Jill of all Trades or Renaissance Woman?

The pipe organ was created to do the job of an entire orchestra of different instruments, but nobody ever accuses it of not being worthwhile because of its varied abilities. In fact, it’s considered the King of Instruments for this very reason! Just a little brain snack for you to think about. (Also, that is me in the picture. I was not creeping on a random organist.) 😉

I am what one might call a “Jill of All Trades,” the female counterpart of a “Jack of All Trades.” I quite liked this phrase until I saw a quote on Pinterest (seriously, Pinterest? You’re supposed to be my social media happy place!) that reads:

“Jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

Well stink. As a perfectionist, this immediately crushed my spirits. But then I started to think…after all, Abraham Lincoln once said not to believe everything you read on the internet, so it seemed wise not to jump to immediate despair.

And so I thought, not just about the quote, but about myself. Who am I? What do I do? Why do I do these things? What are my goals? Am I a Jill of All Trades? Is this good or bad? All of these terrifying questions of identity and purpose began to dance a frantic tango in my mind. But, fortunately, I like to dance and I love to think.

The answer to the first question partnered off with the second question as the music of thought began: I am Ryanne McLaren, and I spend my time doing the following:

A lot of piano, a little organ, violin, and singing; baking; running; swing dancing; blogging, writing, reading, composing; crafting; exploring. I suppose if I had to condense, I could say truthfully that I do two things: music and English, but within those two categories are piano, violin, singing, organ, ukulele, composing, dancing, poetry, blogging, stories, analyzing, essays, reading, etc. The subcategories go on and on.

And that’s how I like it.

This partially answers the next question of “Why?” I have never been able to just focus on one thing, be it piano or reading. As a child, I was the piano student who would read novels while practicing scales and the English student who would run while studying. Multi-tasking is a pleasure for me and, while sometimes it does not work out (I admit I should have put more focus into my scales…), being actively involved in multiple things at once makes life exciting. It gives me joy to be able to run from actually running to rehearsing to writing to baking. And it gives me even greater joy to refine my skills in all of these areas. Would I say that I am a master in any of them? No. Absolutely not, to be honest. But that does not mean I cannot be or am not excellent.

This brings me to the next daunting question, the answering of which appeared as difficult as dancing with someone who lacks an inherent sense of rhythm: What are my goals and is this the best way to achieve them?

To answer the first part of this question in detail would take too long, for my goals are as diverse and numerous as my areas of interest. Luckily, this realization allows me to answer the second part easily: YES.

For someone who had a single goal, becoming a concert violinist, for instance, it would not be wise for that person to pursue excellence in “all trades.” It would be much more likely for this individual to achieve his or her goal by focusing all efforts on it and becoming the proverbial “master of one.” But for people like me, who have less specific goals that still lie within the realm of certain topics (for instance, I only aspire to do something with music and writing, but know I can enjoy numerous careers), pursuing perfection in a lone subject would be not only impractical but limiting. 

Having reached this conclusion, I felt a peace and my thoughts stepped in time again. (Although I was at the time I was dashing between a piano lesson and a Socratic discussion.) In scrolling through the internet again later, my conclusion was supported when I discovered that the quote that had pushed me into this mental flurry of self-examination had a second part that everyone apparently ignores:

“Jack of all trades, master of none, though oft times better than master of one.” -Unknown

This thought was still fresh in my mind when this morning when someone referred to me as a “Renaissance Woman.” This to me is so much better than a Jill of All Trades, who may or may not excel in any of the areas in which she dabbles. A Renaissance Woman (or man, but it’s National Women’s Month, so…), however, by definition possesses excellence in her areas of knowledge and- dare I say- expertise. She might even achieve mastery while simultaneously being a Jill of All Trades. I mean, consider Leonard da Vinci! I doubt anyone would ever argue that he was not a master of art, but his genius extended beyond painting only; he was an inventor, philosopher, scientist, architect…for all we know, he was writing internet quotes and trolling Pinterest from the past! He is remembered not only for his primary area of mastery, but for being the prime example of a well-rounded man. This is what I aspire to attain: excellence in all things. Not perfection, but excellence. And oftentimes, as the quote says (forget it, Abraham Lincoln, I believe this one!), this is the better path. After all, the world needs Swiss Army Knives just as much as it does paring knives. 🙂


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