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Why I started my podcast.
A few years back, I stumbled across a TED talk from Emilie Wapnick1TED talk from Emilie Wapnick, in which she discussed her coining of the term “multipotentialite”. Her talk, called “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling” has garnered millions of views — so clearly it’s struck a nerve. It certainly resonated with me.
Maybe you have a range of interests. Maybe you would consider yourself a multipotentialite, and maybe you’re not quite sure which road to go down right now.
For many self-identified multipotentialites, myself included, we often think of how much simpler life would be if, like Tiger Woods, we were handed a golf club at 7 months old and we instantly knew what we’d do with our entire lives.
Do you paint for money?
Nope! I’m a golfer.
Do you love your job?
Yep! I’m a golfer.
Ever thought about switching careers?
Why? I’m making millions as a golfer, and have been since I was a teenager.
And I know what you’re thinking right now: “why oh why didn’t I take the *blue* pill?”
Whether it’s Billie Eilish getting 5 Grammy awards at the age of 18, or Leonardo DiCaprio being chosen by the acting gods as a mere boy, multipotentialites are bombarded with stories of what I call the “often path”. A straight, unmistakable road to success. Hell, even the Cambodian Donut King of Los Angeles knew that he would build his empire with donuts – there was never a doubt!
I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a multipotentialite out there who doesn’t grapple with significant FOMO with regard to our single-minded brethren.
We imagine that our lives would be so much better if we just had the one, clear path to success, from which we never deviate.
What if we could just wake up in the morning, and know exactly what our “calling” was, just like Oprah discovered, as the heavens parted when she sat on that interview chair so many years ago.
Why can’t *I* wake up each day knowing exactly how my talents can best serve all of humanity and my own happiness. Why don’t I have an ikigai and everyone else does?
What’s *WRONG* with me!?
And yet, it turns out, a LOT of very successful people feel this way.
BETTER EXAMPLES OF SUCCESS
In his book “Range”2“Range” by David Epstein, David Epstein talks of a study conducted at Harvard that found that “virtually every [successful] person had followed what seemed like an unusual path. ‘What was even more incredible is that they all thought they were the anomaly.’”
As a society, there are a few stories circulating in popular culture about this phenomenon. J.K. Rowling is oft-cited as being a single mother, down on her luck, scribbling what would later become a billion-dollar franchise on a napkin.
And there are occasional lists doing the rounds, like “14 Inspiring People Who Found Crazy Success Later in Life” from inc.com, which indicate, at least indirectly, that success is possible after making more than a few detours.
So at some level, we are collectively aware that while teenage phenoms get more press coverage, possibly just as many people are finding great success later in life.
And yet, when we read or consume business advice, otherwise known as “advice about making money”, we almost universally hear the same thing, packaged different ways:
“Specialize, don’t generalize.”
You need to “niche down”. Find your niche and stick to it!
Would you rather hire a surgeon who is a painter and a Motocross rider? Or would you rather hire a Left Thumb Surgeon who has only worked on left thumbs for 45 years of his career??
These gotchas make it easy to say, “get me the 45-year Left Thumb Surgeon for my hangnail, PLEASE.”
THE STRUGGLE OF THE MULTIPOTENTIALITE
Being asked to “niche down” is like kryptonite for the multipotentialite.
It leads to paralysis, and deep depression. Because saying yes to one thing means saying no to all those other things we love.
How can I just be an SEO expert when I love late-night comedy so much?
How can I just be a “serious” business person when I love making people laugh?
How can I start a boring business that I’m more likely to succeed in when music remains one of the deepest loves in my heart?
These are all questions that have plagued me for years – just ask my therapist, AKA my wife, who is beyond sick and tired of each one of these variations.
Because to specialize in something means to give up several other things we love. Or at least, so we think… So *I* feel sometimes…
As Seneca says in Letters from a Stoic, “to be everywhere is to be nowhere.”
The next common piece of advice we hear is: “Well, you can still do X… Just as a hobby! Make your job and your social media presence Y, and just do X for fun.”
But for serious multipotentialites, the line between “fun” and “work” is negligible or non-existent.
Work is fun, and fun is work.
That’s our blessing and our curse.
And that’s why we crave the one true path that satisfies all of our urges and talents and interests, so our fun and our work can be one and the same. One giant ball of productive happy awesomeness.
As the saying goes,
“JACK OF ALL TRADES, MASTER OF NONE…
But the second part is possibly more interesting: “…though oftentimes better than master of one.”
It’s no secret that the career gadabout is looked down upon in the world of success and money. Because OUR WORLD DEMANDS FOCUS, they say.
I’m certainly not arguing that they are wrong.
And yet, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that experimentation is possibly the greatest key towards finding lasting happiness.
If we take Epstein’s book Range as an example, he details dozens of stories of people, Vincent Van Gogh included, who did everything BUT their final profession before they became successful. People who drifted wherever the next curiosity or best opportunity took them, and finally, through extreme experimentation, ended up in their dream job or dream career.
As we age, we are aware that the cells in our body change – Buddhists ask “are you still you if you lose an arm? Or two?” Hinting at the impermanence of our physical form.
So what chance is there that a 17 year old kid, who will change completely over the next 17 years of her life, will value the EXACT same type of work from that day until the day she dies?
Not impossible, but certainly rare. It’s certainly harder to believe when put into that context.
And we have more and more people who found success in their life, then ask “so what now?”
As Oscar Wilde said, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
THE OFTEN PATH IS NOT FUTURE-PROOF
We know the system: go to school, graduate, get a job, work your way up the ladder. But in light of AI and rapid technological advancements, as detailed in Tyler Cowen’s “Average is Over”, the assumptions we’ve made over the last 100 years about the “safest” route need to change. The “safe” path won’t be nearly as effective in the next era, he argues.
We need to keep a sense of plasticity in our brain – to help us see our problems from a fresh perspective. To do that, I believe, we need to change our input. We need a broader range of life stories to compare ours too, so we can stop comparing ourselves to an extremely narrow definition of success.
THE OFTEN PATH IS NOT HELPFUL
This is the crux of this piece. Intelligent people are usually multipotentialites. My grandpa was a brilliant chemist who loved nothing more than painting with watercolors.
DaVinci made world-changing strides in medicine, engineering, painting, and more.
But when these people are put into a box that says “you must be a chiropractor and nothing else”, on social media or elsewhere, they feel like a failure.
Feeling like a failure leads to depression, which leads to inaction. Inaction compounded, leads to a wasted life.
So while it’s nice that certain people became millionaires or billionaires before they turned 25, it’s not helpful. To you, to me, to anyone looking for a path forward.
Sure, we could interview Mark Zuckerberg, and I have no doubt that that would be fascinating. But would it be helpful to you? Or would it just make you feel inadequate, like a failure, and lead to further inaction?
So that’s why I made the “Beat the Often Path” podcast. In addition to being a brilliant play on words, I know, I know, I’m a genius. Kidding, kidding…
It’s a chance to showcase those weird stories that don’t get shared often enough. I want to show people who found success and happiness in highly unusual ways – often later in life.
Because weird stories are helpful. Weird stories can help us see our own lives in a new light.
Unusual stories can remind us that we aren’t alone, that there’s still hope for us, and that we can find our own path if we keep following the clues and keep an open mind.
And as a DJ of 12 years who built a music start-up to millions of followers then took on digital marketing clients in ecommerce while making jokes and satirical videos, I need this podcast more than anyone.
So it’s my sincere hope that these stories help you and me both answer the question of “so what now?”
Regardless of whether or not our life path fits into a neat package, there’s growing evidence that even without a master plan, we can follow those sparks of insight and curiosity, trusting that things will fall into place in ways we may not now be able to conceive of. To borrow a quote the immortal Frozen II, maybe we can all get to fulfillment by just doing “the next right thing.”