As adults, we are so often defined by “what we do”. When we meet someone new, that is, more often than not, one of the first things we will be asked. Narrowly, this question is referring to what we do for a “living”, or, as I prefer to say, to earn monetary income. I hate this question. One reason I despise it so much is that I do not have an easy answer and this question usually leads me into a lengthy description of our business (which is incredibly multi-faceted), when all they wanted to hear was a job title. Sometimes I say “I homestead”, which leads me into a lengthy description of what that means, because I get a look of confusion from the person who asked. If I’m feeling a bit lazy, or if I just want to avoid the lengthy description all-together, I might say “I’m a stay at home mom”, because I always consider this my most important role, and just deal with the feeling that I totally sold myself short of so many other things I do.
I have always had a diverse set of interests, skills, and talents, and, to my dismay, what I thought to be a short attention span for anything I might do for a living. If you are not in this boat, you will not understand just how difficult it is to exist in a culture that encourages a lengthy commitment to a career, or a calling. As a teen getting ready to graduate high school, I knew how important it was to my parents, my dad specifically, that I find a college major that I could study, find a career at a good company, and stay there for the next 45 years until I retired. My very first job was cleaning hotel rooms, which I am not ashamed to admit, I loved. It was that job that lead me to comment one day that I might be interested in hotel management, and my dad jumped on it, finding me the perfect university at which to study, and I think a bit relieved that I was finally on track. By my second year of college I had all but lost interest in the hospitality industry, but could not think of anything better to do, and I really, really wanted to commit, so I stayed in school, and pressed forward.
After a 7-month internship at a hotel where I excelled and was offered a full-time position at any of the property management company’s extensive list of workplaces upon graduation the following spring, I was done. I had lost interest completely going into my 5th year of studies. I was literally standing on the doorway of graduating with a bachelor’s in Hospitality & Tourism Management, a career in my back pocket that could take me all the way to retirement, student loans that would have to be repaid, and no interest to move me forward. I was paralyzed with fear. What was wrong with me? My friends were graduating with job opportunities they were excited about. How could I have taken such a clearly wrong turn in my decision making? Was I ever actually interested in this field? I fell into a horrible tailspin which overshadowed my last year of school. There was a lot of drinking, socializing, a DUI, and eventually a suicide attempt. It was all fear-driven. The fear that I was never going to be successful in the “real world”. The fear that I had absolutely no idea what to do next. The fear that it was too late to find something I could do for the next 45 years. The fear that, even for how well I excelled in school, at jobs, and in organizations for the past 4 years, I had failed, and I was never going to be happy.
Shortly after the drama had subsided, and I was given a lot of time to myself to think about this crazy chain of events, I realized that fear had given away to depression, but I still had control. With one semester to go, I finished school with honors, and moved across the country to pursue my career. I spent the greater part of my 20’s in Las Vegas in complete bewilderment of what to do next while I waited tables, worked at a travel agency, studied screen writing and film making, and dreamed of teaching ESL abroad.
Shortly after I met my future-husband, Chris, we moved to Seattle. I had one goal, to find a job doing something completely different. I saw this move as a new beginning. A chance to explore a new career, with the hopes that I could make the commitment that was expected from me to drive me forward into retirement. I was at least partially successful. I was hired as a manager at a local Michael’s Arts and Crafts store, supervising the Custom Framing department. What I had found most interesting about this opportunity was that it was given to me based greatly on my outstanding math skills, which I honestly didn’t even knew I possessed. I took a quick mental note; I’m good at math.
In Seattle, I not only excelled in the framing industry as a manager and in the craft, but I had the opportunity to explore so many different creative arts. I took classes in painting, jewelry making, drawing, and writing. I hiked, rollerbladed, and sat on the beach. When Chris was offered a job back in Vegas that he couldn’t turn down, I spent the next 6 months of my life completely on my own for the very first time. I won’t say it wasn’t a little bit scary, and a little bit lonely, but overall it was exactly what I needed to open my eyes to the most important thing I could ever have learned about myself…I could do anything I wanted to, and I didn’t have to do anything for that magical 45 years. I was officially free.
I recently learned that there is a name for “what I do”, I am a Multipotentialite. I am in a group of people who have a great deal of interests, and I excel at whatever I decide to pursue by going all in. I can be easily bored once I have reached a certain point, so I move on to something else. This internal wiring can be very frustrating when you have a culture that does not recognize or support this way of life, but, by embracing it, I find a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that this hasn’t been something that is holding me back from being successful, this is why I am successful.
Since discovering this I have gone on to explore many different areas of interest that I have been able to turn into monetary income. I have been a professional product designer, a teacher, a project manager, an art studio supervisor, a magazine editor, a program supervisor, and an entrepreneur twice over. My last job in Las Vegas (I returned there after my 6 months alone in Seattle to pursue my relationship with Chris) was at a supported employment program for adults with disabilities. It was in my 8 ½ years there (my longest ever employment) that I realized my full potential. My versatility was a large part of the success the company has had. I was that person that our director could go to with any idea she had and I would pull it together, almost out of nowhere with flying colors. When we decided to return to Wisconsin, something amazing became very, very clear. I knew I could do anything, but I was virtually unhireable. My broad skill set and vast experiences were not likely to be found in any job description. I have often told people if they couldn’t find a job, they should create one. It was time to put that into practice.
Since moving to the homestead, I have added soapmaker and clothing artist to the list. I am now considering getting my certification in Yoga instruction. I am a wife, a mother, and I help in my community when I am needed, doing whatever interests me. I raise animals, am learning about agriculture from my talented husband, write, and eventually I would like to teach sewing classes. Our ultimate goal, if we can get that far, would be to open a Farmstay resort on our own property, ironically bringing me back full circle to my hospitality studies.
Homesteading has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and seems to me to be the one thing that I can see myself doing for the next 45 years, if I am able to live that long. It serves the multipotentialite in me perfectly through variety and limitless possibilities. I’m finally able to say it’s what I do with nothing short of a lengthy description.
Side Note: I watched a TED talk today by Emilie Wapnick that spurred this post. It's one of the most eye-opening descriptions of myself and people who think like I do, where we are often left in a cloud of confusion within the society we reside. If you would like to watch it, follow this link. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me.
You can also visit Emilie's website for more posts at www.puttylike.com