Friday, 3 October 2008

J = Jack of all trades ...

… that’s me. Good at many things, exceptional at none. Sometimes I wonder, do I have attention deficit disorder? Or am I just indecisive? Or is it laziness, this inability or unwillingness to focus on one subject.

Even as I am brushing up my French for a trip to Geneva in a few weeks, I am thinking about refreshing my rudimentary Italian for the weekend we’re spending at the Cinque Terre. I’d dearly love to be fluent in one language, but even now I cringe as I contemplate a lifelong commitment to one language, and all the others that would be left unspoken.

I was like that at school too. Good at pretty much everything I tried, sports, music and academically. Maths and music were my best, but they each seemed too narrowly focused. Just think of all the other fun things I could learn that I would miss out on! So of course at university I double-majored in history and political science, before deciding on Political Science for my Masters. The widest of subjects, it seemed to meet my need for looking broadly at life and society. And I didn’t feel as if I was missing out on anything fun.

My career has seen me pretty much always in a generalist role. That’s what a diplomat is, after all. One day dealing with aid programmes and the issues of irrigation in the arid regions of Esarn, the next looking at human rights issues as Cambodia came back into international society, the next promoting trade relationships or analysing political parties, and on the weekend, visiting the New Zealander arrested for drugs at the police cells down by the river. I know about fireblight (an apple disease) and trade subsidies, pine forest management and harvesting, and plastic bucket manufacture. A marketer and company director too must be generalists. I now know more about dam safety, road maintenance management or curriculum development than I ever would have considered necessary or desirable! More latterly, I know more about women’s reproductive systems and pregnancy than most women who have had children. Each subject is fascinating to me … but never exclusively.

Of course, this isn’t unique to me. My former colleagues in the foreign ministry are adept at getting to grips with a myriad of subjects, as are journalists, editors, teachers to name a few. But perhaps that’s what I’m expert at? I don’t have a narrow and deep focus, which I think at times would be immensely rewarding. But I see things more broadly, picking up information on a wide variety of subjects and putting them in context.

Maybe this isn’t a skill. Maybe I am just fickle. But it’s more fun than being an accountant.


  1. that's why I like being an architect: every project type is a little different and you have to learn a lot about everything. how dull it would be to be a specialist, designing hospitals or country clubs or houses every day!

  2. THE CINQUE TERRE?! that's my dream trip... please please please write about it on your Travelalphablog.

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  4. Made that the "Xtrodinary" or "Xstasy-producing" Cinque Terre.

  5. I would love to see Cinque Terre.

    And this post is wonderful, reminds me again of how much I admire you, and now I have wanderlust...both geographically and topically.

  6. Lisa: I'm so envious. I love architecture!

    Helen: I will. I promise. Though not under X (though I may have to use those headings when I get back to X again). X has been taken now, having found some photos I'd lost over the weekend. Well ok, my husband was the one who found them ...
    IB: topical wanderlust. I think all our group of bloggers suffer from it.


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