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Embrace Your Identity as a Professional Venn Diagram

Embrace Your Identity as a Professional Venn Diagram

We live in a world where we are bombarded with stimuli from many sources: news, work, podcasts, music, online articles, outdoor advertising, and people. Let’s face it, we’ve got a lot going on. Some research says that we are inundated with about 34 gigabytes a day.

For comparison, you can buy a phone with that much storage, but you’d have to buy one every day and fill it to capacity. That’s a lot for a brain to take in.

Somewhere along the way of increasing stimuli, our brains formed a coping mechanism that allows us to take in this information, quickly process it, and then categorize it.

[Related: Reprogram Your Autopilot and Take Your Leadership to a New Level]

This technique is called "thin-slicing," which is the process of making inferences to summarize details using minimal information. In his bestselling book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explained that thin-slicing occurs when we meet new people and, amidst all the other information coming at us, we form a first impression in about two seconds.

Thin-slicing and categorization are great tools to use when taking in a lot of information. But most of the time, taking in information about people can benefit from a little more nuance.

One of the first questions we are asked upon meeting someone new is, “What do you do?” If you’re like me and have varied professional and personal interests, are equally passionate about them, and may have integrated two or more of them into your career, it can be tricky to concisely explain what you actually do in one word.

Sometimes that opening salvo leads to more questions, imploring you to describe interests that seem unconnected when you say them out loud - yet you are simultaneously pursuing projects in all of these areas.

Most people will smile politely and say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” But if you look past the careful smile, you might detect a slight whiff of a conclusion: You’re a jill-of-all-trades and master of none.

I remember having many of those conversations and feeling like the poor soul who answers the unexpected phone call in a horror movie before slowly realizing the origin of that call - gasp! It’s coming from the inside the house!

I used to wrestle with this feeling internally, trying to make sense of it all. Then I listed to an awesome podcast called The Limit Does Not Exist.

The co-hosts, Christina Wallace and Cate Scott Campbell, believe that “creativity and STEM can and should hang out together all the time.” These women are qualified in both left- and right-brained subjects like math and acting, computer science and visual art. They described themselves as Venn Diagrams. I was intrigued and had to know more.

My sleuthing led me to the holy grail of professional Venn Diagrams - multidisciplinary thinking and multipotentialites. A multidisciplinary thinker is someone who consciously blends different fields of thought to discover and develop opportunities that were previously unseen by the status quo. People who fit this description may also be multipotentialites, or someone who has many interests and creative pursuits that may be pursued sequentially and/or simultaneously. You, dear reader, may be one of them.

Growing up, we are often taught to choose one job. However, a specialization in one field is not the only way forward. In fact, research shows that being a generalist with one or two specialist skills is a highly attractive quality to innovative organizations.

Embracing both sides of your brain to pursue projects that are fulfilling, and from which you can earn a living, will mean that you need to create some new pathways. It requires a certain level of curiosity, stubbornness, and most importantly, fearlessness.

[Related: Curiosity: Let It Be Your Guide]

Consider a few famous women who are considered multipotentialites: writer Maya Angelou, First Lady Eleanor Rooseveltactivist Gloria Steinemand astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison. They were curious, traversed a few worlds at the same time, were not considered "well-behaved" for their time, and ultimately changed the world.

Innovative organizations, and people for that matter, are looking for creative thinkers. They are the people who bring new ideas and make life interesting. That doesn’t mean people who can draw or paint (by the way, I fall into neither of those groups). That means people who are whole-brained, who can make non-linear connections, or who draw on diverse experiences to come up with better solutions.

These skills are going to be increasingly necessary in a future where artificial intelligence will become increasingly integrated into our lives. According to the Pew Research Center:

Workers of the future will learn to deeply cultivate and exploit creativity, collaborative activity, abstract and systems thinking, complex communication, and the ability to thrive in diverse environments.

My advice to you is to break down your walls, if you feel like it’s the right thing for you. Armed with the knowledge that I fit into a category that inherently defies categories, I am choosing to embrace my multipotentialite ways and move seamlessly through my worlds of design, business, and creativity.

Choosing between where our passion lies and what seems the most practical can lead us to box ourselves in, missing opportunities to create amazing ideas. I no longer feel that my professional Venn Diagram life is something which says to the world, “I’m not sure what I’m doing.”

Now I feel that it makes a confident statement. It says, “I’m curious about life. I’ve got something valuable to add to the areas about which I am most passionate. And boy, do I have a great idea I want to share with you.”

[Related: Job Hunting When You Have Many Interests]


Royann Dean helps premium brands tell people who they are and create an emotional connection that guides perception, drives engagement, and builds loyalty to win hearts and wallets.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.