Refusing to be another cog in the system by taking my dabbling seriously with Emilie Wapnick

“We Are Multipotentialites” poster by Emma McCreary, Kimberly Kling, Emilie Wapnick and Thea van Diepen was the first Puttylabs project.

This week MD chats with a very special guest, multipotentialite and co-founder of Puttylike, Puttytribe and Puttylabs, Emilie Wapnick. So what is a multipotentialite exactly, you ask? Glad you asked! It’s someone who refuses to identify with one interest, one career, one hobby. Emilie is a writer, artist, entrepreneur, speaker and coach, not to mention she makes music and recently discovered her love for biology. Are you a multipotentialite? Perhaps you frequently move from interest to interest or have always nurtured your love of dancing and astrology. This week we learn about the multipod universe, plus tips on how to recognize and stay open to your different interests. Please note this is a transcription.

You are a multipotentialite, and you do and make a lot of things. You are also the creator of Puttylike, Puttytribe and Puttylabs. What is the difference between them?

Puttylike was the original, and it’s primarily a blog where I talk about being a multipotentialite, which for those who don’t know is a person with many different interests and creative pursuits. So I talk about how to make that work, and I get into [topics of] career, creativity, productivity, confidence, dealing with other people who don’t understand, and the whole gambit of those issues. Puttytribe is for people who want to take things a little bit further and want to connect with a group of multipotentialites around the world. It’s a paid membership site. We have “huddles” which are like little mastermind groups that we do on Google Hangouts. And we have workshops that different members lead on whatever they happen to be learning about or are excited about. Puttylabs is the new collaboration site. That’s going to be a site where we feature multipotentialite collaborations. The first project that’s up there now is a motivational poster that we wrote and designed together in Puttytribe. I’m not really sure what’s going to come out of Puttylabs. It’s sort of an experiment.

Why is everything putty?!

So puttylike is the term I came up with for someone who is like putty… Putty is very malleable. It changes shape. I thought it was a fun way to describe our type of people. And then people started describing themselves as being puttylike and puttythis and puttythat and people in the Puttytribe are puttypeep. It worked as a branding thing, and people enjoyed it. It’s a nice cohesive theme that brings different projects together.


How do you foster dabbling and stay open to different interests? You are really good at that!

Well, one thing is to not get too attached to a particular medium or a particular project. I think that we’re actually encouraged in our culture to identify with what we happen to be doing. So that can cause a lot of anxiety for someone who’s really interested into say printmaking and is like “This is my thing now. I’m going to be this type of artist.” That becomes part of your identity and if you start to become interested in something else or you start to lose interest, it can be this huge crisis of “Oh, well I thought that was what I was going to do, but now I’m not sure” and you can freak out about it. So the first thing is to be able to disconnect you from whatever you are passionate about because they’re all just tools, different media that allow you to express an idea. So staying fluid and flexible and not worrying too much if you lose interest in something because it’s just making room for something else.

Another thing is to take your dabbling seriously. I actually have set creative time in the morning usually about three hours where I do my most important work, stuff that requires a lot of creative energy whether it’s writing or mixing or whatever it happens to be. I also sometimes schedule in what I call scanning time, which can also be called dabbling time and that’s just an hour where you get to play whatever you happen to be curious about. You can read books. You can create something. It’s free time to do whatever you want. It doesn’t need to be a serious project. To allow yourself that time is really important.

Good tips! It seems to me there are more and more people finding ways to explore their many passions despite pressures to stick to one road, one career. Having launched the Putty brand do you think the world was ripe and ready for the work you’ve started?

I hope so. I think so. The response has been tremendous. I would say yes. The pressure to specialize largely came out of the Industrial Revolution and this whole idea that we all have to do one thing really well and we’re all one cog in the system and that’s how our industry flourishes. I think that that mentality is really an Industrial idea, and we’re coming out of that now. You can almost specialize yourself out of a job now. Industries are dying left and right, so you need to become well versed in multiple disciplines. It’s a real advantage.

Who are your role models?

Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Work Week really inspired me. It really helped with mindset. It was like, “Oh, I can create a web-based business. I can work from my laptop. I can have that freedom and also help a lot of people.” That was huge for me.

Chris Guillebeau is another one. His blog is The Art of Non-Conformity. He’s been really helpful, a friend and mentor to me.

My mom. My parents are professors and I think I benefited from it a lot because they both really believe in the value of education. So it wasn’t like, “You need to pick one thing and its gotta be something smart that leads to a career.” It was always, “Take whatever you want because it all leads to Academia!” which is their dream for me.


I really enjoeyd your book Renaissance Business. One thing you recommend for those who don’t yet recognize the multipotentiality in them is to write down every single above average talent they possess on paper because seeing your talent on paper allows you to take your talent seriously. What else do you recommend people do to take themselves seriously?

Brainstorming is fantastic. A lot of reflection is really great. When I talk about that list I always tell people if it’s something you’re curious about write it down, if it’s something you dabbled in briefly write it down. Just try and get everything that you’ve done, everything that you are or were passionate about out on the page, so you can see it there in front of you, and you can see that you’ve actually done some things. I think that a lot of multipotentialites discount the skills that they’ve acquired and the different experiences that they’ve had because they’re like, “Oh, that was just one thing, and I’m not a master in that, so it must not count.” I think that seeing what impact your work can have on people’s lives can be really powerful–and getting out of this mindset that you need to be the best or that you need to be an expert. Because if you’re helping someone, if you’re impacting people’s lives, you’re inspiring people, then that is tangible. You’re making a difference there. Who cares if you’re not the best in an area? So I think paying attention to that is really key.

You’ve written briefly about how the 10,000 hours rule is overrated. When I read that I found it a little shocking, especially since the concept of 10,000 hours has been very, very popular. 10,000 hours, isn’t that like the golden rule we all aspire to?! Why is it overrated?

Everyone loves Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. First of all, Malcolm Gladwell is talking about becoming world-class at something. 10,000 hours to become world-class. You can still be really good at something without being world-class. That’s fine. Tim Ferriss’s new book The 4-Hour Chef—he’s all about hacking that. He’s all about taking the 10,000 rule and turning it on its head. And he’s actually world-class in several different areas. He’s a world-class tango dancer among other things. I think it’s about knowing how to learn and not just practice, practice, practice, but being smart about how you acquire different skills. And I think that multipotentialites are good at acquiring skills faster because we’ve done it so much. We’re used to being a beginner and then getting good at something. A lot of our skills are transferable between disciplines, between fields. I think it’s kind of silly the 10,000 hour rule. I think you can get pretty good at something in far less time.

Thanks for elaborating. I also appreciate when you write about being able to recognize and manage your fear. You write, “Let’s just call it the price of admission for living a truly exhilarating life” (that is recognizing and managing your fears). And then later you talk about the relationship between vulnerability and how others invest more in your work when you show your vulnerability. Why is it important to be vulnerable?

Because that’s how you allow people to connect with you. When you see someone who is being open and vulnerable and maybe showing some weakness, there’s something about that that’s appealing because you can see yourself reflected in them. I think it’s really important. I think it’s also important for yourself to get your best work out because if you’re putting up barriers and trying to look cool, you’re not going to get your best stuff out there.

Do you have to smoosh your interests together to live a happy life?

No, you don’t. Definitely not. But I do think you should find a way to integrate your interests into your life. Even if you’re more of a serial mutipotentialite where you have one thing that you’re focused on and that finishes and you switch to something else. I think it’s important to be yourself basically—not to try to be a specialist, not to be like “I’m going to deny all my different passions and choose one because that’s what I’m supposed to do.” You don’t need to smoosh them all into one business or one project, although I do think it’s fun to explore the intersections between different interests. But there are tons of different ways to do it. A lot of people have discreet projects. A lot of people have one main project, and then there are other things they consider hobbies that they do on their off time. There are a lot of different ways to make it work.

Do you think you’ll ever find your one true calling? Is the Putty brand your one true calling?

No, I actually don’t think that the Putty brand is even my one true calling. That’s a pretty broad thing—multipotentiality, but I’m totally going to have lots of other stuff that I’m going to do. And I’m okay with that.

What is next for you? What are your aspirations and dreams for the coming years?

This can all change. Let me just start with that. I have ideas for different projects that I want to pursue, but they probably will change. Different things come up and you have an idea of where things are going to go and then another project will come into your life and you’ll be “Oh my god, that’s so exciting.” I see myself getting more and more interested in biology and functional medicine, so I’m definitely going to be taking some classes in the fall. And I don’t know where that’s going to lead, but I’m getting way interested in that stuff. I’m going to continue going with Puttylike, Puttytribe and Puttylabs. All of that is going to continue to grow, and I’ll probably bring in a few more team members to help me out with that. The album will be mixed soon, and we’ll release that on Bandcamp. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that.

I have a long-term goal of starting a co-working space at some point. And it’ll be something a little bit weird for sure. I don’t want it to be the typical co-working space. Maybe we’ll have some collaborative aspects to it. It might be connected to a café—a gluten-free café. I have some big ideas like that. I do have a dream of creating the next My So-Called Life, so television writing might come up again.

Thanks for your time and thanks for talking with us, Emilie!

Thanks so much for having me.

Are you a multipotentialite? How do you balance your various creative interests? Do you smoosh them together or keep them separate? Are your friends multipods too? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you and we don’t bite.


Tagged , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Refusing to be another cog in the system by taking my dabbling seriously with Emilie Wapnick

  1. Mak says:

    I very much enjoyed this post. I’ve known about Emilie’s site for a while (in fact, I found MD through her), but it was great to hear her talk about the different branches of “putty”. I especially like the idea of scanning/dabbling time.

    • Thanks for reading! And thanks again to Emilie for sharing all her insight. We liked learning about her creative morning routine and scanning time too, and are looking forward to putting it to good use. Stay tuned for upcoming interviews and tips about creative growth.

Add your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: