Today I am feeling introspective. Consider yourself forewarned.

“Jack of all trades, master of none” – I think this aptly described my problem. More accurately, it should be “jack of some trades, master of none fo’ sho'”. Sometimes this multifacetedness is a pretty cool quality to have: to know different things from various fields of inquiry, to have diverse skills and abilities, to be able to change a car battery, paint a Dali reproduction, climb a tree, carry a conversation about nucleotides, and then prepare a nutritious meal like the perfect home maker and mama, in a clean apron while humming Ella Fitzgerald under your breath.

But. As most honest introspection goes with me nowadays, often the second part of the expression, the “master of none”, rings more true.

I have always been pretty good at things, I can pick up new information or a new skill quickly, but I have never excelled at anything. Probably because I don’t have the focus or discipline to pursue any topic to any significant depth.

Like, in high school, I would participate in math competitions, but never get first place (or even second or third). My art work would hang at local youth art shows, but never receive any accolades either (and well deserved – it was nothing extra ordinary). I was somewhat active in school life – I was president of International Club 🙂 , but never president of the school.

In college the same trend continued. Why did I have to pick two majors AND a minor? Why couldn’t I just focus on one thing and learn it well? Don’t get me wrong: I loved (I don’t use this word lightly) both Linguistics and Religious Studies, thoroughly enjoyed nearly all of my classes, and would have gladly pursued a PhD in either field. Well, probably more so in Linguistics. How I wish I could linger in that magical world of syntax, glottal stops, tautologies and suffixes forever. It is a place of magnificent illusions and ethereal truths: a quasi-science for the language lover. But alas, I could not, because the munchkins were born, and I needed something more practical. Even to work in Applied Linguistics (rather than doing research), I would need a doctorate, which was not going to happen.

So I chose translation and interpretation. Perfectly practical and in demand: the ideal job for such a “master of none” as myself. Which brings me to now.

Make no mistake about it: some of the smartest people I know are interpreters and translators. They are masters of all trades, specialists in most every field, ready to interpret at a medical conference, at a fishery, on a space ship, or at the UN Security council meeting. But what bothers me about the profession is that, boiled down, you’re just regurgitating someone else’s ideas. Or you’re making sense of an idea that was poorly stated or expressed. Or you’re even extrapolating, if the outgoing message borders on incoherent. But in all cases, the ideas are not yours. And the less of “you” your client sees, the better an interpreter you are. Your biases or views should never show. You should not exist but as a medium for conversation between others. If your clients forget that you are in the room and the communication goes unhindered, then you have reached your goal.

I sort of kind of want to share some of my own ideas. I sort of want to do original research. Or build something myself. Or write something myself. Or maybe I should just get over myself…

Maybe that’s my real problem.

Getting back to this exposé, I think I should explain how I would define a person who is a master of his trade. A master of his trade is a person who sees the whole world through his field of expertise. He can find an analogy for any occasion in life from the personal world he inhabits. Imagine you’re in a room with a nuclear physicist, an evolutionary biologist, an English teacher and a garbage collector. You’re playing a game called “Associations”. You pull out a card and it reads “saturation”, then go around the circle:

Nuclear physicist: “This is what happens when the electrons orbiting around the nucleus start filling up a shell. First there’s one, then two, then it’s full and the electrons jump to the next one. This one fits eight, but once it’s full, there’s no more room and you have to move on to the next level because this one is saturated.”

Evolutionary biologist: “Clearly we’re talking about niches in an ecosystem. Each ecosystem can only support a certain amount of species, and a certain number of organisms of each. Once the populations in that ecosystem reach a certain critical mass, the environment can no longer support the needs of the organisms. The population numbers then decrease slightly and plateau. This is saturation.”

English teacher: “No, I think the best example can be found in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Too many kids with too many different ambitions. The island was just too small for them all. It was saturated.”

Garbage collector: “You guys have it all wrong. When you come home after work, and throw all of your clothes in the laundry, and take a long, hot shower, and scrub every inch of your body to rid yourself of that special odor, and brush your teeth and put on cologne and deodorant and a freshly scented shirt right out of the dryer, and your wife embraces you and then pulls away, scrunching up her face, and says, “honey, maybe you should wash up or something…”, – that’s saturation. The smell never leaves you.”

When my father can see the whole world in antibodies and proteins and cascading reactions and gel electrophoresis – that’s cool. All of this? This is just me showing off.

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