Jack of all trades, master of none

About that one time in my life I tried to specialize and it backfired tremendously

It took me way too long to admit to myself that I like being a jack of all trades and a master of none. I cannot for the life of me retrieve a lot of joy from doing one thing extremely well. I tried it once in my life, and I ended up going through an identity crisis. I was quite young when this happened, but it took me at least another 15 years to feel at peace with the fact that I don’t have that one main thing that makes me happy. For this to make sense, we have to go back in time.

My love became my nemesis

When I was about 15 or 16 years old, I started enjoying playing my clarinet a lot. It was a motivational time because I had just been promoted to the main orchestra (coming from the youth orchestra) and I was feeling inspired by the amazing clarinet players on the first row. I started practicing a lot more and as a result I got a lot better. I started entertaining the idea that maybe I should make music my profession. This surely was that one thing that was meant for me!

I didn’t even want to become a professional clarinet player, but a music teacher. My parents helped me, by buying a piano for me and hiring a piano teacher that I went to once per week. In order to be admitted to become a music teacher, I had to play the piano (while singing!). On top of that, I also had to audition on clarinet, so I was still practicing tons on that instrument as well. The music teacher in high school also supported me with extra lessons because he knew how the auditions worked and what was expected.

You get the picture: I had to make a lot of effort to be admitted into the school. Lots of people were supporting me or otherwise involved. I did two auditions at two different schools, and I was accepted in one of them.

A couple of months later: school started, and I remember being excited and scared out of my mind. Now, it was real. I was living my dream!

Quite quickly, I was drowning in homework. Becoming a music teacher is not easy, it turned out. I had: clarinet lessons, piano lessons, guitar lessons, singing lessons, drum lessons, choir lessons. On top of that, there were theoretical lessons: music theory, teaching theory, group projects. Another two months in and I already had to start teaching music to elementary school children at a school nearby.

Dear reader, I could not keep up. I was just 18 years old at this point and I could not handle so much responsibility. In order to keep up with the homework and instrument practice, I basically had to live, breathe and think music 24/7.

Everything started to feel like a chore, and I pulled away. “Is this what it’s like to live my dream?! It should be so much more fun!”, was my vibe at the time. I had pictured it to be different, more effortless and with less responsibility.

I’m not proud of what I did, but I feel compassion for my 18-year-old self now.

I started skipping classes. I stopped going to that elementary school where I was expected to give music lessons to the little ones. I did not tell my parents because I felt a lot of shame. The lie was very big at the end. I got up at 6 in the morning, traveled all the way to that elementary school only to turn around and go back home! By the time I was home again, my parents would be at work and not know what I had done.

I knew that the deception couldn’t last forever, and after about 2 months the whole charade came crashing down. It was time to admit to myself that I did not have what it takes to become a music teacher. All the fun was gone from music, and I was severely depressed about what I had done (and how badly I had done in school).

The teachers at the school wanted me to try again next year and gave me the option to finish as many types of classes as I could during the remainder of the semester. I declined and decided to quit.

I had only lasted about 5 months in total at the school. Yet, I had made my whole identity revolve around music and being talented at making music. After quitting, that felt like a total lie and I had to admit to myself that I simply lacked the desire and work ethic to become a fantastic musician. My playing was okay, maybe better than average, but it would never become excellent. That’s because I didn’t give it the excellent effort that is required. And I didn’t do that because…. I simply didn’t want to.

I wanted what everyone wants: have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to become excellent without putting in the work! Hah! There are no hacks or shortcuts for being very good at something.

After quitting, I entered a dark period. I was in an identity crisis. I had placed all my bets on becoming a music teacher, and I had no idea what else I wanted to do. Life felt empty and on top of that I now hated music. I stopped playing my clarinet entirely. I withdrew in online gaming because reality was too painful for me. After a couple of months, my mother was fed up with my bullshit and forced me to take on a full-time job. That got me back on track, thankfully.

At the start of the new school year, I entered into university for what was basically a Liberal Arts degree. I couldn’t choose, so I chose a type of education that didn’t force me to choose a specialization. Big brain move. I got my bachelors degree, but honestly, my heart wasn’t in it at all. I had not found the one thing I wanted to do, so I figured it was probably better not to pursue a master’s degree. I think it was the right decision to start working with just my bachelors degree.

Finally, the lesson was learned

It took me a long time to figure out that I enjoy doing a lot of different things, and that it’s more in line with my identity to do a lot of things on an okay level.

I went back to the clarinet and found peace with the fact that my playing is serviceable and good enough for an orchestra. Playing alone is a still a source of frustration for me, but playing in a group is amazing.

I did a lot of different sports over the last 15 years. I turned out to be quite good at powerlifting, good enough to participate in the national championship in 2023.

I became quite good at software testing. Good enough to make an honest career out of it. Am I super passionate about it, and is it the only thing that matters to me in life? Hell no. But the community of software testers sure makes it a lot better.

For years after the debacle of the music school happened, I had not learned the lesson that I finally learned in my thirties: not everyone has that one thing that they always enjoy doing, for the rest of their lives. I used to think that was the norm. But now I know that the alternative is also okay: to enjoy doing lots of different things and not being truly amazing at any of them.

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