Having multiple talents and pursuing them in the marketplace, is it a blessing or a curse? I have a number of interests and have invested time in each of them and have achieved a level of proficiency in several of these pursuits. Does this entitle me to express these in the marketplace as vocations or does one have to limit oneself to a single professional calling?
My experience in the marketplace, with this quandary, is that most people wish to associate you with one thing (whether this is a reflection of their own simplicity in this matter is another question). I find that there can be an initial dropping off of respect, from potential clients, when they are informed of my multiplicity in this regard. So in many circumstances I remain mum, when discussing their needs and requirements, so as not to disrupt their professional equanimity when doing business with them. This can be frustrating when watching them make mistakes that could be avoided, but I suppose this is often the case anyway, as we all want to do things our own way and learn most from our own mistakes.
We are all familiar with the term, ‘Jack of all trades,’ I would posit, and that this is often used in the pejorative sense, as it is followed by the rejoinder, ‘Master of none.’ Is this saying a result of the sour grapes felt by the the majority of people, who have no second string to their bow, or is it based on some verifiable truth in the matter? Of course the world has greatly changed since the first coining of this, ‘so called,’ kernel of wisdom, and singular professional vocations have gone, to a substantial extent, the way of the dodo. A vast percentage of people are now forced by economic circumstances to pursue a second or third means of employment; but these are most often jobs not vocations.
When I was reading about the renaissance in sixteenth century Europe, I suddenly thought, ‘I am a renaissance man!” As at this time a multitude of Arts and Sciences were explored through the rediscovery of classical texts from ancient Greece and Rome, which had been suppressed by the Church for the previous ten centuries( ie the dark ages). Leonardo da Vinci, the greatest polymath of this fervently fertile time, homosexual? bisexual? vegetarian and blessed with an insatiable curiosity and creativity; along with great talent and technical expertise in drawing and painting. Still, I imagine during his own lifetime, that he was confronted with clients and friends who questioned his proficiency in some of his expressions of interest. Being dead and famous always makes things appear easier, I find.
The fact is, that we are not all suited to the narrowly focused exploration of a single pursuit, we are not all made that way, and indeed, some are born with a degree of interest in a variety of directions. However, our education institutions are not designed to encourage this polymath approach to learning and life, our education institutions are still firmly rooted in the nineteenth century, in the way they educate. We are encouraged to sample a selection of pursuits at the beginning of our educations, which are then quickly removed to narrow the focus to a single vocational study as we progress through to tertiary levels of education. That this approach probably fails the majority of students has never been of particular concern to the proponents of this system, as they merely squeeze the round peg to fit through the square hole. Education, over the last hundred years, has been stripped of its classically well rounded approach to learning and our universities denuded to provide functional, technical college, style educations aimed at producing specialists with limited broad spectrum appeal. Giving us technicians,’ masters of the molecule’ who are unable to know the whole, unfamiliar with their own history and language, and easily manipulated by their political masters.
Tradition sits on our backs like a fat arsed Cardinal from the middle ages, holding back humanity and condemning it to repeat its mistakes, again and again. As a new grandmother generally wants her daughter to ‘mother’ just as she did, and is usually offended by any initiatives in this regard, our schools and colleges are just as miserly with their openness to real change. Schools, as we know them today, began in the eighteenth century, as places to mind the children of the newly wealthy middle classes and to provide them with a basic education; and it was not until the nineteenth century that a national system to include the children of the lower classes was instigated in England. Which is why schools are run along the lines of prisons or army barracks, their concern has been as much with the security of the children as possessions as it has been about education. By which I mean there has been very little innovative thought going into how and what is the best means of enlightening and ‘drawing out’ (which is the meaning of edukate from the Greek) – ‘know thyself’ was a motto of the Hellenistic times – the best for and from children and young adults in these institutions. Cramming as many as can be fitted into a room, seated at uncomfortable desks, and ordered to listen to the droning of an often less than inspired teacher, is the model followed still today by most schools. Perhaps having laptop computers and the Internet may change things for the better, but I doubt the core principles underpinning how the children are instructed to learn will alter that much.
We live in an age, where we are all conversant with a mega multitude of data, superficially acquainted with a surfeit of knowledge, and this is only increasing through our exposure to technology. Perhaps it is time to open up to the possibility that we can be good at more than one thing and that when we go to a party, and someone says, as they usually do, “what do you do for a living?” The answer may be more than the listener quite expected.