“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
-Robert A. Heinlein

Putting the windows in the wall

Building a wall, and being silly

I’ve been thinking about Jamalot, and what it means, and how it ties in to our vision at CopperMoon, and that led me to musing about what it means to be a jack-of-all-trades: kinda good at lots of different things, but not The Best at anything. In my mind, that’s always been “settling” somehow. Our society glorifies people who are the best, and it seems like that is the thing you should strive for: to be the best, the brightest, the most awesome Poo-bah of thing X, whatever that X is for you.

But that seems unhealthy to me. It’s an unhealthy way of thinking, and unhealthy relationship with yourself and society. It’s society “shoulding” on everyone, in a way that glorifies one person over all of the others, isn’t it?

How to be The Best

Let’s take a look at what that means, “being the best.” That person who’s the best…they’re usually the best because they’ve dedicated their life to being the best in that one thing. They focus on it.  Also (like the 1%), they have the luxury of focusing on one thing. They have the wherewithal to not spend time making sure they have food, shelter, and clothing for themselves or families. Sometimes, in the beginning, they have that luxury because their families have supported them: supported their dreams, supported them financially, supported them by giving up their time with their loved one (and their own dreams?), so their loved one can reach that star shining brightly ahead.

So, to be the best, you both have to really want it to reach it, and you have to have the ability to focus most of your energy, time, and sometimes money on it.  There’s probably some skill involved, but skill usually comes from practice, and practice comes from having the time….  I remember wanting to be a figure skater when I was younger, but then realized the cost of doing it – ice rink rental, the trainer fees, and the costumes – were far beyond my parents’ ability to pay.

Striving to be the best isn’t a bad thing in itself. Some people thrive on that kind of challenge, and if they get to that goal – being the best – society can reward them well. But it’s not the only way to succeed.

What About the Rest of Us?

The rub is, there’s limited space at the top. For every person that makes it, there are countless who didn’t make it. There’s usually several people who are so close… almost as good as the best… but they’re sidelined. It’s like an artificially-imposed scarcity economy… if 100 people are suddenly The Best, you’re not The Best anymore, and you have to strive harder, or go home.

If you’re one of those people who go home, or if you just look at the entire race and shrug, our society tends to labels you… me!… as a failure, or a least as a mediocre member of society. But what is really happening?  Why do we not become the best? As most of you know, it’s not usually because a lack of motivation or skills got in the way. It’s because life gets in the way: we make different choices, we care about different things. We have to or want to get a job, our parents don’t have the money, or we get sick. More positively, we might find something else (or multiple things) that interests us equally as much and start splitting our time. We may find that focusing on one thing isn’t fulfilling for us, and variety and learning new things is what gives spice to our lives. We may decide that the sacrifices our family is making aren’t worth it. We may figure out that the glory at the top is short-lived, or that we really just don’t care about glory all that much after all.

Milling lumber

Milling lumber… it’s been a learning experience

For all of those reasons, and probably many more, most of us aren’t The Best at anything. We usually have a few things we’re Really Good at, and maybe we make our livings doing that. Maybe we have a few things we’re Really Good at, or maybe we have a multitude of things we’re Kinda Good at.  I’m here to argue that we’re awesome too, and may ultimately deserve as much or more praise as folks who are The Best. If you’re in the Kinda Good crowd, you’re awesome! You’ve learned to balance your time across many areas, expanded your capabilities, helped those around you, prioritized your family higher, or just enjoy life more when there’s more variety in it. You can fix the toilet AND carve a walking stick AND get carrots to grow in your poor soil AND maybe write a killer blog post that makes a lot of people value themselves more.

Valuing Everyone

So, which is more valuable to society: The Best or the Kinda Good at A Lot of Things people?  My answer is: both are valuable, and you need a lot more of the Kinda Good people than the Best people. If you’re wanting to join the Kinda Good club, there’s no scarcity of spaces for you, and we accept folks who are Just Starting to Learn to be Good and people who are the Best – everyone’ is welcome.  And those of you who thrive on being The Best? We need you too: to show us all what’s possible and help us challenge our limitations — if that’s our passion 🙂 !

Jamalot and Advancing Your Awesome

So, that’s where the inspiration for the Jamalot days at CopperMoon struck me. Jam is a sweet sticky mixture of a lot of yummy things, so consider the Jam part to be the Jack-of-all-Trades part. We’ll be doing a ton of wildly different things in any permutation from awesome to laughably incompetent (but learning!)

And then there’s the -alot part of Jamalot… You don’t have to know anything about them to come and join in. If we’re having a drumming day, come if you’re The Best at drumming, and come if you’ve heard drumming can be fun and want to see what it’s all about. There’s space for people of all capabilities and inspiration and motivation: you can immerse yourself in cobbing for day and then never think about it again, or you can catch the cobbing bug and come every day we cob. You can come on a cobbing day and throw mud for a while, then immerse yourself in solitude and nature along the New Moon trail. It’s all good!

I guess what I’m getting at is one of our guiding principles at CopperMoon (and, by extension, Jamalot): advancing your awesome isn’t about being The Best. It’s about growing, learning, and living your life in a way that enriches you, enriches others, and enriches the world. That’s what we’ll be doing at the Jamalots.

I hope you’re now as excited about Jamalot as I am, and also feel great about yourself, whether you’re in The Best Club or the Kinda Good Club!

What do you think about this? Have you already embraced your awesome as a Jack-(or Jill-) of-all-Trades? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

4 thoughts on “On Being a Jack of All Trades

  1. It is also more fun, IMHO, to have a little bit of skill at a lot of things. There’s always something new to try or a new project to learn about. When necessary, I can ramp up the skills in one area or another just because I have some foundation to build on. What is life but one long improvisation anyway?

  2. … Can one be ” the best ” at being ” kinda good at a lot of things?”

    Just kidding!

    What a great article Woosi! It speaks to me about one of the reasons I love spending time with the denizens of CopperMoon.

  3. This is a fine post. I certainly agree with you that at the time you must have made the ice skating decision was a time when our finances were up in the summer and almost non-existent in the winter. We enjoyed those times anyway. You turned out to be one of our best kids. Maybe it’s because you didn’t have everything you wanted. Maybe it’s because you had to learn to compromise. Maybe it’s because you knew how to keep house before you had your own.

    I hope Jamalot is a lot of fun for you and everyone who attends.

    • I don’t remember you saying no to the ice skating. I remember looking it up (maybe with your help/encouragement?), and thinking, wow, that’s just too much of a burden. I was young and naive and thought if you were motivated, people would just help you for free, and this was my first hint that that wasn’t so 🙂