Some people’s lives go in a straight line. There is a path and they stick to it. They know what they will become when they grow up and every effort they make throughout their lives is somehow related to that. They are focused on their goal, confident in their abilities, driven. They know exactly where they are headed. They are not fazed by questions such as ‘So what will you do after school?’ They know and they thought you’d never ask. They are the most likely among us to have vision boards and five-year plans. When they fail, they don’t begin to question whether that is what they were meant to be doing in the first place. When they struggle with doubt, they somehow always know that the struggle will not last long and that they will come out of it more in control of their lives than ever.
Then there’s the rest of us.
There is this TED talk about ‘multipotentialites’, which is, in all honesty, a very cool name. I wish I had come up with it. Funny thing is that the good lady who gave the talk didn’t think that that word was inspired. People just don’t appreciate what they’ve got. Multipotentialites are those of us who don’t have one purpose, one specific thing that they are good at and dedicate their lives to. They have varied interests and invest themselves in all of them. Two years ago, maybe you were a guitarist. Today you work in tech. Next year you are in photography. You are probably easily bored. And most likely, your parents are frustrated with you because you seem to have no direction in life and it’s like you don’t understand stability. There is no one thing. There are many things and you love them all.
I didn’t think that I was a multipotentialite until very recently when I began asking myself whether it is possible to have two careers in two completely separate fields and be equally successful in both. Still, in spite of that, the things that interest me are the same things that always have. I didn’t think of myself as a multipotentialite because I don’t skip from hobby to hobby. My values have changed throughout my life, but my interests and my happy places have not. Everything I am interested in learning about and getting good at now is everything that I was interested in learning about and getting good at when I was 10.
I am not one of those people who can dance, sing, paint, work with animals, understand physics and computers, and generally do the most to live life large. I am a safe person. A stable person who recoils at the mention of the word ‘risk’. You know that verse that says make it your aim to live a quiet life, to work with your hands and mind your own business? That is my life motto. Except that bit of minding my own business because udaku is an integral part of my belief system. But my desire for a quiet life far outweighs that, so the motto still applies. I am interested in a few things and a few people and that is by design. It works for me. These people who go through life determined to do it all (looking at you, Kevin)—I don’t understand those kinds of people. I get exhausted just thinking about how people live like that. But I understand that it works for them, and that is okay too.
I am now thinking that perhaps I am a multipotentialite because though my interests are what they always have been, they are still multiple interests. Stable but still diverse. I am also thinking about how we label ourselves (multipotentialite, for instance) and how those labels become self-fulfilling prophecies and how that affects what we end up becoming. But those are conversations for another day.
For all my stability, though, I find that I am just as restless as the ones who dip in and out of varied interests, never settling, never stopping. I find that I am also always searching, always wondering what next, never sure. Do I take this path or this other one? Should I become this or mould myself into that somehow? Always looking for the place where I am ‘meant’ to be. You think that at some point, when you get it together, you will find ‘your life purpose’ and set up camp there and never have to move again. I am learning that that happens to a select few. The rest of us need to sleep with one bag packed and ready to go. There is no arriving. There is only constant growing and therefore, constant moving.
You know what that means? It means it’s okay if you never really get to a place where you’ve figured your life out and know exactly where you want to go.
A conversation on Facebook made me realize, and not for the first time, that I will probably be looking for my place for the rest of my life. People were on there, in somebody’s comment section, most of them at least five years older than me, I assume, and saying that they are still looking for The Thing. The Thing they are meant to be doing. Because few of us are doing what we thought we wanted to do. The arrow almost never hits its target. Even though sometimes it ends up hitting something much better, a bit of that disappointment lingers. What is the point of dreaming, then? Dreams change. Dreams aren’t solid. They aren’t stable. Not for most of us.
We take the hand we have been dealt and we do what we will from there.
I gave up on self-help books when I realized that they all wanted me to focus my energies on abstract things that in the end meant nothing to me. Their only purpose was to set me up for disappointment because my whole life was to be an effort in looking for answers that are nowhere set in stone. Answers to questions like who am I? What am I here for? What is my purpose in life? Questions whose answers change as much as I do.
I’m no longer chasing those answers because when we do that we end up running for the rest of our lives. Looking for a place that doesn’t exist. A place where you find The Thing and live happily ever after. The concept of multipotentialites is attractive to me because it shows that it’s okay to be more than one thing, to have many different directions and to take them all. It’s okay to stop running, chasing a Purpose. It’s okay to go through life wondering What Next.
For the rest of our lives we will be changing, we will be discovering, we will be travelling through ourselves. For the rest of our lives we will be figuring out what we want to do, what we want to become, because one minor change in the flow of our lives could set us on an entirely different path from the one we had intended. Because that’s how life works—you only take the next step. You can’t plan for the next hundred steps, or even the next ten steps. Everything could change because one thing changed.
I don’t have a vision board. I don’t believe that everybody has that one purpose they are meant to fulfill, one thing they were created to do. I don’t have a plan for the next year of my life, leave alone the next five. I don’t believe there is a point because in the end, I will have to make do with the lemons I’m given. And I think it’s okay. It’s okay to only decide on the next step. It’s okay to be okay with figuring out what to do for the rest of our lives. Life is for living and living is what you miss when you are trying to figure it out.