Monday, 3 December 2007

working in a general kind of way

In my younger days my spectacular failure to specialise was a liability. For years I wanted to be an actress (I was young young young) and then I wanted to be a film maker. For a moment in between I wanted to be a hairdresser. Then it was teaching, cooking, research, writing, people management, change management, running an enterprise, running a country. And that's just the vocational stuff. There were a lot of jobs as well. And all the while in the background I passionately pursued travel, sewing, knitting, gardening, woodwork and all manner of stuff.

I would go to work or study someplace and feel like I was surrounded by people who had started out on some road and just kept going. They stayed doggedly on course while I was changing lanes, taking turn offs, ending up in some other landscape. They had names for their abilities and jobs like doctor or singer or accountant or vet or nurse or artist or acrobat. I on the other hand would read the employment ads starting at A and ending at Z because I never had any idea what I was looking for.

And I was full of angst and self-reproach and a suspicion I might never find a way that was mine.

So in the last couple of days I have been thinking a lot about how differently I feel about all that than I did even a few years ago. That last post set me on this train of thought I think, wondering for the zillionth time if life wouldn't be easier if I just worked out the one thing that really mattered. If I could work out which balls to let fall knowing I wouldn't feel badly about it later.

But you know, the juggling thing is really where it is at for me. I want all those balls. Every last one.

I sometimes say I just want to craft all day, with the odd spot of baking and gardening, that crafting is what I love and gives me energy. But now that I am starting to get more than my fair share of wonderful crafting work like pattern designing and book contributions and workshops to teach, I know I wouldn't be able to.

Partly it is because I know I could never be a really exceptional crafter. I'm an 80/20 rule girl all the way and my toys would never be as good as hers, my knitting never a patch on hers, my sewing never of the standard of hers, my patterns never as innovative as hers (ad infinitum).

But I also like that my other work life takes place in the world where things are made sense of using numbers and laws and studies and priorities and systems and policies. The great human machine of government is also an opportunity to contribute to something so very much larger and more important than me. Something not at all whimsical or frivolous or fun that appeals to my stripped bare functionalist self.

Now I know this other world is easy to criticise, that everyone can find fault with pretty much any aspect of it they care to examine, and I myself have been known to find a good deal of the work I do both pointless and dull, but understanding this world, participating in this world and helping others to be able to negotiate this world are actually very fulfilling things to do.

And D and I have been talking about future plans, about the future of his work, of my work, about more chances to go elsewhere and do other things and how we can fit in careers and still have adventures out there in the world.

One of the things we'd like to do is volunteer work with indigenous communities - there's a program where you can register your skills and be matched up with requests from communities for specific skill transfers - and the number and variety of things we can do makes this seem so much more possible, and potentially enjoyable!

D bought home some info about past placements and one was teaching knitting! Oh joy be mine! But I am equally excited about helping communities become self-sufficient in applying for and managing money, in analysing their needs and planning for their future, in setting up computer systems to automate the routines of an office. I know these things aren't exciting, but they are things I can do, and things it is very helpful to be able to do.

So anyway, my point here is that I am beginning to see that the whole generalist thing is getting me somewhere. Somewhere I actually quite like being. It is true I am not rich, and I don't have time when I don't feel under pressure to get something done. Sometimes, rather often in fact, I find life hard and frustrating and annoying. And we all know I complain a bit. And don't clean.

But sometimes I get an email asking me to contribute to a new book, or a phone call to say my workshop has filled up in record time and they'd like to offer a few more, or I'm being given carriage of a long term project in the straight world even though I am hardly ever around, or someone would like me to design a pattern for their yarn and I just think, well, bugger me, isn't life taking a new and exciting turn?

And this long and rambling post reflects all too well the state of my brain and my incapacity to be brief or precise and I did consider more than once deleting the lot to try and tame it all but you know, life is too short to get things really right sometimes. Oh yeah, I said that already...


kate said...

Yeah me too.

My contract's nearly up, so if you see something going that's, you know, doing something, that's um, interesting in a Kate-like fashion, in a Kate-ish sort of way, well let me know. If you can fit it in.

Saw one of your softie patterns in a book when I was at Readings and meant to be shopping very quickly and not browsing. It looks lovely.

nectaryne said...

A good friend of mine is a pastor and an author and he told me just this past week that when he tried to do either thing full time and only do that thing, there was a part of him that was undernourished. He said that by dividing himself in two he was able to be whole.

To hear his comments and read your post in the middle of my own "I don't know what to be when I grow up" worries was incredibly comforting. Thank you.

Kirsten said...

for so long i wanted to be just brilliant at one thing... and i realised that it is okay to be okay at lots of things. and enjoy that for the gift it is.

esmerelda said...

My dad used to tell me off for being a "Jill of all trades, master of none". Nowadays, I see that as a bloody big compliment. Ok, so I might not be a Michelin-starred chef, but I can make a mean steak au poivre, and if it goes wrong, then at least my life is not meaningless, my perfectness destroyed. If my soufflé doesn't rise? There's always the knitting. If my patchwork's not exactly straight? There's the 80 page report on outside legal spend at blue-chip corporations I put together in under two weeks. How dull life would be if we were all uni-faceted.

nikkishell said...

Yay for juggling balls! As crazy and as stressful i make it for myself i wouldn't want it any other way.

Angela said...

I agree wholeheartedly on the value of multitasking (as a mother, author, crafter, manager of sector development program, trainer, household budgeter, management committee member...). And I enjoyed our conversation about this on Sunday night. It got me thinking more laterally about my own future life-work options. I'm going to start by dispensing with the word 'career' as being way too narrow to contain both my tasks and aspirations :-)

Asiya said...

Yep...but at least you acquired some skills! I haven't got there yet!

Carla said...

I just had my 40th birthday last week and faced a bit of that "What am I going to do when I grow up" thing. It's funny to realise that it doesn't work itself out with age. I beieve that its not so important to achieve some particular level of achievement. As long as your life involves lots of those things that sustain you, make you happy, then you're on the right track. Thanks, Sooz, for reminding us jugglers that we're not alone

Kirti said...

I think Soozs the correct term for you is 'Renaissance Woman' - a very beautiful thing to be. xxxx

kt said...

No deleting thoughtful posts!

Remember when we used to take tests in school and they warned us not to go back and start changing answers?

Write it down as it comes out and leave it there.

I'm a dabbler myself, and a little of this and a pinch of that with a dash of who-knows-what is good for the soul.


I am a temporary specializer and always switch to the next crafting department before my knowledge and ability is becoming deep or profound. I am specialized on pottering and it very much satisfies me.
I guess you cannot work against your nature.
Embrace yours, you already noticed, eventually it will get you somewhere!

Mary Jane said...

Thank You for not deleting this! So nice to find today, when I'm off to my job which I love, leaving my knitting behind, which I hate to leave and love so much I drag it along, but only get to glance at it in odd moments.

JenaVeve said...

So glad you didn't delete any of this post, I loved it. It was raw and refreshing in all it's reflection.

And I can relate to a lot of the 'what the hell is that one thing I should be doing with my life?' and having way too many desires for different worlds and work and play. And slowly (only the last few months to be truthful) I am realising there are a lot more of us out there like this - incredibly interesting people with a plethora of skills and some strong desire to narrow it down, but finding a resistance.

Maybe this is for a reason, and 'jack of all trades' is of equal footing to a 'master of one' but we have trouble accepting this. Living with many roles rather than one major role, or even two, gives us the ability to interact with so many people on so many different levels. And what a colorful past is leaves us with!

Here's a final thought: imagine if we had picked just one of those roles for ourselves, way back when; I wonder if we'd have learned half the exciting lessons in life, or met half of those creative people, or tried half of those amazing projects, or travelled to half the places to fulfill our desires, or dreamed up half of the new and wonderful things that we are yet have a go at...