Thirty plus years and what seems like a lifetime ago, someone made two statements that have stayed with me.
You’re made of stuff that changes, she said and proceeded to tell me that I was a Jack of all trades and master of none. I remember my breath stopping as I took a pause, trying to figure out why the latter felt like an insult.
Time passed and I came to understand and appreciate that, yes, indeed I am made of stuff that changes. Not that I can’t be stubborn or blind to my failings at times but I do try to stay open to possibilities. I am curious and willing to change.
As for being a Jack of all trades, I have to confess that I felt the sting of this comment for many years. But why? Let’s see.
I have always contended with a heightened sense of perfectionism. At times it worked for me, most of the times it worked for everybody else, and often it left me in conflict.
I can blame it on my lineage, my upbringing, my parents’ unyielding expectations, my teachers, or my stars. No matter what, this tendency has been mine to explore and understand.
My experience tells me it’s complicated, like most things in life. On one hand, perfectionism allows me to do things well, see a project through, make informed decisions, cover all bases, and be seen as a dependable and competent individual.
On the other hand, it can slow me down, infuse me with self-doubt, stop me from taking risks, put pressure on other people, and keep me up at night. I can also see the glass half-empty, procrastinate because things aren’t lining up just so, and insist on fixing everything and everyone.
Of course being called a Jack of all trades and master of none would sting me. Master of none …. this is a curse for a perfectionist like me. Doesn’t perfection equal mastery after all?
It may or may not. The fact is, I am a person of many interests, skills, textures, and abilities. Whether by destiny or circumstance, I was not born to be a master of anything other than myself. I love to learn and try different things. In retrospect, that’s how I’ve been able to handle the diverse challenges and curve balls life sent my way.
I am now 61 years old. I’ve been following a spiritual path and meditating for 30 plus years and I’ve worked with a therapist at various stages of my life.
In my heart I know that humans are not meant to be fixed. Life is not a preset curriculum; we don’t get to complete the course and graduate. There’s always more work to be done and like any fine work of art, we can keep going a little deeper, experimenting with color, and chiseling a different way.
I could focus on letting go of “perfectionism” altogether but that would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
I’d rather focus on seeing the beauty in what is and work with what life has given me from a whole new perspective. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age. I’d rather look at myself with kindness and appreciation for all that I am.
So, yes, indeed I am a Jack of all trades and I am really good at it. You can call me Master Jack, if you like.
Looking back, I’m not even sure whether she meant to insult me. It’s possible she was thinking out loud, sharing her gut instinct and observations about me. She was someone I looked up to. Her words were a gift. A gift that has been unfolding for years.