fast that people will learn ‘in the moment’, using new technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality”. 

Dell Technologies

Thus, “the ability to acquire new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself”.

Everyone will change jobs regularly and be trained quickly in a trade. The learning of new knowledge will be done in real time, on the principle of “in-the-moment learning”. Those who have chosen a single path, a single specialty, are likely to find it difficult to adapt.

From instability to serenity

The difficulty for many multi-skilled people to commit to the long term penalises them severely in traditional companies and when recruiting. Their multipotentiality is often seen as instability and unreliability.

Worse, their professional mobility too often condemns them to be considered as transient and uninvested employees, which delays their access to employment and often condemns them to financial insecurity.

This further damages their self-esteem. But the situation is changing.

A new vision of stability

Given the uncertainty of the world’s evolution and its needs, stability can now rather come from multi-employment, and thus multiple skills and experiences, than from a permanent job. When your only source of income depends entirely on someone else, there is a greater danger of losing it all when you find yourself without a job.

More possibilities to get known and to develop your brand image

Today, thanks to the web, we have a plethora of tools available to explain our career path and show our skills and achievements. From the profile on LinkedIn to the detailed CV on DoYouBuzz and all your links gathered in Linktree, it is easier to explain and make your career path and experiences coherent in the eyes of recruiters.

Dare to stand out

One of the great assets of multipotential people is their creativity. Use this asset to innovate in the way you present yourself and talk about your skills. Videos or articles, podcasts or online portfolios are all tools to talk about yourself. And also allow you to realise that you often have several “red threads” in what you do.

Multipotentialites and specialists, a nice complementarity

The world is actually quite a mess. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but Mother Nature makes sure that there is a balance everywhere, and for everything.

For example, she makes as many men as women, so that we can make babies in quantity. More precisely, out of every 1000 newborns in the world, 504 are men (50.4%) and 496 are women (49.6%). There are slightly more boys than girls born: 106 boys for every 100 girls. Why is this? Because there is a higher mortality rate among boys than among girls – in childhood, but also in adulthood (INED). She thought of everything!

What I mean is, the world of today and tomorrow actually needs multipotentialites as much as specialists. They each bring what is necessary to create or develop products, services, and business sectors, to adapt them, and to innovate them.

From MP (multipotentialite) to MP (multi-specialist)

Multipotentialites have more professional opportunities than in the 20th century, that’s a fact.

But specialisation is still at the heart of our economic model, and will be more and more so with the increasing complexity of technologies and professions. And multipotential people will not be employable if they are not specialists in at least one field.

And even several! The reality is that the multi-skilled people who will find their place more easily, whatever the changes in the world, in society, in the sectors of activity and in the world of work, will be the “multi-specialists”. Those who are also called “polymaths”.

Jack Chapman mentions this in his article:

“While specialisation has some economic advantages, in the age of technological convergence, well-educated generalists will be the most valuable. We now live in a world where the distinctions between previously separate industries are breaking down and the real opportunities for growth are where these industries intersect. Tapping into these 21st century opportunities will require people who are master polymaths.”

The good news is: it’s totally possible to be a “multi-specialist.”

So you are not condemned to choose one path to keep throughout your life. That would be the worst mistake to make, since it is not your role, and since the future world work will ask you to be able to learn and adapt all the time. But it is important to equip yourself with specialised knowledge and skills in one, two, three, or even more areas in which you excel.

This will be good for the company that hires you – as long as you showcase these multiple skills, and don’t get paid for just one.

It will also be good for you, because if your sector of activity goes down, or new opportunities appear, you will be more likely than the specialists to branch out into greener valleys, to adapt. And since you like new things…

So it all comes down to finding not your path, but your paths: the areas in which you have plenty of great things to contribute.


Specialization, Polymaths And The Pareto Principle In A Convergence Economy

The 7 major changes in the world of work since May 68

Multipotentiality and work

Future of work: what will change in the next few years at the office

In 2030, the world of work will probably have changed completely

Read also :

Are you a scanner, a multipotential?

Scanners, don’t follow the rules!

The FIRST thing to do when you are a scanner or a multipotential

Multipotential, how to do when you want to do everything?


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Sophie Barbarella

Writer and Public Speaker

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