If you have a few minutes, watch this video from a few years ago, which I recently discovered and which bewitched me: it is the speech Emilie Wapnick gave at one of the TED conferences, which in America and around the world spread the best of ideas regarding technology, education, and design.
Who is Emilie Wapnick? It’s hard to say, and this is precisely the beauty of it: she is an author and a life coach, but she was (and still is) also an artist, philosopher, and community leader in her life. From her highly versatile career, she has drawn a concept that she now wants to make mainstream: that of multipotentiality (an English term coined by herself in English about “multiple potentialities”).
Wapnick’s idea starts from the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up? How many of us as kids felt lost in the face of this existential question, and how many felt stupid or limited in being unable to give a single answer?
Instead, the multipotentialites are precisely those who cannot and will never be able to answer that fateful question, perhaps because their interests are too deep or different or because they have so many ideas that they cannot be pigeonholed into a single work activity.
Wapnick wonders, for example, what would have happened to our cultural progress if many Renaissance figures, such as Leonardo or Leon Battista Alberti, had chosen only one profession in their lives. This question tells us about an ancient world: nowadays, we are destined not to do a single job. Indeed if we are lucky, we will find ourselves facing very numerous and different occupational challenges.
Attention: we are not talking here of absolute precariousness but of intellectual predisposition and aptitude versatility to move from one job to another to face ever-changing challenges. Professors who become actors, bankers who become writers, shop assistants who become startuppers, florists who become event organizers, and so on. The time when a person started doing a job right after school and kept doing that until retirement age was essentially over.
Not only does the job market – for better or for worse – no longer allow us this luxury, but how our society is evolving encourages us always to accept new challenges, go beyond our comfort zone, and experience activities that we never thought we’d be able to tackle, in which we never dreamed of being able to excel: in the United States today, the average time spent in a single job is 4.2 years.
Yet not pigeonholing yourself in a single definition (“I’m a secretary,” “I’m a cook,” etc.) also helps to experience the world of work not as an obligation that absorbs the whole of our lives but as an incentive to change constantly. Of course, if we want it.
But like it or not, change is a fundamental factor in today’s occupations: it is no longer just the skills that count, i.e., the skills and competencies that we have acquired to carry out a specific task, but the re-skills, that is, the ability that we demonstrate to be able to reshape our strengths and readapt them to new job opportunities.
An article on the World Economic Forum website argued precisely this: by 2020, 35% of the skills needed by workers in the world will already have changed. It may seem like a grueling race to innovate, but it’s also an incredibly challenging challenge.
I couldn’t have ever had the option to offer a solitary response to the inquiry, “What is it that you need to be the point at which you grow up? And it is this escaping any definition but at the same time having a clear understanding of what we want to do in life and what our interests and passions are that seems to me to be the most compelling aspect of our contemporaneity. If we create a new Renaissance, it will only be thanks to our ability to renew ourselves.
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