Dabbler or renaissance person?

I recently had an eye-opening experience about my life work after more than six decades of questioning, puzzling, trying, wondering, and often feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.

As some of my readers may know, I’ve already written about this topic here and in my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks. One of my posts that I find particularly telling is this one: https://finallygettingdowntobrasstacks.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/distractions-really/

Basically, for those who aren’t familiar with my book or haven’t read the posts that touch on this issue, here’s the gist of it:

I started out early in life (at age 13) with one passion: to play jazz piano. Fast forward nearly 60 years, and my life tells a very different story. True, I played jazz piano. But I also did a LOT of other things, including journalism, translating, editing, teaching, and many others. I always felt, when I was doing things other than concentrating on my music, that I was somehow cheating myself. I felt constant guilt that I didn’t continuously have my nose to the grindstone as far as my music was concerned.jack_of_all_trades-1cfahdf

But the reality was that I had two daughters to raise, which was important, and I had to do what I had to do to do that. As the years rolled by and I worked in a wide variety of jobs while I neglected my music more than I wanted to, I gradually started to see myself as a jack of all trades and master of none.

To my way of thinking, being a jack of all trades was the kiss of death. It meant you were superficial, a mere smatterer, no one took you seriously, and you, well, just weren’t good enough at anything. Whew! What a burden to carry around!

It wasn’t until very recently that I was finally able to change my mind about this pernicious label. And the turning point came with a simple remark someone made: “You have so many skills!” When I first heard it, I cringed. I thought, right, and I’m not that good at any of them! Then, for some reason, I decided to Google “jack of all trades,” and to my surprise I found several bloggers who thought that being a “generalist” was just fine. In fact, they were quite sure there was no reason you couldn’t become a master at at least some of your skills. One even went to so as to call a jack of all trades a “renaissance person.” Well! That certainly stopped me in my tracks!

It wasn’t just a small awakening. It hit me like a meteor with my name on it. Suddenly I knew it was all right to do a bunch of different things. In fact, it can be quite wonderful, and makes our experience a lot broader. I still admire people who can just stick to one thing, and there’s certainly a place for that, but there’s no use trying to be something you’re not. I obviously am not a single-focus person. I saw it. I let it go. I feel better now. 🙂



Filed under individuality, jazz, my history, work

14 responses to “Dabbler or renaissance person?

  1. Oh Amy–my Dad was a renaissance person!! He was also master of lots of talents. He had a high school diploma and good parents who encouraged learning and curiosity and did your Mom~! We were always encouraged to seek knowledge! “look it up” was always the answer to a good question. We spent time in the library and reading the encyclopedia and dictionary. to this day I love reading the dictionary–a real bound book one!! You have an interesting, productive and wonderful life!! I’ve always liked to talking to you because you are interesting and fun!! Lo
    ve you!

  2. Thanks, Libby…I’m finally starting to appreciate the fact that it’s OK to be involved in a bunch of different things. I never knew that about Uncle Eddie…wow, reading the dictionary! Well, I have to confess I kind of like to do that, too! lol

  3. interesting blog Amy. My life has followed a similar mixed path. Along the way I’ve discovered different callings i could be great at. If you’re only focussed for a season on something, that’s ok, because then you had a good season. I want to make music my calling once again, but find at this point in life transition is difficult, but probably not impossible. it’s a work in progress. Making the best of what’s at hand can’t be played down…that’s something!

  4. Nice post Amy! Similarly I used to place my worth in direct proportion to whether or not I was gigging. Needless to say that was a real roller coaster. Now I view the musical part of me as just a part of my broader identity of human “being”. When it was an all consuming idol I experienced many of the same negative emotions that you describe in your experience. So yeah I’ll take the Rennaisance description over the dabbler although at times I am a babbler 🙂

  5. This is great finding out that I wasn’t suffering from “terminal uniqueness” with this problem! Ha! I am also now appreciating this broader identity that you mention…instead of everything being all about “me,” I now can actually spend more time doing something for other people. I’m a babbler, too…join the club. 😀

  6. Having read your book, I can say truly you were never a “dabbler.” Dabble means without serious intent or deep engagement. Raising daughters, journalism, nothing you wrote about spoke of superficiality to me so I am happy for you that now you know how meaningless labels can be. One of my daughters rose in McDonald’s Corp. to become a manager and managed several stores in two states before she realized it just was not going to work with raising her two small children. She said she felt like a failure until one day she realized she had had a goal of being manager and she had accomplished that. Moving on to something NEW did not not mean failure. No more than doing other things means “dabbling.” I have been into things and then stopped and into something new so many times. Two things that has given me are more skill sets than one endeavor and such an astonishing amount of knowledge people often ask, “How did you know that?” I think of it as taking the scenic route.

  7. Thanks for telling me about your daughter’s experience…and for your insights about the things I said in my book. Believe me, I’m feeling very different about all of this now…love your comment about taking the “scenic route.” 🙂

  8. Best piece of wisdom I ever got was that life rarely ever turns out as we plan. I’m a a jack of all trades too.

  9. Definitely a great dabbler of Renaissance people! http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

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