Jack of all trades syndrome

Nearly all the multi-tasking ‘polymaths’ I speak to have moments of feeling overwhelmed……occasionally worried that they risk spreading themselves too thinly and being labelled a ‘Jack of all Trades, master of None’.

I have watched a polymath friend of mine become visibly more stressed over the past few weeks, as she struggles to juggle an acting career with the demands of simultaneously producing several theatre shows at once, as well as trying to make sure she keeps a roof over her head by temping. It’s a common problem, especially for those of us who are not blessed with the financial resources to dedicate ourselves full-time to creative pursuits. What I’ve learnt from meeting and researching many creatives who opt for a polymathic approach, is that we each have our ‘breaking point’ and we must learn to recognise what it is for us.

When we first decide that we are going to branch out and experiment with other creative outlets, we should be doing it for it’s own sake – for enjoyment, stimulation and expansion of knowledge. If, however, our photography/producing/writing/cupcake business takes off in a big way, we may have to do a bit of rethinking as to how we manage our time.

It seems obvious to me from an objective point of view, that the friend in question needs to take a deep breath and focus on getting the shows she is producing up and running. A few months of putting acting on the back burner is unlikely to make much difference, and of course, in the world of polymathy, everything is fluid, so if an opportunity too good to miss comes up, you simply cross that bridge when you come to it.

An actor/writer I recently interviewed spoke to me of her frustration when working with another performer who was constantly distracted and unfocused on set, his mind always on other projects. I’ve had a similar experience myself, once having to cover for an actor/producer who missed his entrance because he was too busy on his blackberry planning his next show! No-one enjoys working with such people, and if you find yourself behaving like this, it could be it’s worth developing a new time-management strategy, otherwise you really do risk doing a mediocre job instead of a great job. Take the advice of my actor/writer friend and ‘know which hat you’re wearing’ at any one time.

These books are all full of fantastic advice on how to nurture and develop all your multiple interests, but stay focused and manage your time effectively:

The Renaissance Soul – Life design for People with too many Passions to Pick Just one (Margaret Lobenstine)

Refuse to Choose! – A Revolutionary Program for doing everything that you love  (Barbera Sher)

How to Find Fulfilling Work – (Roman Krznaric)


2 thoughts on “Jack of all trades syndrome

  1. I can appreciate the stresses of wearing too many hats professionally. Life starts to feel like that juggling act that used to turn up from time to time on the old Ed Sullivan Show here in the States – the guy spinning plates atop long thin wands. All you do is run back and forth trying to catch those getting wobbly and about to fall. I’ve been there, and what I came to realize over time is that, yes, I was doing a lot, but I wasn’t doing any one thing as well as I could have, because I was really focused on preventing failure and not on achieving success. Over the course of one’s life, doing it all doesn’t have to mean doing it all at once. Be an actor, be a playwright, be a producer, but each in turn and giving it everything you’ve got.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Kathryn – I most certainly see your point of view. In his book ‘How to Find Fulfilling Work’, Roman Krznaric describes a career approach called the ‘serial specialist’. This way of exploring many different jobs, but one at a time, certainly works better for many people, and as you say allows them to throw everything they’ve got at one thing at a time. I’m always inspired by your commitment to acting when I read your blog.

      Look forward to sharing more thoughts with you.

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