It has never made much sense to me that we’re born with one true calling and that we must find this one true calling and then do only those things that our one true calling calls us to do to the best of our innate abilities for the rest of our lives. And so, I was pleased to come across Emilie Wapnick’s new book How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up, which was published today and which is based on Wapnick’s wildly popular TED Talk “Why some of us don’t have one true calling.”
Wapnick herself is many things, including writer, artist, career coach, website founder, and former lawyer. Her book’s main message is that it’s not only okay if you don’t have one true calling but it can also be a great advantage. At the same time, she acknowledges that not having one true calling is very likely to make your life a bit more difficult than if you did have one true calling—or, at least, will present different challenges, including: 1) guilt and shame, 2) the discomfort of being a beginner over and over, 3) the fear of not being the best and brightest, 4) the fear of being an impostor, and 5) having to listen to external critics.
Wapnick's How to Be Everything offers concrete ways to deal with these challenges if you’re someone with many interests and without one true calling. It also offers definitions for various subsets of people with many interests and without one true calling. These include multipotentialite: a person with many interests and many creative pursuits; polymath: a person who knows a lot about many different things or a person of encyclopedic learning; puttylike: a person who embodies different identities and performs varied tasks gracefully; and scanner: a person with intense curiosity about numerous unrelated subjects.
In any case, I particularly like what Wapnick’s recommendations are for addressing the fear of not being the best. Which is something bound to happen if you find yourself switching careers at some point, and which is something I’ve found to hold people back from pursuing second, third, or even fourth careers.
It’s impossible to actually be the best. Even if you dedicate your life to one discipline, you will likely never reach number one. There will always be someone more skilled and someone less skilled than you—that’s just life. Pursuing something with the goal of being better than everyone else pits you against other people and creates an atmosphere where you’re constantly comparing yourself to others and judging yourself. And here’s another little secret: there’s no National Guild of Experts out there, giving out badges to the true masters and exposing the amateurs as fakes. You’re an expert until someone says otherwise—and they usually don’t. Most potential employers and clients are looking for people who understand their particular problem and can provide them with solutions. If you present yourself with confidence and link your skills to concrete results, the right people will want to work with you.
Judging by all the excerpts of How to Be Everything I’ve read, Wapnick’s book seems like a must read for all multipotentialites, polymaths, and scanners of the world. And while you wait for your copy to arrive via mail (or until you begin to read it digitally tonight), you might as well take in Wapnick’s TED Talk, which won’t cost you anything but 12 minutes of your time.
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