How to Be Everything

"The most subtle and often most stifling challenge for multipotentialites is the self-doubt we sometimes experience living in a world that doesn’t recognize our strengths (or even our existence)."

- How to Be Everything, page 180

What I love most about working for a virtual startup is the scope of projects that I’m working on at any given time. What’s even better is that I’m encouraged to work whenever and however I please, just as long as I get the work done. For me, that could mean working from 8am until noon or from noon until midnight, in a coffee shop or at my kitchen counter.

You may be thinking to yourself, That’s a pretty crazy way to schedule your workdays, and I would agree—but I’ve learned what works for me, and I don’t question it.

If you also thrive in a flexible work environment, or find yourself hopping from job to job constantly seeking new opportunities, you may also be a multipotentialite. If you’re struggling with the lack of structure in your work, How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up by Emilie Wapnick can offer you some reassurance, as well as some actionable strategies.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

You are a multipotentialite; embrace it

"…we gain confidence in our ability to absorb and understand new things. This confidence, in turn, accelerates learning by making us more likely to take creative risks and step out of our comfort zones."
- How to Be Everything, page 23

Wapnick describes a multipotentialite as “someone with many interests and creative pursuits.” There are other terms used to describe people like us—jack-of-all-trades, generalists, and polymaths are a few examples—but the idea is that a multipotentialite will tend to apply their skills to a variety of disciplines, depending on what interests them at the time. A multipotentialite would prefer to adapt to a new and exciting industry and risk failure than do just one thing for the rest of their lives.

According to Wapnick, there are three components of a “happy multipotentialite life:”

  1. Money. To a multipotentialite, money is just a means of pursuing opportunities, and otherwise living a comfortable life. Money is unfortunately necessary, but it is not the end goal. That said, it is important for a multipotentialite to make sure that their basic needs are met in order for them to put meaning ahead of money.
  2. Meaning. In order to determine what brings meaning into their lives, a multipotentialite will need to reflect on past experiences and pay close attention to the things that make them truly happy. As a multipotentialite, the better you understand yourself, the more positive and fulfilling decisions you will be able to make moving forward in your career.
  3. Variety. Multipotentialites generally suck at working within strict parameters. If you’re a multipotentialite, you’ll know that every day, week and month of your life needs diversity in order to keep you excited. That’s not to say you couldn’t do one thing for a long period of time and not get bored, but the ability to switch between projects at a pace that feels right to you is crucial.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

What’s your work model?

"Mix and match the four approaches as you please. Switch models every few years. Be a hybrid. It’s all good."
- How to Be Everything, page 62

Wapnick introduces four work models in the book. Of these four, a multipotentialite may resonate with all of them, or just one. These work models provide clarity around how best to maneuver your working conditions based on the model that suits you best.

The four models are:

The Group Hug Approach: You have one job in which you wear many hats. This type of position can be hard to find; it may exist within one open-minded organization, or it may exist deep inside a specific industry. Your best bet in order to score a job where you can, according to Wapnick, “smoosh your interests,” may be to start your own business.

The Slash Approach: Having multiple jobs at one time in order to fulfill your desire to do more than one thing. In order to achieve this type of work model, you may need to be self-employed with multiple businesses, or be employed on a part-time basis by two different companies.

The Einstein Approach: Likely the most traditional model for a multipotentialite, this approach involves having one full-time job that supports you financially, while pursuing other opportunities in your spare time. If you’re someone who needs financial stability in order to stay sane, this model may work best for you.

The Phoenix Approach: Shifting between careers over the course of several months or years. If you’re someone who likes the idea of devoting yourself to just one career or company at a time, this model is for you. This approach allows you to reinvent at your discretion, while giving you the opportunity to dive deep into an industry before disappearing to try something new.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

How to be productive as a multipotentialite

"We can do many things, but probably not all at once. And (you may want to sit down for this one) we can’t literally do all the things."
- How to Be Everything, page 147

Now that you know what work model applies to you, it’s time to learn how to be productive within that work model. It’s worth noting that, when you’re a multipotentialite, you can’t just ask how to get things done—you must ask how to get the right things done.

Wapnick offers several productivity systems that may apply to everyone in the workplace, but particularly to multipotentialites. One productivity system in particular addresses how to distinguish priorities from waitlist items, while others address meditation, timing, expectations, and other processes that may have a direct effect on how you get your best work done. With regards to scheduling, for example, Wapnick explains that while some people prefer to plan their day hour by hour, others choose to wing it, and that’s okay. What’s most important, regardless of which productivity system you put in place, is that you know yourself well enough to be able to implement strategies that work.

I used to think that my constantly taking on additional projects outside the scope of my job description meant that I was confused about who I wanted to be. Did I waste money on a degree that, on some days, I don’t ever see myself using? Should I continue to pursue learning opportunities, or stay in my niche and perfect my craft? Was I lazy, unfocused, or just confused?

While reading How to Be Everything, I learned that based on my working style, I am a multipotentialite who works best in a Group Hug Approach work model; I like to be responsible for many different projects at any given time, and I prefer to do so within one forward-thinking organization (which happens to be Actionable).

To address the title of the book, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up (although I’m about to turn 25, so there’s still time). For now, I’ll leverage that thinking and continue to pursue a bit of everything… at least until I get bored.

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Alysha DeMarsh

ABOUT Alysha DeMarsh

Alysha is the Production Designer for and a graduate of the York University Bachelor of Design Honours program. Alysha is an avid reader, runner, vegan foodie and sometimes blogger at moveunique...
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