Editor’s note: This is the first thing I’ve written in quite some time. It’s long, poorly edited, and rushed but I needed to post it before I would second guess it. Proceed with caution.
A Sabbatical, a Pandemic, a Problem
What was supposed to be the start of a journey towards life as a carpenter, quickly derailed into a period of self-reflection and discovery.
I spent three years, largely in isolation thanks to the pandemic, exploring every crevice of my brain trying to figure out what makes me tick and what I was supposed to do with my life.
It’s a question for which I had no good answer.
This uncomfortable ‘fact’ is something I’ve wrestled with my whole life. It was during this forced sabbatical that I was confronted with the idea that there may be an alternative answer to this question that had been in front of me all along.
During this period of introspection, I asked myself what the constants in my life had been thus far. Among many varied interests, one common factor emerged: creative pursuits.
It’s not that I didn’t know this. I’ve spent a lot of time pursuing creative interests both as hobbies and later within the context of formal education.
Those who know me closely, know that I rarely find myself not doing something due to a lack of ideas. Rather, it’s often that I have so many ideas I find it difficult to just settle on one.
The problem—or so I thought—was that I enjoyed doing too many creative pursuits.
As a child, I would sketch for fun without any care as to whether it was any good or not. In my teenage years, I would wake up early in the morning to design and code websites with rudimentary HTML skills. During high school, I shot and filmed short movies with friends. At my first stint in university, I furthered my passion for writing by penning countless essays and even attempting to write some non-fiction. Throughout multiple tours of Europe, I taught myself how to use a DSLR to take proper photographs. And in my final years of university, I realized a growing passion for graphic design.
Again, my problem has never been not having any interests or ideas.
But what do you do when you want to do it all?
The Modern Renaissance Man
I had nearly resigned myself to the fate that it was impractical, or rather impossible to make a living as such a generalist.
For many months I struggled with what I considered an uncomfortable truth: there isn’t exactly a career for general creative person.
It was in this state of despondency that I first stumbled upon the concepts of the “modern renaissance man” and “polymaths”.
For the sake of simplicity, both of these terms define essentially the same thing: a person with many talents or areas of knowledge.
Moreover, these people are good at the things in which they take interest. The distinction is in the fact that mastery of one thing is not the goal. They can be (and usually are) recognized by others as having gained some level of excellence in any given skill, but will likely never master it in the way a specialist who devotes all his time and abilities to that same skill would.
Well-known polymaths include the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
I want to make it abundantly clear, I do not consider myself to be in the company of the aforementioned individuals—not in the slightest.
But I do like the idea of it all. The thought that one cannot only be interested in many different things, but also put those abilities to use is a breath of fresh air to me.
Too often, I think society tells us that generalization is a bad thing. Everyone knows the saying, “Jack of all trades master of none.” However, as some would suggest1, the full quotation should read: “Jack of all trades, master of none; though oftentimes better than master of one.”
Accepting the idea that it’s both okay and possible to be a generalist was the first step I needed to take to accept part of what makes me, me.
I don’t see myself as a modern day renaissance man, nor would I consider myself a polymath—at least not yet. The concepts simply reassure me that it’s okay to aspire to such a position in life.
I think it’s important to recognize that this sort of pursuit is not a short term engagement. Rather, it is something that plays out over the course of a life.
On Aspirations and Vocations
It’s one thing to be a creative generalist on the side, but it’s another to try to make a living as one.
Fortunately, I’m living in what I’d consider a unique period of time wherein a few key factors make a life like this possible:
- The digital age
- The opportunity to learn online
- The ability to create your own job
Obviously there’s a lot to unpack there, and I plan to do so in the future parts of this blog post. For now, suffice it to say I think I’ve finally found the answer to my question.
Connecting the Dots
Throughout these past few years of reflection, I’ve often been reminded of what Steve Jobs said during his 2005 commencement address to graduates of Stanford University:
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
I’ve spent much of my life dabbling in creative pursuits never realizing that the sum of all these parts is greater than the individual.
Moreover, I’ve always been one to embrace self-education and take to things quickly. Much of what I’ve learned in life has come from resources outside the traditional educational system.
And, critically, I’m alive at perhaps the only moment in history where combining all these things into some form of making a living is possible.
It’s a crude summary, and it leaves out other ‘dots’ along the way but the point is that I recognize the truth of what Jobs’ said in my own life.
Do I have all the answers? No, certainly not.
Am I currently making a living as a full-time creative? No, not yet.
Are there remaining puzzle pieces to add to the puzzle? Yes, most definitely.
Yet, coming to some sort of understanding of these truths has been critical to understanding who I am, and the direction I want to take my life with whatever time is left to me.
With that being said, this post acts as a long-winded introduction to the idea of pursuing a life as a creative.
My goal, my desire, is to go further than that. Is it a calling—perhaps, but that will only be revealed as time goes on. What I do know, is that understanding without action is half the process.
I need to push the boundaries of what I know and who I am now, towards the person I desire to become.
I want to build my knowledge, skills and abilities in a way that takes me away from my current zone of comfort.
I’m willing to take the risk of putting myself out there to find out if this is all possible.
This post started as a way to hash out the thoughts I’ve collected over the years and to try to find a way to do something with them. Like my own journey, this post has taken turns I didn’t anticipate—perhaps that’s fitting for a subject matter as this. And yet I find myself with more to settle, more to write, more to share. Thank–you to those of you who’ve indulged my ramblings—I hope you’ll consider reading on in part two as I continue to explore the answer to the question with no good answer.