Sunday, 27 February 2011

Jack of all trades, master of (at least) one?

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We had a good collection of very elderly non-fiction books in our home library when I was growing up, mostly gleaned for pennies from charity shops and library sales. Some were encyclopedias, some were old school text books, some were beautifully bound introductions aimed at the 'working man'. My favourite was a learning library comprising of five leather bound books dating from the 1940s. If you worked through all six books, you would have acquired a good working knowledge of six different languages, maths, chemistry, physics, biology, political theory, world history, geography, economics, literature, drama, art and several branches of engineering. Each section had a fairly distinguished bibliography in the event you needed to learn more. There is no modern equivalent of this work and I doubt that there ever will be again.

Our choices are often presented as either/or when it comes to learning. You can be a good all rounder but excel at nothing, or you can be  a world expert with no interests or real knowledge outside of your chosen field. Some people are written off at school age alltogether, as if they are inherently incapable of learning. Polymaths are a rare thing these days and in popular culture anyone who uses their spare time to study a subject in depth or even passionately pursue a hobby is regarded as something of an eccentric. Since I embarked on a more frugal sustainable lifestyle, I have had to learn many new skills. I can now do more for myself than perhaps even I realise; and I have had great fun experimenting. But I have no real indepth expertise in anything; and I am beginning to feel dissatisfied.

Expertise is useful. I have no interest in becoming a master baker, but it is handy to have an expert to consult when my amateur efforts go awry - someone who knows where I went wrong and how to solve it. I would like to return the service in some small way. As I have simplified my life, I have uncovered a need to discover an underlying passion that I can devote myself to fully, as a hobby or as a career. My partner's is his job - he is training as a mental health nurse and he is passionate about all things related to it. At the same time he is obsessed with cars and is also developing his beer making and bread baking skills with gusto. I am quite frankly envious of his passion.

This year I hope to uncover at least one thing that captures my attention to the point of obsession. The only way to do that of course it to continue to read and experiment widely, perhaps more widely than I have in even in recent years. If there is something that captivates you - whether that be composting, fruit growing, car mechanics, astronomy, languages or music, then find the time to devote to it and share it with others. The internet has opened up the opportunities for self study in most fields - though it pays to be discerning - and there are online communities devoted to every subject you could wish to immerse yourself in. There is distinct pleasure to be had in being an amateur, there is yet another pleasure to be found in knowing a subject inside out and becoming masterful - and (at least I hope that) there is no reason that you can't experience both in a lifetime.