Being Variegated: Embracing my Inner "Jill of All Trades"

When I was a kid and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually had a list: nurse, artist, musician, etc. As I got older, the titles got somewhat more sophisticated: biologist, botanist, songwriter... and simpler, too: Wife. Mom.

I do remember the odd person telling me that I couldn't possibly be all those things, that I would have to narrow it down. But "narrowing it down" isn't something I'm really good at.

Take this website, for example. For years, I tried to maintain separate web presences for my many creative ventures. Since that nearly put me into the loony bin, I consolidated all my "creative aspects" into this one site and decided to keep only the "equine tack sales" business on a separate site.

One lovely lady reviewed this site and told me she thought it was doing too much.

That's probably true. But so am I. It's a perfect reflection of who I am. And to keep me doing a little less, or maybe keep doing it all in the mere 24 hours a day I'm given, having all these things--knitting, writing, music, blogging, photography, and even philanthropy--in one place has saved me from wearing white jackets with weird buckles and living in a room with padded walls. You know, so I can be "inspiring," not "terrifying."

This could have been me. Except the fingernails.

This could have been me. Except the fingernails.

Over the years, I have often wished I could be one of those people who could just focus on one thing and get really good at it. For instance, my college friend, Frank Chu, has been a near-perpetual student, becoming ever more virtuostic (new word?) since he entered Red Deer College in 1998. He is really, really good at playing piano, and has done so on some of the most prestigious stages in Canada (and several other places, I believe. Frank, if you read this, feel free to correct me or toot your own horn in the comments.)

Judging from his practice habits when we were in school together and what I know of his current drive, he likely spends many hours every day practicing. And he is constantly striving to improve.

That's not me. I love playing piano. But while spending hours every day practicing is something I did while majoring in jazz piano in college, and could do again if I was aiming for some short-term deadline, after that I would be ready for a break and want to do something on a completely different creative track.

That's why Frank is a virtuoso pianist, and I remain at about the level of skill that I was at when I received my diploma. I love to compose (at which skill I have improved). Not so much the practicing.

Have you ever seen the play or movie "Amadeus?" I have seen both, and love it. Can you, like me, empathize with the narrator?

Salieri always felt the sting of his own mediocrity--especially in the face of Mozart's brilliance. No matter what he did, the young upstart always seemed to outshine him. Salieri was also irked that Mozart's character did not seem to be worthy of the gifts with which he had been bestowed.

However, unlike me, Salieri was striving for brilliance in a single field, not hoping to achieve proficiency in several of many fields. He was a specialist, and it was his lifetime of hard-earned skills in the one area in which he had always aspired to greatness being overshadowed by the irreverent young Mozart's easily-won achievements that drove him to the brink of madness.

I don't love mediocrity, and have often felt dogged by it. But I am curious about so many things, and have pursued so many, it has taken me longer than a specialist would to achieve a notable level of skill in the areas (note: still plural) that I have chosen to focus on.

So, at times, I have felt like I would never really achieve greatness at anything--always the "honourable mention," never the "prizewinner". Like the three years in a row I received that title in the Steffen G. Steffensen poetry contest when I was a kid. Or the repeated "worth mentioning but not awarding" results in songwriting contests as an adult--pretty good, but not good enough to place.

That's why winning First Runner-Up for "Let Me Love" last year was such a big deal to me. I placed. It was equivalent to "second place" in my category. Silver medal. Not the tail end, "honourable mention" position that I had kept hitting--and hating--before that.

Over the years, I have often wished I could be one of those people who could just focus on one thing and get really good at it.

Is this you? Do you have so many interests that you wonder if you will ever excel at any one thing? Do you wonder if you will ever achieve "success?"

It is only within the last few years that I have really started to find "grooves" within which my many varied interests all seem to coalesce. Writing is one--I love to learn, to do research and learn about history. I also have a wide range of skills by now that have already come in handy in my fledgling writing career. (I started "The Friday Night Date Dress" because the idea I had would not require me to do much research and just allow me to dive into the fun part--writing.)

The other day, I was looking at tech job listings for my husband (out of curiosity, 'cause you just never know what's out there) and was surprised when I came across a position that looked like it was custom-made for me. As I was reading down the diverse list of required skills--none of which I had taken post-secondary education for, but all of which I had acquired because of my business and personal pursuits since graduating--I realized that I am actually more "qualified" than I realized.

The other day, my friend Aakanksha shared this amazing TED Talk about people like me. Although I had already begun to embrace the fact that being a "Jill of all trades, master of none--at least not right away" was who I am, and be okay with it, this talk really helped me realize the value of being wired this way.

Thank you, Aakanksha. And Emilie Wapnick.

This TED Talk found here. Check out Emilie's website,

By the way, when my kids give me the long list of the things they want to do when they grow up?

I say, "Go for it. You can do them all, whichever things you put work towards. But it doesn't have to be all at once."

To all of you multipotentialites out there--embrace it. Own it. Don't be discouraged by it. We are rainbows, the variegated yarns unifying many different beautiful colours into a single structure. And it's all good.

Are you a multipotentialite, like me? Are you a specialist? How long ago did you realize which you were? How has that shaped your choices?

Have a wonderful weekend, friend!