Oct 19, 2018 | The Tangle Approach
I was recently recommended to read the book by Emilie Wapnick ‘How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up‘ (2017). Emily is an artist most well known for her TED talk, website, and the aforementioned book – all these dedicated to one and the same concept of multipotentiality. She refers to her own experience as a person who cannot fully commit herself to just one profession, but instead, has multiple passions and can only find fulfillment by sequentially indulging in multiple professions on her career path.
Honestly speaking, I was surprised to find out that no one came up with the idea to touch this subject up until now. Obviously, most people how multiple talents, and picking one profession which gives you a sense of optimal self-development might just be impossible. While we are taught detrimental stereotypes from childhood such as ‘you should get recognized for one particular achievement’, ‘you should find your craft’, ‘you should become a world-class specialist in something’ etc. Emilie fights with these stereotypes, arguing why she believes multipotentialites can be highly functional and can eventually gain a huge advantage over other individuals on the job market, due to their flexibility and an ability to keep an overview over many disciplines at a time. She also points to a few different strategies for leading the life of a multipotentialite. Firstly, in ‘The Big Hug Approach’, you can find or develop one job which covers all your main passions and talents. I guess, for many people, working in science works as such a multifaceted job. Secondly, in ‘The Slash Approach’, you can find a few part-time jobs in parallel, each one of them covering different aspects of your interests and personality. Thirdly, in the ‘Einstein Approach’, you can find one safe job that gives financial safety and enough free time for exploring your other passions and hobbies. Lastly, in the ‘Phoenix Approach’, you can fully commit yourself to one job for a period of a few months to a few years, to then switch to another, possibly completely new field.
When I read this book, I have a feeling that it resonates with my own story to a high extent. After high school, I did not know what to study as I was interested in many topics at a time. Whatever I would choose, I would have a feeling of waste. Therefore, I decided to study multiple majors at a time, and I started my studies with a combination of physics and psychology. But then, at some point, I realized this is not enough for me, I simply could not digest such a narrow field of view at science, and I eventually graduated with a Master in Science title from three majors: physics, psychology, and maths. Before I started PhD studies in neuroscience (which is probably one of the most multidisciplinary fields of science), I had a short episode studying some economy at the Warsaw School of Economics as well. Of course, the academic system does not support such behaviors, in a sense that students who specialize from the beginning, tend to have a higher GPA, get academic stipends earlier, etc. You always have these doubts ‘am I good enough?’ , ‘how to compete with all these people in all these fields?’, ‘how to find my place?’ , ‘how to have it all done at a time?’ – which is also one of the topics Emily touched in her book.
Actually, since my undergraduate times, I did not change as a person at all. Unfortunately, the academic system also did not change since then, and sometimes, it is hard to fit if you have more than just one specialization. Today, I still tend to keep the triadic model of professional life, and I would it something between the Einstein approach and Slash approach, but in fact, it somewhat differs from both of these. I already mentioned in my previous blog post entitled ‘The three-legged stool’ (published on September 25th, 2017) that I aim to keep separate buckets: one for my trained profession (research), one for my fun & money activities (investments), and the last one for the charity (so far, mostly work around mentoring). But I would like to elaborate a bit more.
Now when I think about this, I still see three separate areas of my (professional) life. I keep on writing research articles, I keep on learning about entrepreneurship and investing, and I work on improving lives for early career researchers. But I no longer see this model as a stool with three legs. Rather than that, I now see a plaid or a tangle, and the reason I am going forward fast at the moment is that these three areas have two things in common that tangle them tight together: people and writing.
Firstly, let’s talk about people. Obviously, the human factor is important in any area but it is especially true when balancing between fields. I often catch myself going to lunch with someone with a pure intention to chat about some research project, and I end up frantically debating about mentoring and self-development. Or the other way around: I start developing research projects with people whom I originally met on the occasion when we were working on some mentoring-related topics. And then, once making sure that we clicked on the personal level and that we share patterns of thinking about people and science in general, we started brainstorming upon how to extend our nice collaboration to research projects. I also attend conferences in the industry. I observed that people in industry value the fact that I have an analytic mind trained in academia, which manifests in the fact that I ask different questions and look at the problems from a different angle than most of the conference attendees. They are eager to tell me about commercial projects they are developing at the moment because they do not perceive me as a competition, and at the same time, they can always count on my fresh look at problems. I have a feeling under my skin that I only need two to three more years to start appearing in advisory boards of companies – only because of the uniqueness I represent to them. I also started interviewing some dropouts from academia on behalf of industry these days, for the sake of my mentoring activities, and I often end up talking to them about how their businesses came about and get practical advice upon how to become an entrepreneur. And so I create my plaid day by day from three equal twines.
Secondly, one skill useful in all these domains is writing. If you master your writing, you can be heard. If you master your writing, you can create research papers, research projects, business plans, materials about self-development, blogs and books at the speed of light. You can broadcast online whatever lies on your heart and create value for other people. If you master your writing, you can also network online and smoothly put people in touch with each other. If you master your writing, you become free.
And this is it – the simple, balanced, three-twine tangle model of labor which I was gradually, and intuitively, developing for myself over the past few years. Honestly speaking, I would be grateful if I met more people like that. I applied to the Puttylike community launched by Emilie Wapnick so that I, hopefully, meet more multipotentialites there. Anyhow, if you have a similarly personal approach to professional life, or if you follow any other model that is non-standard and worth sharing, please share it with me!