Dr. Kim Burns

A multi what? Multi-potential-ite. A multipotentialite is a person who has many interests and creative pursuits. In How to be Everything, Emilie Wapnick talks about how people with lots of different interests don’t fit into the traditional career framework of specializing in one thing. I’m energized because I didn’t know there was a positive identity for this thing that I had thought was a flaw. Throughout my life I have felt badly for not sticking with a single focus while others followed a straightforward path to becoming an expert.

Typically, once I master a subject, I get bored and move on. I’m not good at maintainence. Over the course of my career, I established a pattern that after about 5-7 years, I usually reinvented myself, even if it was within the same institution. I have worked in several different spheres of community college administration, I have taken classes in a bunch of different things and I love to read about different subjects. When I walked out of a bookstore yesterday, I lamented that there are too many books and not enough time.

Wapnick identified the superpowers of multipotentialites in her book and they deeply resonated with me. We are continually learning. We have the ability to do many things and switch dexterously between activities, which makes us resilient. We are big picture thinkers and natural connectors. We like to help people connect with one another. We like to connect ideas and we have intense curiosity. We are also able to effectively facilitate multidisciplinary teams and talk the language of the different specialists on the team.

My curiosity and love of learning have shown up in the hobbies I’ve explored (but never did a deep dive in). As a kid, I took classes in painting, guitar, macramé, and tennis. As an adult I’ve taken classes in painting, photography, yoga, tai chi, pottery, ceramics, scrapbooking, indoor and outdoor rock climbing, golf, cooking, HTML, project management and design thinking.

Professionally, while I worked in community colleges for 26 years, I reinvented myself every 5-7 years. Higher education is an industry that reveres specialization. Faculty are experts in their field. Many administrators are faculty who followed a linear career trajectory from faculty to leadership. I often felt like an outlier with the myriad roles that gave me a generalist status. When I started working in higher education as a graduate student, I worked for a community-based center that consulted with police departments and nonprofit agencies. When I began working within the community college system, I developed a mentoring program for high school students. Then I managed community education programs, created dual enrollment and early college programs, developed transfer articulation agreements, created new academic programs and modalities, developed professional development programs for high school, college and university faculty. I worked on accreditation efforts, strategic planning processes and statewide change initiatives. I’ve hung out with technical writers, artists, computer programmers, and scientists. All of the skills I developed along the way were transferable and provided a unique perspective.

Are you a multipotentialite? If you aren’t sure, you can take a quiz or watch Wapnick’s TedTalk.

There’s so much more to share about this way of being. The different approaches to embracing multiple interests. Approaches to maintaining a balanced sense of productivity without burning out. But, pardon me, please. Adele is on TV tonight and I must watch!

Follow me on Goodreads, email me at drkimburns@gmail.com or connect with me on Instagram at @drkimburns. You can also sign up for my newsletter.

Have a great week!

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P.S. I’ve opened an online bookshop! Check out my affiliate link with Bookshop.org for more information. Links to books are my affiliate links.

4 Responses

  1. Oh no! Another great book suggestion. The question about how many books on my night stand will have to go up in count. Is her book on your bookstore list?

  2. Kim, you described me in your post! I have quite a variety of interests, and as you would become bored after 5 or so years in a position. Now that I’m basically retired, I have many interests, both volunteer and hobbies, and love learning new things. Thanks for posting you thoughts!

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