Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None

6060883638_07ecb04768I was talking with co-host Elliott today about why I feel so overwhelmed in my life and I think together we came up with some good ideas.  While this is a post more on the personal side, it’s also to help others struggling with too many eggs in too many baskets.  That’s right, I took a well known idiom and flipped it on it’s head (is that another idiom?) for my use here!

But seriously, I’ve always felt that I’m a Jack of All Trades in life.  I’m pretty good at just about anything I attempt, failure never holds me back for long, and I am generally a fast learner, but where has that left me?  I’m 30 years old, just starting in a career I am honestly not sure I care to be in, and really don’t excel at anything.  I may be a Jack of All Trades, but I truly feel that I am a master of none.

To give you an idea what I’m talking about, I’m going to (briefly) explain what eggs I have spread across all of my many baskets, and what better way to do this than in bullet form!

  • Learning Japanese: Took 2 years in High School, still want to pursue it.
  • Learning Tagalog: I’ve loved the language since I was in high school, I even taught myself a bit.  My wife is Filipino, I really should know at least the basics!
  • Learning to Program: I went to school for a year of programming, decided I just wanted to keep it as a hobby.  It’s not an easy hobby and I have done very little since then.
  • Make my own video game: I don’t know how many times I’ve started this just to give up.  I’ve tried many different engines (RPG Maker, GameMaker, and a few others), as well.
  • Become a known Author: I’m not talking about world renowned or even on the best sellers list, but I want to be able to make a living from my writing and have fans who love my work.
  • Write in many different genres: This one is a bit different than above, as generally it’s not easy to do cross-genre until you’re pretty far in your career, but I want to write not just Steampunk, but also Space Operas, High Fantasy, Literary Fiction, and even some romance!
  • Go back to school for my Masters Degree: I applied.  I don’t think I’ll get in this year, but I’m going to keep trying.
  • Get my Ph.D in creative writing:  Yes, I said it!  I want to go as far as I can in school with creative writing!  Actually, the degree itself doesn’t matter, I want to be a scholar for life.  I love learning, I love school, there is nothing more thrilling to me than learning.
  • Teach creative writing at the college level: This is an almost impossible goal without many many years of teaching English classes, but it’s something I’d love to do.
  • Teach young adults special skills (21st century skills): Specifically I love working with kids between about 6th grade to 10th grade.  My current job is teaching students in awesome classes such as Lego Robotics, Creating Small Business, Video Game Animation, and How To Stop Prejudice.  These are amazing classes and I’d love to continue to teach these types of classes in the future!
  • Many many more things I can’t think of off the top of my head.

That’s a lot of stuff, all of which I’m already on some what of a path towards, hence the Jack of All Trades.  The thing is it’s way too much for one person to accomplish, at least without prioritizing heavily and possibly even giving up on a few things.  This is what actually inspired me to write this blog post, learning to prioritize and say “hey, I might never do X, and it’s okay”.

I’m not saying to give up on dreams, I’d be the last person to say that, but at this point in my life I really have to start looking towards mastery of a few skills, rather than being ‘good’ at them all.

Recently I was listening to a podcast about priorities and the person being interviewed (sorry, I don’t remember who it was) said that to be successful at anything, you need to prioritize your life towards that, and many times that means learning to take things off your “to-do” list, at least until you’re at a point in your life where you can put it back on and prioritize them.

More specifically, as I said above, you need to learn to tell yourself that you may never get to something you want or desire, but it’s okay because you’re sacrificing it for something greater, something you’re truly passionate about.

The trick, then, is how to accomplish this?  How do you choose 1 or 2 things you’re most passionate about and prioritize them when you’ve been working towards so many different things for so long?  How can you just say “eh, never mind doing that with my life” like it is deciding between soup or salad?  Unfortunately I don’t have any sure fire answers, except that you need to sit down and prioritize your life as if it was your daily chores, and then you need to train your brain to stick to those priorities.

For the rest of this blog post, I am going to try to use stream of consciousness to do just that.  I won’t edit any of the following so that it comes out raw, so sorry if it’s a bit more like rambling than a coherent answer to prioritizing!

Prioritizing My Life

For the past 10 years, I have continuously mixed in new experiences to those I have had since I was a kid, and this has given me a lot of wisdom, but it has also caused me to be in a position where I am in my 30’s without much direction.  This can be seen in everything I do from the jobs I’ve held (technology, clerical, education, sales…) to the video games I play (always skipping around and never finishing any).  I’m at a point in my life where this no longer is going to work for me and the only way for me to be happy is to take all of those things I have learned, the things I have become passionate about, and pull out the 2-3 things that need to stay and put the rest away inside a folder that may never be opened again.  Lets call it the Folder of Lost Passions (that’s not too bleak is it?)

The first thing that comes to mind is becoming a known author.  This has been my life-long goal, the only passion I’ve held since I was a kid.  I’ve wanted to be an author for literally longer than I can remember.  I don’t remember a point in my life that I didn’t have this in the back of my head.  I remember when I was a little kid saying to myself that one day I WILL be a published author, and nothing would stop me.  Writing is my priority #1, that much is clear.

Becoming a programmer is something I have always wanted to do.  I taught myself HTML at 16, learned some C++ in my late teens, Java and Ruby in my mid 20’s, but never enough to do anything with it.  I love the idea of being able to program my own stuff, but I don’t think this is something I can prioritize.  I’m putting this in the Folder of Lost Passions.

Creating my own video game goes along with programming.  While the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand, they do compliment each other.  At one point I thought I wanted to do this as a career, even sunk 100’s of hours into it, but now I think it needs to go into the Folder of Lost Passions.

Learning Japanese and Tagalog are both things that I have, at one point in my life, told myself there is nothing more I want to learn, but the truth is I don’t ever see myself learning Japanese again.  I know enough to get by, I know how to write the language, it’s a good skill to have, but I’m putting Japanese in the Folder of Lost Passions.  Tagalog on the other hand is going to be a Wild Card pick.  While I’m not going to prioritize it, I’m also not putting it into the Folder of Lost Passions.  It’s something I feel like I need to do, and so I will….sometime.

Teaching in any capacity is probably going to be more of a “I need money” choice, rather than a passion from this point on.  I don’t think I’ll ever teach creative writing in college, nor 21st century skills to kids, it just isn’t practical for the priorities I want in my life.  I may stick to education for the foreseeable future as a career (until my writing takes off), but it’ll never be a passion again.  Into the Folder of Lost Passions!

Going back to school and being a lifetime scholar has to be a priority.  If writing has been my #1 passion since I was a kid, then being a lifetime scholar has been a passion for almost as long.  Of course I didn’t realize it until I was in college, but I can never see myself saying “okay, I’m done with school forever.”

And finally writing in multi-genres.  This one is a bit of a trick to say if it should go inside the folder or not.  It’s more of a if I reach my #1 priority and become a known author, then this will be the next step.  On the other hand if I never make it as a full time author, there’s no reason this should stay out, so this one tentatively goes into the Folder of Lost Passions, but has a sticky note on it so I can easily find it.

EVERYTHING ELSE!  This includes things I didn’t put on the list from my past/present as well as new things in the future.  I am tired of being a Jack of All Trades, I want to be the Master of My Priorities!

So there you have it, after all my ramblings (thank you if you actually made it this far by the way, I know it was painful to read), I’ve come to the realization that there is absolutely NOTHING in the world I’d rather be than a successful writer and lifetime scholar.  The next thing to do is train my brain to stay on that path at all costs.  Once I figure THAT out, I’ll write another post and explain how I did it.

I won’t fail, I can’t fail.

What do you think about the concept of taking just a few things you’re passionate about and throwing the rest away?  Do you think this is a good idea?  Let me know below!


  1. One of the things about priorities is that they can change over time. I too get stuck in this “too many eggs” basket (see what I did there? ;) ). I am a number of years further a long in life than you, but I definitely understand this scattered feeling. I am deciding that I need focus, just like you. The thing about focus is that once you actually accomplish a goal, you can pull a new one out of the folder and focus on that one.
    Focus helps dictate schedule. If you focus on few enough things in a week, you can dedicate enough time to each one to make actual progress toward that goal, eventually reaching it.
    Discipline is the other aspect of this. The hardening of decision that keeps the focus from changing or from getting blurry. The ability to not get distracted by shiny things or the screaming urges from the folder of lost passions that scream that they too want hours. Discipline to set a schedule and actually complete it.

    These two should come together to create a consistency of learning and progress. Even an hour a day on a task every day produces results quite quickly. I actually have been good about it this week and truly feel better at night when I have focused on several of my goals, even if only for an hour or two in the day. I still fight down those screams of lost passions and falter sometimes, but am getting there.

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew!

      I do think it is important to remember that priorities can change over time, but I don’t think those BIG priorities change very often. Like I said in my post, writing has been a top priority since I could first write and I don’t think that’ll change in my lifetime. Other, minor or smaller priorities I think do shift a lot, but when they do, I feel like asking yourself if it’s because you really don’t want to prioritize that any longer or if it’s just the newest, shiny thing you’re after (in my case it’s usually just that, a “new” thing comes along and I jump on it).

      You hit the nail on the head with focus, schedule, and discipline, three things that I lack long term. Sure, short term I can keep all three things up, but when it comes to the long term I have a harder time. I have learned a lot over the past 5 years about discipline in other aspects of my life, so I think it’s time for me to take that and apply it to my priorities.

      I don’t think the desire to want to open up the folder and pull out everything will ever go away, it’s just keeping the discipline and focus to know to avoid it.

      Thanks again!


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