When I was about 3, my mom had to take me on a road trip by herself, and she wisely bought a huge bag of toys from the dollar store. As we drove, she’d hand me a toy, I’d play with it for a few minutes, then toss it aside and ask for “somethin’ else.”
From a young age, I’ve wanted to experience and learn as many things as I could–usually in quick succession if not all at once. I happily brought this love of novelty into my young adult years, pursuing a wide array of hobbies in high school and taking a mix of college electives that made sense to nobody. My always-evolving bag of interests never seemed like a problem to me until I became an adult in the working world. After all, how can you stay excited at a steady job when you really want to be doing 1,000 different things?
But then I discovered Emily Wapnick and her ideas about what she calls multipotentialites–or people who have a range of interests and pursuits over the course of their lives rather than “one true calling.” Instead of steadily climbing the ladder in their careers, they see 1,000 different ladders in front of them, and aren’t sure how to choose. Wapnick’s TEDx Talk and her book How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up completely changed my outlook, helping me see this trait as a strength rather than something I had to suppress.
And while a lot of Wapnick’s strategies suggest working for yourself or changing careers (which may be the right option at times), I found there were plenty of ways to adapt them to stay happy for over five years at my last job (at The Muse).
Nurture your hobbies
While it can be tempting to think your job needs to incorporate all your interests, it’s important to remember that it’s only one part of your life.
Perhaps the easiest step toward feeling more energized in your job is to create space and time to explore other passions outside of it. Can you push yourself to leave work at a reasonable hour so you have time to go to the pottery studio? Instead of flipping on the TV when you get home, can you do some reading on a topic that’s been tickling the back of your brain?
My favorite way to feel more engaged at work was to take random art classes. Learning something new and working in a different medium used my mind in new ways, and I was more inspired the next day.
As a bonus, this strategy allows you to explore interests as they come up without having to worry about whether they’ll lead somewhere fruitful down the road. “By removing the pressure of having to generate income from every interest, we free ourselves to explore without worry,” Wapnick explains in her book.
Start a side gig
If you’re eager for more of your interests to contribute to your livelihood, consider turning some of them into a side gig. As Muse writer Stacey Lastoe explains, side gigs can be valuable not only to make extra cash, but to “scratch an itch” and engage in other passions. In her book, Wapnick agrees that having multiple jobs can be a great way to express different parts of your identity.
So think about the skills and interests you wish your job included. Is there a part-time, flexible job you can pick up that would use those? Or maybe a business you can start that taps into that? For example, I was curious about web design, but didn’t have much opportunity to use it as an editor. Instead, I taught myself to use Squarespace and started to help people build their personal websites.
Sure, it made me happy when I was working on those projects outside of work. But it also made me happier in my full-time job. I didn’t think of it as lacking anymore–my job offered me certain things, and my side gig gave me others.
Pick up special projects
Okay, but is there anything you can do to make your actual job appeal to more interests?
Wapnick suggests working in a multidisciplinary field such as marketing, UX design, or urban planning, which can be a powerful way for multi-potentialites to stay happy and engaged. But if your chosen career isn’t naturally this way, think about how you could expand the scope of your work. Can you propose projects that would allow you to collaborate with different teams? What duties outside of your job description do you think you have the time and expertise to tackle?
“If you would like to integrate particular skills into your work, try coming up with some initiatives that will allow you to use these skills while helping the company grow or run more smoothly,” suggests Wapnick.
“When you pitch your project, emphasize the latter. Frame it in terms of their interests. What do they care about? How will this project bring value to the company?” Of course, you’ll also want to make sure you have the bandwidth to take it on without letting your primary responsibilities suffer.
It doesn’t have to be a big professional endeavor either. I found doing things like volunteering to plan social events and organizing a small office library helped me feel like I was contributing while also providing a little variety in my day-to-day schedule.
Shift your role
Massive career changes can be a common path for multi-potentialites, but you don’t necessarily have to trade in stability to make a switch. In fact, you may have a leg up if you shift roles within a company where you already have clout.
If you’re feeling antsy, it could be worth opening up your company’s job board to see if they’re hiring for anything that sounds exciting. If you don’t see anything you like, you could even consider pitching a new role to the company, aligning the job you want with something the company needs.
“Multi-potentialites often use one particular skill set to get in the door at a company,” Wapnick writes in her book. “Once they’ve been working at their job for a while and have proven themselves, they persuade their employers to let them assume more responsibility and change focuses within the company.”
When I saw the opportunity for branded content as a product at my company, I pitched it as a new role–and because the team already trusted me, they accepted. It used some of the skills from my previous job as an editor, but also allowed me to use new ones like product development, strategy, and client relations. This gave an old job the thrill of a new one, and doubled the amount of time I was happy to stay at the company.
Being a multi-potentialite doesn’t have to mean living an unstable life, flitting from job to job. If staying at your current company appeals to you, these strategies can help.
That said, it’s also okay not to want to stay in one job or field forever. If you still feel the pull to explore some of your other interests, maybe it’s time to start thinking about a career change.