“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I bet my bottom dollar that every person reading this article has been asked this question at least once during their childhood (often encountered in the form of a 'Cita-Cita Saya' essay). It’s a seemingly simple question, designed to elicit innocent and ambitious responses such as “I want to be an astronaut” or “I want to be an artist”. Truth be told, the adults posing this question to you couldn’t really care less as to what you say, but usually just nod their head in approval to amuse your naiveté.
As we grow older, this once unassuming question becomes one of anxiety and expectation. We begin to realise that our single said aspiration bears a lot of weight: it determines the subjects we choose to study, it governs what our interests should be, and worst of all, it is used by others to pinpoint – or even pigeonhole – what sort of person we are and who we will become.
One main reason why this question can cripple and confuse us is because it implies that we are only ever allowed to be one thing in our lives. If you were to tell someone “I want to be a dancer, singer, composer and a violinist” they would certainly find your response comical as a child, then frivolous and indecisive as a teen (although this combination of skills has been proven to be totally possible – and successful – i.e. Lindsey Stirling). “What do you want to be when you grow up?” really translates to “What sole thing do you want to devote the rest of your life to, to which your identity will be attached forever?”
Yikes! Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
The idea of having ‘one true calling’ is very much romanticised in society, and has been for eons. We all know a friend who knew they wanted to be a doctor since the age of 10 and the other friend who learnt how to sing before they could speak. While there are certainly many people who share this streamlined, specialist nature, there are equally as many others who simply do not. Say, you have a wide variety of interests that you’re equally dedicated to. You may feel as though you need to drop the many things you are passionate about just to pursue the ‘one’, or you may not even be able to determine a ‘one’ and therefore feel that your life is simply destined to be less purposeful than your specialist peers.
I’m here to tell you that it isn’t! If you personally relate to all that I’ve said above:
You are a multipotentialite.
A polymath, Renaissance person, Jack-of-All-Trades – call it (or yourself) whatever you fancy. The point is, if you have many varied interests, skills and/or creative pursuits, and simply can't imagine having to give up one for another, it probably means you are a multipotentialite. Embrace your plurality!
Hold up – if I’m a Jack-of-All-Trades, doesn’t that mean I’m master of none?
Ah yes, the age old saying. Arguably, yes, it would make sense that if Bob puts 10 000 hours into learning a single skill, he would be ‘better’ at the said skill than Tom who puts in 2 500 hours into learning 5 different skills each. Meaning: Tom would be more mediocre than Bob. However, this saying implies that mastery is the only thing of value in order to be successful.
I argue that it is not. For example, is a teacher with decades of experience better than a teacher who has only a few years’ worth of experience but is teeming with enthusiasm and excitement? Not necessarily. Passion, creativity and a positive attitude play equally important roles in success, complementing the mastery of a skill. While expertise definitely matters, it is not the only thing that determines our wins, our happiness, nor our social impact.
Now I will tell you my story. During some point of Year 10, we were all invited to attend the Careers Fair - the event for all the ‘big kids’ during which many local and foreign university representatives are invited to promote their courses and to help you choose one. I entered the hall with a group of friends, but a few steps in, I realized I was very much alone. Everyone else had scattered off in different directions; they were either dead-certain or at least had a clear idea of what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go. Initially I perused the hall aimlessly while taking the odd brochure or two from some places that I had considered applying to like Sunway, Monash and RMIT. After some time, I started bumping into some friends while queuing to talk to the same representatives, and they proceeded to tell me their entire life plan. Okay, perhaps ‘entire life plan’ was a bit of an exaggeration. However, they certainly knew what major they were going to do, where they were and weren't going to go, what scholarships were available, what their future job prospects would be like and even what the exchange rate was at the time. Heck, it might as well have been their entire life plan. It made me feel totally and utterly insecure as I could barely even narrow down a Bachelor.
Those who've known me over the years will know that my 'cita-cita' has changed innumerable times over the years, for I simply could not find the one thing that encompassed all that I liked to do. The reason why it constantly changed was because my skills, abilities, passions and interests were so vastly varied and often fluctuated in priority throughout my life. I liked Maths, Biology and Chemistry (Physics not so much, until recently), Art and French. I was the guitarist in the all-girl band MAASK (which made it to the finals of Tenby’s Got Talent 2012), dabbled in video animation for a while, enjoyed putting together mixes and videos, and absolutely loved to dance. My career of choice went from artist to architect to interior designer to radiologist to industrial designer to dentist to graphic designer, and it wasn’t necessarily linear nor in that order. Funnily enough, I never felt quite satisfied when I finally decided on which one would be the ‘one’.
It was also around this time that I watched a TED Talk that changed my life - and I mean this in the least corny way possible. It was a talk by Emilie Wapnick – an author, artist, filmmaker, and musician, among other things – titled ‘Why some of us don’t have one true calling’. It described what being a multipotentialite meant, what your superpowers are and how you can use your plurality as an advantage. If you identify with being a multipod, you absolutely need to watch this. Watching this video made me realise that I wasn’t totally abnormal, that there are many other people who feel the same way, and that it is indeed possible to lead a life with more than one true calling.
So in the end, what did I choose? Of course, I still had to decide what I wanted to major in for my undergraduate degree. I have chosen to follow my undying passion for graphic design. However I still attend French classes regularly, paint stuff, mix music and dance at every given opportunity. For the moment, I have found my balance of passions. I am certain, though, that this routine will change and morph as time goes by to accommodate my ever-growing list of interests.
With that being said, I would like to end off by saying this – embrace your plurality. Dive into the unknown. Pursue your many passions.
Instead of thinking of what we could be, dream about all we can be.