Book Review: How To Be Everything

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By Christine Cristiano.

This book, written by career coach, artist, and community-builder Emilie Wapnick, has a very compelling subtitle. The book’s full title is How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up.

I was turned on to this book by one of my clients. This particular client is the epitome of “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  In her late fifties, she has been gainfully employed in a government agency for 15 years, but has been unhappy in her work for the past 10 years.

At the time she started this job, she was looking to transition from “just a job” to a career. She made the conscious choice to pursue work with the government and was successful in landing what she thought was her dream job. She has a multitude of outside interests that she pursues in her free time. As she edges closer to retirement, it would be feasible for her to utilize any one – or more than one – of those interests as way to earn income. Even so, she is still wavering about what her next career move will be.

What attracted me to this book was the term “multipotentialite“, which was coined to describe someone with many interests and creative pursuits. I was intrigued by this term because it describes so many individuals who hold diverse skills and interests both inside and outside of the job market. In fact, it accurately describes many of my clients: employed for their expertise in certain areas, but talented in so many other ways. I find that these clients frequently have a desire to break free of what is expected career-wise. However, actually acting upon the desire to “cross the road” and do something they are passionate about seems to present a challenge to many.

In case the reader is not comfortable with the term multipotentialite, the author offers insight into slight variations of this personality type including the Polymath, Renaissance Person, Jack-Of-All-Trades, Generalist, and Scanner.

Further into the narrative, I did find myself objecting when the author described a multipotentialite as someone who changes jobs often. In my experience, this is not always true. For example, my client is a case in point: not only does she have longevity with her current employer, but she worked for a number of years with each of her previous employers.

The author nails it, though, when she describes the dilemma that many individuals face, and in my opinion, one that most high school students really grapple with. It is the cultural expectation that we’re allowed one identity in life, so we’d better decide what it’s going to be. This statement makes me reflect on the many mid-career professionals I know who embarked on a specific career path in their early 20s and who are now no longer interested in their initial vocation.

I appreciated the author’s consistent validation throughout the book that it’s okay to be a multipotentialite. Let’s face it: as humans, we are very multidimensional, switching hats many times a day to meet the needs of our work and personal lives.

The book offers some tested theories and questions for individual exploration including, what are some of your whys, and what does your perfect day look like? The latter half of the book introduces four work models that will appeal to the multipotentialite seeking to discover their fit in the workplace. It then expands on this information giving each model its own chapter containing strategies, worksheets, tips, and a summary of key points.

I applaud the author for identifying and celebrating the multipotentialite segment of the population. She provides affirmation that individuals are not always built to follow a traditional employment trajectory. Readers will gain a better understanding of their own unique multipotentialite personality and will discover some tools to make this trait work for them in the labour market. Career practitioners who read this book will undoubtedly recognize – and perhaps gain valuable insight into – many of the clients they work with.

If you’re interested in this topic, you may enjoy Emilie’s 12-minute TED talk titled “Why some of us don’t have one true calling.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

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Thanks for this post. I just ordered the book from the library and watched the Ted Talk. I am wondering how many career practitioners are multipotentialites. This might help high school students if their parents read this and stopped telling their kids that they need to choose something right away.