This afternoon quite by chance I happened upon the post “Re: Are you a Multipotentialite?” by @haideralmosawi. I was so taken with the idea that I then went and read the parent post by @twizzle. These two posts introduced me to an entirely new concept and gave me pause for thought about my own identity. I now feel compelled to write a reply to try and explain why the idea of multipotentialites resonated with me so much and why I think you should consider whether the term applies to you.
First of all, I’ll provide a quick recap for those who land here first and are as confused about the term as I initially was!
As explained by the original posters, ‘multipotentialites’ are people who have a variety of skills, interests and hobbies. They find it difficult and restrictive to commit to one career pathway or one particular skill set, they could be conceptualised as a ‘jack of all trades’. Rather than choosing one particular identity they feel able to move fluidly between several.
My History: Potentially a Multipotentialite?
When I first read the description of a multipotentialite I thought of my own academic and professional career thus far and felt a sense of recognition. I commenced my academic studies by studying for a BA in English Literature. I have always had an abiding love of Literature and I am an insatiable reader so I decided to aim for a career as an English Literature lecturer.
The only problem was that I also had a strong love for Psychology which I had enjoyed studying at A Level. I managed to find an outlet for this by dedicating my dissertation to an examination of ‘madness’ in three novels of female development. When I finished my BA in June of 2007 I found myself in a difficult place emotionally and financially. Under the immense pressure of varying obstacles I made the decision to move across the country and begin full time work as a Psychiatric Nursing Assistant while studying part time for a Psychology degree. I enrolled on a Psychology conversion course which allows students with an existing degree in a different field to ‘fast track’ their way to getting an accredited Psychology degree by missing the first year and going straight into year 2.
You can probably guess what happened, I became disillusioned with Psychology, I missed English Literature and upon completion of my Psychology degree I once again packed up and moved to another part of the country and began my English Literature Masters degree. I graduated with a very good grade but not good enough to gain funding to further my studies with a funded PhD. I was now completely broke financially and couldn’t finance a PhD alone. I gave up my dream of qualifying as a Dr of English Literature and my future career as a lecturer; I packed up and moved once again.
I might have let one dream go but I had new plans. I applied and gained a place on an Investigative and Forensic Psychology Masters program. I had to work for a year in a horrendous conveyancing job to get the money to fund the MSc but I got there.
A Dance of Literature and Psychology
English – Psychology – English – Psychology. I had moved back and forth between the two subjects in a deliberate dance for the last seven years. I had displayed the characteristic trait of being unable to commit to one discipline. I envisioned myself as able to become either a Lecturer of English Literature or a Psychologist, two quite different identities.
Of course after all this study and contemplation I did the only thing you would expect me to do, go and get a job in a field completely unrelated to either of the two subjects I’d spent so much time on.
I started working for a law enforcement agency that will remain nameless doing a job that will remain nameless. While in this position I completed a two year long course gaining me a further professional accreditation. I suddenly had a completely new identity, one distinct from the other two I’d been trying on.
I worked diligently at this place of employment for several years before the desire to shed this particular skin became too overwhelming to ignore. Once again I couldn’t see myself sticking to this one job or role or identity. I could feel other opportunities, other potential lives being shown to me and I was restless.
My own personal sense of identity is equally unstable. I cannot say that I am this or that. My unstable sense of self and self-image is a symptom of my mental illness but it also seems to reflect my general difficulty with commitment and stability. Sometimes I feel that I am quite calm, rational and easy going, but on other occasions I feel that I am sensitive, temperamental and highly strung. Sometimes I think I am a good person who tries hard in life, other times I feel like I am hateful and selfish.
I cannot commit to a single discipline, career pathway or personal identity. I am able to move between different characters trying them on and then discarding them like clothes.
Is it positive or negative?
In the shadow of my mental illness and the details of the diagnostic criteria I have felt that the instability in my life was a negative thing, an expression of my inability to function normally. The concept of multipotentialites has allowed me to view my history in a more positive light. Perhaps my skill-set is stronger for its unique diversity?
Perhaps my story isn’t simply the story of a symptom of mental illness but the expression of my individuality and flexibility.