Are you a multi-hyphenate?
I believed Helen Gurley Brown, former long-time editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, when she said women could have it all. Like the lady in the Enjoli commercial. These 80’s images of having it all were about the many hats women often wear—successful professional, perfect parent, sexy spouse—all distinct, all full force, all the time. And…all in relation to how we served others.
What happens, however, when we look inside ourselves? That’s where—if you listen and trust what resonates—you can find and embrace your “multi-hyphenate” self.
What’s Your Multi-hyphenate?
Multi-hyphenate, at least according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “someone who does several different jobs, especially in the entertainment industry.” The word popped up in my inbox last week in a Letter from the editor-in-chief of Adweek, calling Travis Scott a “multi-hyphenate star.” The dictionary’s use-this-word-in-a-sentence example is “Timberlake has continued his growth as a full-fledged, multi-hyphenate: singer/film actor/comedy-sketch player and record-label mogul.” Scott’s multi-hyphenate is a rapper and singer who straddles the branding and entertainment worlds.
For years I was a self-described marketer who “squeezed in” teaching group fitness on the side. With the multi-hyphenate approach, I’m a marketer AND an aerobics instructor—embracing both identities. That allows me to be fully present for both, instead of thinking I should be doing one when I’m doing the other. Two fitness certifications later (Les Mills Body Pump and Les Mills Core) I’m stronger than ever.
But What About Your Purpose? Your Calling?
There’s nothing like an imminent birthday to cause panic that you haven’t yet figured out your life’s purpose. I envy people who knew since they were five that they wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, actor—something with a specific title that was universally understood. But what if that never happened for you?
Resist self-denigration! It turns out, you are not alone. Emily Wapnick, in her Ted Talk, calls these people the “multipotentialites.”
“We reject the notion that having a range of diverse interests is a weakness or problem. We view multipotentiality as a strength–even a superpower!” Yay Emily! She goes on to define the value of having multiple callings: innovation through idea synthesis, rapid learning and adaptability.
Can You Embrace More than One Calling? (And stay sane? And make money?)
Here are some strategies to help with crafting a day, a week, a year, a life, as a multi-hyphenate:
- Try Time-Slicing
There’s only so much time in the day, and every minute is…a minute. Map out your day and assign your time. If I sub a class at 8 am, I can’t use that time to finish a marketing/writing deadline. Don’t judge. Assign time.
- Get an Umbrella
At some point, you do need to define your services and be able to explain them objectively to stay in business. If you provide a variety of services, your umbrella could be who you serve (e.g. non-digital natives, or a specific industry, etc.). It could be a value or theme that permeates all that you do, such as social justice or environmentalism. My guest on May 20, Amy Wu’s umbrella is agricultural technology. She’s a journalist, a writer and a documentary filmmaker—all about Agtech. (We have students from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences joining to ask questions that day—you don’t want to miss it!)
- Value Your Hyphenates Wherever they Manifest: Personal or Business
The societal pressure to pick one thing and explain it so others understand the business value is real. Worse, it continues to stratify within industries and fields.
However, don’t overlook how the things that call your heart may manifest in your professional and personal undertakings. For example, interculturalism for me is everywhere—a strategic partnership with Executive Diversity Services for full-on business services; connection to ideas as a volunteer writer for the National Diversity Council news, and I live it, as part of an intercultural, interfaith family.
Whichever you choose, go all in.
The only wrong approach is to think you’re doing life wrong because you haven’t settled on “the one.” And, don’t choose one when your heart is saying you should be doing the other—it will invariably come back to you. Allow yourself to sit with all the things you love.
Like an amoeba, embrace all your hyphenates into one amorphous shape that bulges here and there depending on which hyphen is taking the lead. Some of these will flex more strongly at different times across a given week or even throughout the day. But they are all you, and they all feed each other.
What are your hyphenates? How do you embrace and express your multi-hyphenate life?