Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Jack of All Trades, Master of None


I recently applied for a job that I thought was perfect for me. It called my name from the end of a long road, waving its hands and gesturing me towards it. The position was a big change for me, going back to a career path that I’d left more than twenty years ago. But I wanted this job and judging from all of the signs along the road, it wanted me too.

The job was at a large public institution and there were lots of bells to ring and whistles blow along the way. When I got to the end of the road we finally met and greeted each other. We chatted, exchanged pleasantries. The smiles were natural and heartfelt. The conversation flowed. We liked each other. This could work. 

After waiting a few weeks where I dreamed of a life with my new job — the trips we’d go on, the masterpieces we’d create — the job went with someone else, someone with more relevant experience. Instead of shaking hands and walking further down the road with my new job, an enormous sinkhole appeared in front of me. 

As I stood there, at the edge of this massive hole in the earth, I felt completely lost. This new job was supposed to define me. I’d left one career, one I’d been successful at for twenty years, and this was going to be my next step. Now what?

To my right, there was an infinite field of wheat as far as the eye could see. To my left an eternal forest of old-growth Douglas Firs and Western Hemlock. And behind me the road I’d just traveled. Where would I go? 

I contemplated going towards the wheat, walking through the scratchy fields until I found a clearing and maybe a calling. And I imagined going into the forest, towards the darkness and mystery of that world where I might walk far enough to find the perfect plan. But neither of these directions harkened me forward the way that job had called me so clearly.

And when I looked behind me, towards the road I’d just traveled, I knew I didn’t want to go there. I’d left there for a reason and I was certain that I didn’t want to return to that place.

My mind swirled. Who was I now if I couldn’t travel the road where the sinkhole now blocked my path? The phrase, jack of all trades, master of none flashed across my brain in bright pink neon letters. This was a saying I’d heard for years, one that referred to people who didn’t really focus, undirected people, losers. That would be me now. I wouldn’t be the person who stepped from one path smoothly onto another. Without this new job, I would have to stand alone, just me. And who was that?

Looking again to the right and the left I knew I wasn’t ready to go either of these directions. My mind, still spinning with the catastrophic knowing that there was no new job to hold my hand, I realized that I had no choice but to just sit down on the road and wait. 

Being here, alone on the road, waiting for a direction to make sense, I feel naked and alone. Without a job, a cloak of definition, I am just me. Everything I’ve learned in my life — in school, from my family, my peers, the media — tells me that I should be something. I should have something to say when people ask me, “What do you do?”

Right now I don’t have that. It’s just me sitting on the road. Maybe I’ll take the path towards the wheatfields or maybe I’ll take the path into the forest. Maybe I’ll spend a little time wandering in both. It felt really good when that job was beckoning me towards it. I loved the feeling of belonging, of connecting to this new exciting venture. And now that feeling is gone.

Like everything, there is a lesson in the loss of this perfect job. In my time here, sitting alone, open to the elements on this road next to the sinkhole, I am aware of other options. To be a master again, to find a new role and be in it for ten, fifteen, twenty years is to step into another role that defines me. But to just be me, without that definition, I am opening up an invitation to become more myself.

Without the cloak of a role or a label, I have to build my capacity to simply be me: a baker, a gardener, a yogini, a writer, a tinkerer, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a neighbor, lover of road trips, long walks and Netflix binging. I truly am a jack of all trades, master of none right now. And truth be told, I kind of like it here. 

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