December 4, 2020

Jack Of All Trades

…master of none? A take on specialization and perfectionism.

"Look at the others, so you find your niche," they told me in elementary school. However, as I learned much later, creating values based on comparison with others isn't always helpful. The issue is, it is unlikely to have a personal chat with representatives of all careers, stages of life, and hobbies. As a result, we seek to fill the gaps from third parties, which can twist the story. Strangers throw at us their ideals of success, either in person or through TV and other media, and if we accept them without thinking, we often end up with a problem.

One definition of success I frequently heard as a kid was that it means to become a world cup champion, a celebrity, a Nobel Laureate... "the one." It sounded legit, so I adopted it. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that such an attitude can easily lead to depression. So far, my professional life didn't exactly fit in one specific niche*. My hobbies followed: I ride bikes, occasionally walk on a tightrope, and play with synths, but neither is exceptional. Same with my accent, which is not spotless in any language, as I often moved between countries. I could continue all day long. Across areas of my life, that "master of none" was true. Or was it?

Not rarely, people feel like losers when they didn't achieve the vision established by the school or by the family. Moreover, many people look up to some actors or singers, and then they feel inadequate when they can't match their lifestyle. The media add further burdens by showing that happiness equals a big house, a fancy car, an expensive vacation, various beauty ideals, diets, or whatever else advertisers are trying to sell. But honestly, how many kids are going to afford an oceanside mansion in Sagaponack? Not many. Nor will they become an Olympic medalist. That, however, doesn't necessarily mean they failed. The miserable feeling of failure is valid only if we stick to those imposed values.

Ditching the stress of others' ideals and forming our own standards can put our life in a different light. Suddenly, my accent is okay because I can get my message across in multiple countries. Thanks to training balance on a tightrope, I didn't fall on ice in years, and I no longer have a backache. I won't clear a 10 meters gap on a bike, but that's fine because I find even an easy trail exciting. I won't be the next Eno, but making noises with synths put a smile on my face. And isn't that what it should be about? Maybe, schools should condition kids to be happy, as contrary to be the next pop star.

Finding our position isn't always easy; but searching for it benefits every standpoint, not just career paths or hobbies. We should question what we are told — only such practice can lead to improvement. Look at the people who progress sports. They do something that was previously considered impossible: beating a certain time or pulling a certain move — they questioned that impossibility and thought, "I'll try anyway." It applies to science, too. Before the atoms' existence was mathematically proven, some scientists claimed that it doesn't exist because "we can't see it." Yet, it didn't stop Einstein from questioning it and proving them wrong. No need to aspire to solve the universe, but plenty of everyday concepts deserve questioning because they can be subjective. Colors, for instance, let's say that someone's favorite color is bright green. While it might look great on many things, it would be a bit odd if you'd see someone with bright green teeth. It all depends on the context.

I found that many answers end with "it depends," which isn't always regarded well, as a clear "yes" or "no," sounds more confident. The dualistic yes-or-no approach can form an easy identity, such as when people connect because they like the same football club, the same musician, or the same nation. When I was in the US, people said that the US is the best. Then I went to China, where I heard that China is the best. Fair enough, for someone, the US is the best country; for someone else, China is the one. For many, it might be neither, and everyone will have their truth. The problem arises when we force our view on others, or worse, combine it with contempt for the other group: Back in the US, I heard some say that China sucks. In China, some said that the US sucks. In the Netherlands, I heard that "if it ain't Dutch, it ain't much." Surely, this isn't a path to world peace. Seeing only the negatives won't do any good, just as closing eyes at any wrongdoings.

The examples of people focusing just on one side are endless: Religion is another big one. Once again, it is easy to accept someone else's narrative that others' belief is wrong. Numerous individuals believe it so deeply that the cemeteries worldwide are full of people who died because of their religion. Imagine how much better the world would be if, instead, when someone says that they have a different belief, others would ask why and be willing to listen, instead of automatically assuming the position of either "good!" or "what a moron." If we seek a respectful, first-hand interaction with "the others," it often shows that they are great folks, and it dissolves many of the issues that divide the world today.

Suppose we don't limit ourselves to just that one affiliation. In that case, it is easier to find a fun event to attend nearby, it is easier to have an engaging chat with more people, and we can learn and understand more. The more fields and beliefs we can understand, the easier it is to find personal connections and independently form values. Such diversity also aids flexibility: if one thing became out of reach, it's not the end of the world because there are plenty of options. And finally, the more we can navigate the spectrum of the world around us, the more chances we have to find happiness, which in the end, is the ultimate success.

All this might sound simple, but it took me many years to realize it. And it was thanks to embarking on a route of changing places, communities, and systems. It opened plenty of doors I would never consider otherwise, and it taught me to appreciate far more aspects than I used to. I know that my path wouldn't work for everyone, but I am certain that trying out different trades helped me become a better person. And as for the "master of none" part, I am now officially a master of some. I recently became a Master of Fine Art — something I once thought is out of my league because I was told so. But here we are. I questioned it and graduated with distinction. Learning is a lifelong event. Thank goodness.

*Click for my former jobs

As far as I can recall, I was compensated for being an artist, archive admin, bike mechanic, blogger, cleaner, construction worker, driver, electrician, furniture assembler, gardener, go-abroad officer, graphic designer, handyman, house sitter, instructor of photography, journalist, maintenance worker, mover, painter, paperboy, photographer, roofer, shop assistant, speaker, tour guide, university's ambassador, and welfare support assistant.

Here are a few pics of me in some of the different roles:


If you have thoughts about this, feel free to get in touch, I appreciate hearing others' standpoints. And if you liked this essay, you might also enjoy these articles:

Where on Earth?After being on the road for years, I am a stranger everywhere

The struggles of finding "home."

Midnight WorldNight explorations

Using the night to escape personal darkness.

If you want updates about new posts, I am on InstaFB, and Twitter. Thanks for reading.

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Essays

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