So I’m a little over a week into my fourth decade and still working on answering the question: which hobbies, passions, and interests will fall under the jack-of-all-trades umbrella, and which will fall under the specialist umbrella.
This question evolved from my ‘self-reflection, planning, and yet more self-reflection’ post where I was trying to answer the question of who I wanted to become over the next five plus years.
While for some this is probably a quick question to answer—I’m still slightly struggling with for two reasons: 1) imposter syndrome—since I’m wanting to transition out of academia and into industry, there are times when I feel like a ‘fraud’, even though I know everyone’s journey is their own and that no two paths are the same—also no one has the same history, likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses, and personality traits that I do. The second reason is that at times I’m still in an somewhat academic mindset, which has a somewhat “clear ladder” on how your job grows—you graduate with your PhD, you do a couple of postdocs, you then get an assistant professor position, and then work your way up the ladder to associate, full, regents, emeritus professor along with possibly going for department head, or positions as a dean.
Since I’m still not sure which direction I want to go in—therefore there is no “clear ladder”, and even once I decide on a direction or directions to go in—there is no guarantee of a “clear ladder” or straight job trajectory in today’s society. Therefore I’m on a mission to create a mix of things that not only fall under both categories (jack-of-all-trades and specialist), but also encompass all aspects of life.
Through self-reflection, I realize that the times I’m happiest and in the ‘flow’ are when I’m both learning and relaxing—in other words when there is a balance between things. This is something that I had lost over the past decade or so—actually, this was something I closed off when I thought I wanted to go down the academic route—I pushed aside enjoyment, relaxation, and balance while focusing on just one small area for ‘learning’.
I’m thinking that the best route will be something that allows me to both—work for a company, but also be an independent freelancer as well. This way I can juggle different hats (under the umbrellas of jack-of-all-trades and specialist), and hopefully never get bored.
Boredom for me is like the kiss of death for the job—and one thing I need to work on is asking for change in the job when I start feeling boredom sneak in—because if I don’t ask for a change, I know I will start to get a little laid back in things and let things start to slide—which is something that I want to avoid moving forward.
So that brings me back to the question: how am I going to divide up my hobbies, passions, and interests into the categories jack-of-all-trades and specialist?
One area can be quickly filed under jack-of-all-trades currently, and that is crafts. These include knitting, sewing/quilting, learning cross-stitching, making my own jewelry, doodling, and hopefully at some point painting. The time I spend on any of these varies—knitting is usually done only in the cooler months, I currently don’t have a sewing machine, and the others have had very little time spent on them.
Therefore until I start spending a good amount of time on any of them during the week, they will be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ topic. These will be things that I write about maybe once a month or every couple of months on the blog. I have ideas on how to try monetizing some of them (knitting, jewelry, and cross-stitching), but haven’t spent any time trying to work up the plan or even a few showcase pieces.
There are other hobbies that I spend more time on: bird watching, photography, reading, and at times journaling/writing. These are areas of my personal life that I could slowly start working on more and move to what I would consider ‘expert’ level.
In terms of bird watching—seeing how many species in North America I can have identified by a certain age. This would then also allow me to include traveling, being outdoors, hiking, and photography as well.
In terms of photography—I can work on becoming a better nature photographer, and also start learning another form (say architecture or portrait photography). I would consider myself an expert if I then start selling my prints (either through my own site or another site, and/or have a small photography business on the side).
In terms of reading—start writing book reviews and posting them on both the blog and where I purchased the book, in addition to promoting books as well on my blog and social media sites. This way I could also then start possibly reviewing advance-reader-copies (ARCs), in addition to maybe working through affiliate programs—earning a little money, by referring people to buy different books.
In terms of writing—there is quite a bit I need to work on (and actually can be applied to all areas that I would like to become an ‘expert’ in) to get better at writing. The first thing is scheduling time every day to write/brainstorm/outline. Saying I want to become better at writing does nothing unless I also put in the work to become better at writing. So what are the things I need to work on?
Brainstorming, researching, writing, and editing—on a schedule
Publishing my writing (in more places than just the blog)
Asking others to read what I’ve written and give constructive criticism
Different types of writing
Creating a portfolio to highlight my work
So in terms of my passions and interests—which should be jack-of-all-trades and which should be specialist?
If I look to my scientific background that has spanned a little over two decades I’ve noticed that I can focus on any of the following: recombinant cloning, recombinant protein expression and purification, sequencing, HPLC, MALDI-TOF, NMR, transcriptional and translational assays, small RNA biology, plant biology, cell culture, yeast, bacteria, fruit flies, the cell cycle, and bioinformatics.
If I had to chose areas for jack-of-all-trades those would include: bioinformatics (data science, programming, and data analysis), cell culture (basic mammalian and insect), sequencing, HPLC, MALDI-TOF, and NMR. These are the more technical things—though cell culture isn’t very technical, I just didn’t do that much of it through the years.
The areas I would chose for specialist would then include basically everything else: recombinant cloning, recombinant protein expression and purification, transcriptional and translational assays, small RNA biology, plant biology, yeast work, fruit flies, bacteria, cell cycle and almost anything that falls within these categories.
If I looked to other topics that I enjoyed during college—these were classes in social sciences and humanities (history, anthropology, sociology) that I got good grades in and never really stressed out over the exams (unlike all the other science classes).
So I would probably include some of those topics—medieval history, art history, anthropology, ancient North/South American history (prior to the arrival of the Europeans), archeology, and paleontology within both categories depending on the amount of time I could give to each area.
Other interests that could probably bounce between being jack-of-all-trades and specialist include spirituality, personal finances, and health/fitness.
These are areas that I’m interested in gaining more knowledge (finances—getting out of debt, saving more, retirement, multiple streams of income), becoming the best version of myself (health/fitness—completing programs, getting outdoors, and setting fitness goals to achieve and celebrate instead of spending money), and embracing (spirituality—I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m more spiritual than I am religious, therefore I want to become better at reading tarot/oracle cards and be able to meditate longer than say two to four minutes).
Therefore within the next five to ten years I would like to become a more well rounded person and scientist—this means over all balance, some days may be more science than crafts, more time at the computer than behind a camera—but also more days crafting, reading, and meditating. It is time for me to forge my own path forward that allows me to embrace all aspects of who I am, my strengths (learner, intellection, input, achiever, deliberative/ideation/arranger), while also working on my weaknesses.
The next step will be creating a plan that will allow me to slowly start moving in that direction.