Jack of All Trades

Someone once said to me (and I am paraphrasing here), “To achieve happiness, you either want to have lots of money or you want to be poor, but living in the middle is a sad life.”

In some ways he was right. Some ways.

Being poor. In many ways it sucks, but let’s ignore all the negative impacts of being poor, for a moment (like limited access to dental care). Being poor forces you to live a minimalist lifestyle. You can’t afford the iPhone 10, or whatever the hell number they are up to now, so you just don’t buy one. You might find more pleasure in the simple things, like throwing darts at a board, or riding your Franken-bike (A bike built from parts of other bikes). You might grow closer to your partner because you are in this together. You are in survival mode and you have each other’s backs.

Being rich. Very cool. You get to live a lifestyle of the rich and the famous. Travel where you want. Buy what you want. Smoke ’em while you got ’em and if you get sick, don’t worry – you can afford all the best medical care.

The middle. Sure, you can be content in the middle, but I find that most people who reside here wish that they had more, or wish that they had less. More, as in more stuff, more money, more opportunity to travel. Less, as in less responsibility and fewer possessions – the off the grid, quit my job, and leave my cellphone and Wal-Mart behind kind of life.

Obviously, there are happy and sad people at all levels of wealth. Just look at all the celebrities that have killed themselves. They could’ve travelled. They could’ve bought a Bugatti Veyron. They could’ve retired and moved off the grid. Instead, they chose to take a one-way ticket off of Mount Plastic and in some ways, I don’t blame them.

This post is titled “Jack of All Trades”. What does the above have to do with that? Well, unfortunately, my brain has the flu and it is coming out of both ends. Pardon me while I take some Pepto Bismol and get this article back on track.

In the same way contentment can be found at the extremes of the wealth spectrum, satisfaction can be found at the extremes of one’s expertise. The people I know who do one thing really well are some of the happiest people I know: the star hockey player, the networking specialist that works for the city, the president of the bank, the lady who runs the daycare. They have deep expertise in one area and they have used that to their advantage to carve out nice little lives for themselves.

Then there’s the Jack of All Trades. Bouncing from one thing to another. Never rich in expertise in any one area, but never poor. Always in the middle.

Bipolar. Not in the mental health definition of the word, at least not formally diagnosed, but absolutely in the dictionary definition of the word:

having or marked by two mutually repellent forces or diametrically opposed natures or views

Two diametrically opposed natures or views. The artist versus the computer programmer. The AutoCAD designer versus the musician. Swinging a hammer one day and then writing poetry the next.

What’s wrong with being part scientist/part artist; part left/part right brain? I guess nothing, per se, but in a world where the measure of success is how high of a position you can attain in your career, or how much money you have, it is hard to make a go of it when you’re always switching gears.

In my estimation, there are two contributing factors that are working against the modern Jack of All Trades. One has to do with geography, and one has to do with technology.

I’ll give you an example. Suppose a Jack of All Trades is happily writing a computer program when his friend calls him up and tells him he just has to check out “Aquaponics”. Never heard of it. Doesn’t care about it. Until he does care. He gets curious. It appeals to his intellect.

Technology and geography start to work against him.

You see, in order to get into Aquaponics, he would need access to information. In the old days that would mean he would have to live near a library. Or near someone who already had a working Aquaponics setup. He would need access to an aquarium and pipes, and parts, and chemicals. If he lived in the country it would mean a trip into the city for supplies. Maybe the parts he needed would be back ordered. It might not be feasible or desirable to pursue this new hobby. So he would abandon the idea and stick to what he already knows.

Take that same Jack of All Trades and put him in the city with a 100 Megabits per second internet connection and a Home Depot around the corner. He will buy a 100-gallon tank, plumb the pipes, research about the ammonia cycle, buy some tilapia off of Kijiji (Canada’s Craig’s List), and waste a year of his life learning about Aquaponics, only to wind up with twenty dead fish and an aquarium taking up space.

So while a Jack of All Trades is rich in the variety of his experience (due to quick access to information and close proximity to supplies), he is poor in the depth of his experience (due to his bipolar tendency to perpetually bounce between left and right brained interests)…

At least that’s his excuse when someone asks him why he never made anything out of himself.

8 thoughts on “Jack of All Trades

  1. I think most of us are in the middle but whichever end of the spectrum we sit in, we all want something we can’t have. Being in the middle though, you can’t really say that you have a bad life but at the same time, you can’t go places either. Everything is average or possibly apathy-inducing. Is there anything wrong with this or do we simply refuse to accept it because of the way the media only bombards us with the extraordinary and so we all see what “could be”? Some get to high places through genuine hard work and talent but a lot of those we are made to feel inadequate next to were lucky to be born in the right place or have the right genetics i.e. women with extreme beauty.

    One positive to being closer to the poorer end of the spectrum is that you aren’t ruined by materialism or corrupted by excesses. It’s telling that so many people (myself included) actually aspire to a minimalist lifestyle.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great points. The media bombards us and the technology/global economy enables us to have what we are bombarded with. To be a minimalist is to turn a blind eye to almost everything we are shown and told on a daily basis.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m squarely in the middle and I don’t want to change a thing. There’s nothing I want that I don’t have. I’ve got a 2003 Dodge Truck, a good job and a townhouse that’s walking distance to the subway and the grocery store. What else does a man need?

    Liked by 1 person

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