When one profession isn’t enough: the power of multi-hyphenates

Do you not want to specialize and are you interested in several parts of the marketing profession? Or is one profession not even enough for all your interests, talents and ambitions? Then you might be one multi-hyphenate. Once you know this, you can continue to grow professionally and personally. One thing is certain: you are not alone!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Maybe you liked the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” also very difficult to answer. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, my mouth fell open when a classmate could answer this right away. I’m still amazed that they actually do what they called then today.

During my entire school years I did not like to be pushed into a ‘box’, I wanted to keep as many ‘options’ open as possible. I always opted for the broader courses. A specialization or choice, even in secondary education, gave me stress. For example, I first opted for political and social sciences at university and then also took the communication management course. Pretty wide right? Then you come to the work field and then you have to make a choice. The vacancies were not exactly up for grabs then. Lap, also in this phase I again experienced choice stress and felt quite uncomfortable with this. A cold shower.

When I was working as a marketing manager, I often got the question: “And what do you do in life?” The most socially desirable answer to this was to name a single job title. And that while I had more passions than that one job title. I followed 3 years of evening classes as a photographer and then consciously chose after a number of years of service to start as a secondary profession. This way I could take on and photograph other communication assignments if I felt like it, because what if I had to stay within my own sector (read: box) and couldn’t keep my sights wide? (read: horror scenario in my experience!)

De multi-what?

Do you recognize yourself in the story above? Then you might also belong to the world of the multi-hyphenates, or in Dutch: de multipotentialen. Today, many terms are used to name these people. These are all terms that describe someone for whom one profession is not enough to name all talents, ambitions and interests:

  • multi-hyphenate (cf. Emma Gannon, author – blogger – podcaster, Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2018 in media and marketing -…)
  • multi-potentialist (cf. Emilie Wapnick, author – TEDx preacher – entrepreneur – creative director – …) or multi-pod
  • multi-passionate (cf. Marie Forleo, entrepreneur – B-school founder – podcaster – vlogger – …)
  • multi-skilled professional
  • renaissance man or woman
  • polymath
  • scanner (cf. Barbara Sher, author – speaker – lifestyle coach)
  • creative generalists (cf. Silvia Derom, author – trainer – coach – entrepreneur -…)
  • portfolio professional
  • hybrid professional
  • slashie

Da Vinci

The concept is certainly not new. the ‘career-portfolio‘ (pdf) goes back to the eighties of the last century, while the Renaissance-man catapults us even further back to the time of Leonardo Da Vinci.

He was the textbook example. A painter, sculptor, writer, scientist, engineer, mathematician, musician, botanist, geographer… and a fervent proponent of the lifestyle: ‘You can do it all. And more than that you should do it all, or at least try. Embrace knowledge in all its forms and develop a skill set as broad as you can.

The answer to the question ‘what do you do in life’ can therefore be more than a single job title. In fact, it’s totally okay not to fit into one box. What’s more, it’s even a big advantage not to fit into one box. And no, not just for that one exceptional professional, but also for your fellow marketer and by extension the company you work for.

Why should you choose a single job? It can also just be nice and-and, right?

Properties of the multi-hyphenate

A multi-hyphenate often possesses the following properties:

  • extremely eager to learn
  • brimming with ideas
  • 100% involved and driven
  • likes variety
  • inspires
  • creative
  • inquiring
  • Innovative
  • enterprising
  • adapts quickly
  • great empathy
  • easily bored when there is too much routine
  • intense desire to try new things
  • many passions and interests

It is not at all surprising that many marketers and communication professionals recognize themselves in the above. A marketer comes into contact with various consumers and stakeholders on a daily basis and must be able to empathize with the world of the target group, understand and speak the language. Some marketers also describe themselves as ‘skilled in many markets’ and ‘not good at one specific thing, but in several aspects’. Precisely because many ‘can and dare to look beyond the borders’, they maintain their wide view.

3 strengths highlighted

Emilie Wapnick describes in 3 strengths why a multipotentialist is an asset to a company. Whether you are employed or freelance, it doesn’t matter, as long as you can and are allowed to do your own thing, companies and teams benefit from the strengths below.

#1 Idea Synthesis

Innovation comes from the intersection of existing fields. Creative generalists have a greater ability to understand multiple disciplines. What’s more, they see where they overlap. They are able to develop new ideas while still connecting disciplines. This one connecting the dotstrait helps them in their creative process and promotes innovation. For a marketer, this quality is crucial to scan the landscape and see where the opportunities lie.

#2 Rapid Learning

Multi-skilled professionals are used to constantly exploring and discovering new passions. They are very skilled at constantly dealing with large waves of new information and working with this information. This ensures that they have quite a large inner database that they can draw from very quickly. Marketing consultants and brand strategists absorb large amounts of information in a short time and can process it at a great pace. They quickly arrive at valuable insights to use in their work.

#3 Adaptability

The empathy of a multipotential is enormous. They are true chameleons and can take on many roles without any problems. They adapt their behavior and skills to the projects they are assigned. Multi-hyphenate marketers who create buyer personas and customer journeys are much more skilled at this than other profiles. They dive from one skin to another with great elegance.

From multi-hyphenate to marketing

The professional landscape in general is in constant evolution. In the early 20th century, specialization, also known as ‘Fordism’, was key. People were also very often satisfied with ‘having a job’. Today there is oxygen to be aware of this. Not only are our attitudes changing, but the way we work today is also changing. The ‘9 to 5’ mentality had been under pressure for a while. All that is not new.

The emergence of this new class of multi-hyphenates is new. It is driving the broader societal shift away from living with a single career and embracing the desire to future-proof our careers in order to adapt to the rapidly changing workplace. Why should you choose a single job? It can also just be nice and-and, right?

Multipotentials are breaking down the career ladder as they know it today and making their own way across the landscape. They are increasingly finding their community and given their extremely inquisitive DNA, they also learn from each other very quickly and also grant each other the new ‘happiness at work’.

Awareness only has benefits

Recognizable? For me, this was a confirmation of what I’ve been feeling all my life! A true description of the nature of ‘my beast’. This awareness immediately gave me more oxygen and accelerated my growth process. I took a pen and paper and drew up a scenario that might work for me, away from the familiar boxes. How do I really want to start working and living?

Emma Gannon, author of The Multi-hyphen method (meanwhile already The Multi-hyphen life become), says the following:

Being a multi-hyphenate is about choosing and strategising a plan of attack and having the freedom to take on multiple projects, not being backed into a corner. This is about choosing a lifestyle. This is about taking some power back into our own hands.’

According to Gannon, multipotentials can be found everywhere today, from the marketing manager who also runs an online store to the part-time employee who practices two (or more) passions a week, to the entrepreneur who runs multiple companies.

A multi-hyphenate can not only be a great asset to a company, but can also be very successful as an entrepreneur because of his or her unique characteristics. Just think of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey.

People who do not recognize themselves in the above do not have to feel abnormal at all. It’s totally okay to have a calling very early and to be born with the desire to do what you do. It doesn’t have to be both-and, it can also be either-or. Specialists and multipotentials complement each other very well in many sectors and that is powerful. Multi-hyphenates love to work in co-creation and move gracefully through the team, they love to learn from the specialists in their field.

There are several platforms today, such as the Hoxby Collective, who have started working with this philosophy. According to them, diverse thinking to incredible output. ‘No nine-to-five, no presenteeism. Just good brains. Diverse thinking. Incredible outputs. Happy clients.’


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