Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Review: How to Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick

First line: If you picked up this book, it's probably because you've had trouble narrowing down "what you want to be" to one thing.

I agreed to review this book purely on the title: I was unfamiliar with Wapnick and her TEDx talk on calling but have long struggled with what I "want to be when I grow up" (even now, in my mid-30s). While I love learning, I don't love it enough to want to attempt a Master's degree or expensive classes, and I've struggled with understanding if I'm happy or not in my vocation(s).

Still, I was apprehensive about this book when I started, fearing it'd be a long form essay on #YOLO (you only live once) or a passionate defense of the gig economy.

Instead, I found this a fascinating, empathetic, empowering read that acknowledges today's economic realities, the personal temperament of many people I know, and the ways current US culture is oriented toward a rigid, specialist-type career path (and how that need not be the way everyone works).

Wapnick argues that many folks are what she calls multipotentialites -- people for whom one settled career isn't right, for whom learning is a life long endeavor -- and that rather than walk around feeling crappy about their varied interests and meandering professional path(s), multipotentialites should embrace their personalities and skills and lean in.

From providing some great definitions of who a multipotentialite might be, Wapnick moves into the meat of the book -- how to find happiness as someone who enjoys variety and change. Whether one identifies as a multipotentialite or not, her advice is sound and was really thought-provoking. She argues for life design rather than career planning -- consider money, meaning, and variety and how much of each you need to be happy -- and provides exercises for discernment. Then she has rich chapters on ascertaining the kind of money/meaning/variety life design that might work for you (ie, are you a phoenix, someone who likes to do intense work for a brief chunk of time, then switch to something new?; or are you the type who likes having a "good enough" job that gives enough free time for more meaningful endeavors?, etc. etc.).

There are also wonderful tips on how to effectively market yourself if you're someone for whom professional work hasn't followed the "specialist"/one career trajectory; how to reframe what others might see as "flakiness"; and how to use an interest in a wide swathe of topics to find a professional field that fulfills and provides an income.

I'm sure I'm not breaking this down well. What I'll say is that I saw so many people I know in this book -- from my wife, who still suffers from crippling guilt that her childhood vocation didn't end up being her career, to many of my colleagues who find pleasure in a variety of part-time work that feeds their soul and checkbooks -- and Wapnick's compassion and understanding helped me "get" them and see how even I can tap into my desire to do everything while getting paid enough to support my family.

Obviously, this feels like a no-brainer gift for grads, but I think most folks would benefit from Wapnick's wisdom and reassurance. This is a book that encourages a kind of "follow your bliss" mentality with real world advice on how to do that (while making rent). I'm surprised -- but delighted -- at how much I got from it, and I think many others will as well.

Title: How to Be Everything: A guide for those who (still) don't know what they want to be when they grow up
Author: Emilie Wapnick

Genre: Non-Fiction (Self Help / Career Development / Personal Development / Learning)
Publisher/Publication Date: HarperOne (5/2/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours


  1. Oh, I want to hug your wife -- she should never feel bad that she changed her decisions about how to live in adulthood. We all do that! I'm sure she made awesome decisions (I mean, she married you, so she's clearly a great decision-maker). I'm not doing any damn thing I thought I wanted to do when I was a tot. Plans change! It is good for them to change while circumstances do.

  2. Wow, I need to read this book, too! I love learning, but don't want the debt of a master's degree. And I like being able to say I've done something for five or 10 years, I don't want to end up doing the same thing for 30 years, you know?

    Thanks for being on this tour!

  3. I could have done with this book thirty years ago. Managed to muddle along without it but its great that it is becoming acknowledged that for many people there isn't a clearly defined career path, and its ok.