Job titles are overrated: My life as a Jane-of-all-trades

Published by Nela Dunato on at 16:35 in Personal, Thoughts

Job titles are overrated: My life as a Jane-of-all-trades

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
— Robert A. Heinlein

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

When I was a kid, I was changing my answer every week. I wanted to be an astronaut (of course), a paleontologist, an archeologist, a medical doctor, an actor, a molecular biologist... After a while I've settled on the fact that I'll be doing "something with computers".

But even a week before signing up for high school, I marked a local art school with a highlighter as well, just in case.

I know this will sound obnoxious, but it's really difficult to make choices that will affect your life when you're seemingly good at "everything". (Of course, I wasn't really good at everything. I hated history, and my geography knowledge is probably worse than that of most US Americans, which says a lot.)

I didn't know whether to go into science or art, and all the while I was convinced I had to make a choice and stick to it. I didn't know why I had to do it, because the whole right-brained left-brained schtick just didn't make sense to me (and still doesn't).

As a result, I chose computer science as my focus, and completely neglected art during high school, until I've started hanging out with some artistic people who inspired me to try again.

As I was trying to reconcile my technical and artistic interests, I stumbled into a field of web and graphic design. I was maybe 15 years old when I made my first website, and soon I've met many teens (mostly girls) my age who had their own websites.

When it was time to choose a university degree, I went along the path I've already laid out, not even considering there might be another way. I immediately regretted it.

There's no other way to say this: I hated university.

It was nothing like I hoped. After a few months, I fell into one of the worst depressive periods of my life. What pulled me out of this terrible depressive state was art and rebellion. I tried my hands at realistic and manga drawings (mostly in pencil and ink), and after I've showed it to my friends and some people on the internet, their reactions were very encouraging.

This initial contact with art had a profound effect on my life.

After years of not pursuing art, it was like a geyser shot straight out of ice, and it just never stopped flowing. I kept finding new interests and new things to try. I was fueled by rebellion against the university program I loathed, but didn't yet have the guts to leave.

Every time I needed to study for an exam, I would choose to do something creative instead.

  • Make photo-manipulations in Photoshop.
  • Design websites.
  • Learn PHP.
  • Create a CMS from scratch based on my limited knowledge of programming.
  • Try digital painting.
  • Try traditional painting.
  • Experiment with mixed media paintings.
  • Try my hand out at sewing clothes.
  • Make my first clothing article from combining several Burda patterns.
  • Find my first "real job" as a web designer.
  • Start making jewelry.
  • Start writing a graphic novel script.
  • Get into paper mache.
  • Create venetian masks.
  • Try watercolor. Curse, huff and puff and almost give up. Fall in love with watercolor.
  • Try my hand at leading the first creative workshop at an event.
  • Become a regular workshop teacher at local events.
  • Start writing my first non-fiction book.
  • Give up on writing that book.
  • Start practicing hand-lettering.
  • Get hired to do hand-lettered logo designs.
  • Start speaking and teaching about marketing and business skills.
  • Start writing another book, and mean it this time.
  • ...the list goes on.

It was exhilarating, and maybe a tad erratic. But I had found a passion I never knew before, and it gave me strength to finally take my life into my own hands. It didn't really matter what I was doing. What I enjoyed the most was the novelty, the challenge and fulfillment as a new thing was created from nothing before my eyes.

I was addicted to the state of flow I feel when I create something inspired, and everything else faded in comparison.

There was just one issue with this: I didn't know anyone else who was like me. I felt guilty that I can't keep a single interest long enough to pursue it "more seriously" and decide what I really want to do with my life.

Then a year or two ago, I started hearing these strange terms for the first time: Renaissance people. Multi-passionates. Multipotentialites. Creative grasshoppers. These were different terms coined by different people, but they all described the same thing — how I felt all my life.

Job titles are overrated: My life as a Jane-of-all-trades
Self-portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci

I was so relieved to find there are other people like me out there, who embraced their nature and had found a way to not only live with it, but have a successful business.

"You don't have to change who you are", they said.

"You don't have to be a specialist", they said.

I nodded my head in agreement, accepting that I belong in this world, just the way I am. That I don't have to shut down parts of me in order to comply with the robotic standard that decades of industrialization had set for all of us. That my desire to let my spirit roam free and take whatever I like from the buffet of life is not a delusion.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I belong.

I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up

And that's OK.

When I thought I needed to make a decision and see it through for the rest of my life, I was paralyzed by fear because I didn't want to make the wrong choice.

When I was an employee, I felt trapped and I was only able to use a fraction of my skills.

Now that I'm an entrepreneur and I know my "job title" can change any time I want, I'm happier, more productive and more willing to try out new things. Being able to do many things is a bonus when you're running your own show.

In a country where people used to be in the same position at the same company for 30 years I may seem like a bit of a freak, but now I know I'm not the only one.

And that's what I want all of you to know, as well.

Nela

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps small service-based businesses create exceptional client experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...


Your comments

  • richelle

    richelle
    2014-09-24 at 22:49

    Ahhh Nela, you have nailed it once again! I am quite a bit older than you and still not sure what I want to be, except that I want to be everything. I am SO glad that this is finally an acceptable choice!
    xo,
    rs

  • Meg

    Meg
    2014-09-25 at 00:24

    I read this nodding my head the whole way through! Especially this 'I know this will sound obnoxious, but it's really difficult to make choices that will affect your life when you're seemingly good at "everything".' I think there's something about our passion and the way our brains work that allows us to pick up new skills and think creatively. Thanks for sharing and happy to see another multi pod around!

  • Nela

    Nela
    2014-09-25 at 00:35

    Richelle, I believe we're very lucky to be living in a time when this is becoming more normal, and also that we're the ones paving the way for a generation that will hopefully grow up in a society where creativity and diversity are cultivated.

    Seeing how full of spirit you are is so encouraging!
    No offense to my parents and other people of their generation, but that's not a future I hope to have for myself.

    People keep telling us we'll "get serious" eventually, but I don't want to become serious. I was very serious as a child. My aim is to age backwards :D

  • Nela

    Nela
    2014-09-25 at 00:45

    Meg, thanks for stopping by, I'm so glad you enjoyed this post!

    Yes, I agree. I don't want it to sound like we're "better" than others, but I'm pretty sure that multi-passionate people may have some advantages when it comes to learning.
    If I recall correctly, Emilie mentioned that on her blog.

  • Tara

    Tara
    2014-09-25 at 13:24

    Yes to all of it! University was one of the worst periods of my life - I actually had to leave in the second year. The internet has changed everything for me because now I get to meet people all the time who are like me in this way. My upbringing was all about choosing 'one thing' too, and as a result I never fitted in anywhere. Now I don't have to! ;) Being able to follow my various passions and interests feels like finally being able to be myself and for that to be not just 'allowed', but also a feasible way to make a living. And strangely, the more I've accepted and followed it, the more it's started to come into focus, so that even though there are many things, most of them come under a single 'creative' umbrella.

  • Cherry Jeffs

    Cherry Jeffs
    2014-09-25 at 22:27

    Agreeeeeee! I think it's a modern marketing myth that we have to specialize. It doesn't even stop at deciding to be an artist, then we're told we have to only make one kind of art if we want to be successful!

    Probably prople are just jealous of our ability to do so many things well ;)

    I AM jealous of your web coding though! I'm a WYSIWYG girl ;)

  • Nela

    Nela
    2014-10-27 at 16:25

    Tara, I wonder what you studies? But I suppose the "what" it doesn't make so much difference, since the way education system is formed is flawed...
    That's an interesting effect you mention! I'm still in the beginnings of this process so it's not entirely clear to me how to put it under one umbrella, but I'm seeing some progress.

    Cherry: That's so true! I felt it on my own skin, even as an artist it's very difficult to get a break when you love many different techniques, themes and styles... that's such a huge challenge for me.
    Hah, in some cases it could be jealousy, but I can't use that as an excuse! :D
    Aww.. luckily the web can be conquered today even without any coding knowledge! ;)

  • BTD

    BTD
    2015-11-11 at 18:38

    OMG OMG OMG ..... I read this article and all I can see was myself .... I do not like doing one thing for long. I like to jump from project to project continually challenging myself to learn something new. I always feel like I'm being forced to be put in a box. I like doing different things and learning new skills. I have a hard time conveying this to others that want a "specialist".

  • Nela

    Nela
    2015-11-12 at 12:55

    Hey B., that's so great to hear!
    Yes, there are some definitive challenges to being a multi-passionate in a world tailored for specialists - but there are also many benefits to being this way.

    Check out the Puttylike website if you already haven't, they have a ton of resources for people like us :)

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