Jack of all trades

Yesterday’s post featured a rag rug, with a design drawn by my other half. I know three ways to make rag rugs. There are a great many other crafts I can do a bit, numerous musical instruments I can play passably, and a vast array of other things in which I have dabbled over the years. I like to dabble, I get excited learning new things, and I get bored if I spend too long doing all the same things. However, while I’m pro dabbling and experimenting, it’s not without hazards.

If all you end up doing is learning new stuff, you can find you don’t develop anything properly, never get beyond beginner stage, never learning to push and never doing anything for long enough to have it bear fruit. It can be a way of avoiding dealing with happens when you commit. As a dabbler, you may never finish anything, never really achieve anything but there’s always a new exciting project to wave at people. All the attention, none of the exposure of making something people can experience for themselves, and maybe judge.

Without a doubt, the best creative work comes from a mix of inspiration and dedication. It means building a skill set so that when you have a fire in your head, you can make best use of it. It takes a long time to become truly good at something – the general estimate seems to be about ten thousand hours. The more time a person spends dabbling, the less scope there is to get to that point with any given skill. But on the up side, you can become an expert in learning how to quickly learn things, and there are plenty of times in life when being a Jack of all trades is more useful than being the master of one.

I find that when I dabble, I deepen my appreciation for people who do the things well. When I know more, I am better equipped to enjoy and appreciate. I think this is because I’m pretty good at staying realistic about my own skills and insights. If you do a single course, or a brief session and you think you are then an expert, that can have some seriously distorting effects on how you see other people’s work.

Dabbling enriches my understanding of the world, and anything that teaches me feeds back into my writing. It keeps me fresh, and interested, and hauls me out of ruts and gloom. If something isn’t working for me I will eventually stop banging my head against it and pick up something else for a while. Dabbling is play, and fun and often what I do with my leisure time. I like making things, I like exploring.

As a creator I’m increasingly interested in what happens when disciplines collide. Not just putting words and images together, as with the graphic novel work, but putting music and images together, exploring stories through craft, how I can use my body more in spoken word performance… I love stories made out of fragments and ephemera, and that means I need to learn how to make more of the pieces.

So, I advocate dabbling, exploring, and playing. Know that’s what you’re doing, don’t mistake it for having the same depth and breadth of knowledge as someone has when they’ve worked on a skill for many years. Don’t use it as a substitute for seeing a project to conclusion. Don’t require yourself to achieve at the same standard as an expert when you’re only playing with something. Don’t lose sight of your personal goals, vision etc in the muddle of trying to learn to do ten thousand things. Sometimes a new skill is just a shiny distraction from the things you need to be doing. Pausing regularly to take stock helps make it all work.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “Jack of all trades

  • Linda Davis

    Serial dabbler here! Awed by the folks who can make great art etc but happy to let my own little creative strands flow into the great tapestry of life.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Some people forget the importance of play. Animals often mix their important stuff with play and not separate it from their work.We might do well to copy them.

    While having a special skills is often good, knowing bit about a variety of things is important to function. In the beginning tribal societies, everyone might share much of the work, but some would be better at some things than another, so that was what they became known it.

    By the way we have no evidence that different work were generalized in very early society So we have be careful about assuming anything. I recall that in studying the site of one cave delving culture, it suddenly seem possible that tools and weapons were just as likely to be made by women as by men, same was true with hunting and gathering, and in much later cultures we find evidence of women warriors and men who took care of what we now think of as women’s chores. We have people who switch sides, gender wise and are accepted as opposite of what they were born. Their actual skill was more important than there gender.

    I am old enough to remember when in a Gay couple, or Lesbian couple, one was expected to take on the male role, and one was expected to take on the more female role, directly copying the Hetreosexual roles. Now as we know that does not necessarily work work well in straight couple, so just why are Gay and Lesbians even attempted to copy it. Lets leave the skill game up to the person best at it, and forget gender all together.

    As a Gay man, I can assure that I did not have a husband, and I most certainly did not have a wife. We were partners, which was all that mattered and each took on different skills as needed, usually whatever we were each best at, or who had the time to get it done.

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