For the longest time, I’ve been a jack of all trades. People would often start a conversation with me as “I know this may not know much about this, but I was wondering…” about something even vaguely technology-related, and more often than not I’d actually know something about whatever topic they’re broaching. My brain is a sponge, at least when it comes to topics where, mentally, I can break them into modular parts. Computers, cars, networks, photography, music, journalism; I’m knowledgeable in these fields because I’m able to figure out the nuts and bolts of how each works, which makes it easy to tack on more information (for example, once you understand how a camera works, it’s much easier to comprehend what flashes do).
The problem is that, as my interest in varying fields has grown, my depth of knowledge in each has gotten much shallower. Sadly, knowing a little about a lot of topics won’t really help me be good at, well, any of those topics. I know just enough to be dangerous (usually, to my pocketbook). I also don’t get to spend enough time on each topic even to maintain my mediocrity — including the very subject I went to school for.
And that’s why I think I’m going to give up on all of it.
Just a few days ago, a story broke in the Mac journalism circuit about how Microsoft is opening a store directly across from the Apple store in the Mall of America. The story originated in one of the local papers just a couple days prior. What makes me sad is that over a month ago I was at the MOA and noticed it, and even told myself that I should write up a blog post about it, maybe I’d get some hits. I took the above shot; the photos with the stories circulating now have a better view since Microsoft has finished decorating the wall surrounding the store under construction. (When I was there, the wall facing the Apple store was just plain white.)
But what did I do? I got distracted and sat on the story, and now someone else got to break it. And I’m especially sad and angry at myself since journalism is the field I went to college for. Not being able to get a job as a reporter, fine, I can accept that — newspapers are dying and the economy sucks, after all. But putting together a quick post and firing the link off to a few tech blogs would have taken me 10 minutes. And still I got lazy or distracted or whatever and didn’t do it. For how much use I’ve gotten from my diploma I should run it through the shredder.
I don’t know what my problem is. I do know that I’m incredibly hard on myself. Maybe if I think I suck at a certain hobby, I pick another one to try with the hopes I won’t suck at that one. But inevitably I do suck — or that’s what I tell myself — and the cycle repeats.
Maybe I just want to get recognized as being great at something. Maybe I want to be someone, not just another of the middle-class content-consuming masses. Maybe I have the capability to actually make that happen, but whatever talent I may have is being spread thin by my forays into other hobbies that plenty of other people have taken up and gotten good at.
It’s becoming obvious to me that I need to take up the philosophy of, “If you can’t commit to becoming an expert at it, don’t bother trying to learn it.” I’ve already started to head that way with pro audio; I’ve largely dropped out of the audio engineering circles, and don’t have much gear left (just a couple mics and a small mixer). Sure, I check out some of the manufacturer’s sites to keep current on models, but I should stop doing that too. I should stop obsessing that one of my favorite artists uses a Sennheiser when I think they should be using Shure.
I need to figure out how to stop caring, basically.
And under this new philosophy, I’d end up axing at least these hobbies/interests:
- Pro audio
- Drums (I haven’t sat behind a kit in over 10 years)
- Guitar (I only ever learned 4 chords)
- Piano (I haven’t played a piano in over 15 years)
- Cars (doing my own oil changes is fine, but everything else I’ll just have a mechanic do)
- Learning Japanese (haven’t even bothered to really start, despite this being an interest for years now)
- Re-learning French
- Audiophile/music appreciation
All of these would pain me to walk away from, especially drumming (I’ve been holding out hope that whenever we decide to move to a new house, I’d buy a drum kit again; my wife now occasionally catches me air drumming) and my addiction to music. Left off this list are the topics that would command a Big Decision: Computers, photography, and writing/journalism.
Obviously I make a living by working with computers, but that wasn’t always my first choice. The field is enormous, too, so I’d have to pick just one aspect of it to stick to (probably networking since I already have a CCNA). But it’s also the one field I’m interested in that I have good chances of making decent money in.
Photography is the hobby that I’d say I’ve gotten the farthest in. I practice it fairly regularly, and have a decent amount invested in, both in time and money. I still think that my photos look like crap compared to what other photogs are putting out these days, and even my “best” shots I criticize to death. I’d never bother trying to make much, if any, money in this field, only continue to develop it as a hobby, since there are a ton of people with the same aspirations.
Writing and journalism, as alluded to above, is a touchy subject with me. I’d love to be able to use the degree that I spent four years getting, but since 2005 when I graduated all I have to show for it is a few articles on Applefritter and this blog (that nobody ever visits). It’s also the most effortless hobby for me; give me a topic and I can bang out an article without even really thinking about it. Sadly, money is the tightest here; newspapers are cutting jobs, not filling open positions. Pro blogging would be a logical choice, except that there’s not much money in that either, and everyone who understands English could probably pass as a blogger. (I completely understand and agree with the criticism that commercial blogs are not necessarily journalism — bloggers haven’t gone to journalism school, don’t understand the ethics, etc.)
What’s especially sobering for me is that I’m nearing 30 and I still feel like I haven’t advanced professionally. I told myself long ago that I wanted to have advanced at least enough, by age 30, to warrant my own office at work. That’s never going to happen at my current gig, and probably won’t at any future jobs unless I can get my sh*t together and really become an expert. I’m still Colin the Help Desk Guy, and that hurts.
What’s even more sobering is that, at age 30, I’ll probably have another 40 years left. My life would be almost halfway over, and I’d have not much to show for it. Nobody changes careers at age 45 and becomes a rockstar drummer; sadly, you pick your career when you’re young and you stick with it. Unless I get a call from a major record label tomorrow, offering me 6 months to get my drumming chops back then throwing me a bunch of session and live gigs, I’m never going to be a professional drummer. Same with piano, or even pro audio for that matter.
I might, just might, be able to switch to being a tech writer; tech writers benefit from real-world experience (of which I have plenty now), and it would be something that I already know how to do. But everyone else thinks they can be a tech writer too, I mean, just look at how many tech blogs are out there. I’m a little fish in not a big pond, but the ocean.
Maybe I need to get past trying to be successful or famous. Maybe just bringing home a paycheck on a regular basis is as successful as I need to be. Maybe I can learn that mediocrity isn’t the worst thing ever. The vast majority of the population is mediocre, and most people don’t have nervous breakdowns about it. Maybe I need to take a cue from the only piece of media that made me cry — the final episode of Lost — and learn to let go.