This may be a dramatization. The crisis is this: to be a Master or a Jack-Of-Many-Trades.
I admire the Masters. To take the time to know one’s craft more profoundly than anyone else; to have the love and the dedication to stick with something after all others have quit out of frustration, boredom, or tedium- ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished*. I yearn to have that level of expertise in something. Tea, for example. I know quite a bit about tea. I run a Tea Time, after all. Yet, I know but the smallest fraction of what there is to know about tea. I do not memorize tea grades, and I probably couldn’t tell you by taste whether a black tea is from Sri Lanka, Assam, or one of the many tea plantations of China. That takes many years of learning.
The problem is this: I think that I am fundamentally a Jack. I have always been interested in anything and everything and it has seriously inhibited my ability to focus on any one thing to become a Master. Take reading, for example: I can’t help but alternate between short books like Fitzgerald, trilogy presidential biographies by Morris, and epic modern Indian literature by Seth. In the many years that I have practiced martial arts, I haven’t been able to keep myself to one discipline- the others always look too cool to pass up.
So I jump. I jump from one diametrically opposed book genre to the next, one martial art to another, one language to another. If I could be called a Master of anything, it would be learning the fundamentals. By virtue of always wanting something new, I have become good at learning the elementaries: of tea, karate, ju jitsu, t’ai chi, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Slam Poetry, drawing, swimming, and so on and so forth. And it all sounds very impressive.
But it’s not. I am essentially taking the easy route. It’s easy being a Jack. You do whatever you want, and move on when you find something new that interests you. I always thought that being a Master or a Jack was a matter of personality. If you were a Master of something, it’s because you have no interest in anything else, and can therefore devote all your time to your chosen craft. If you were a Jack it was because you simply could never be content with one craft. That may be part of it.
But I neglected the sacrifice of the Master. I assumed that Masters had no other interests. But truly being a Master means making sacrifices for your craft. It means that you choose to stay and practice piano, rather than going to that wine tasting. It means dealing with the uncertainty of that choice- the uncertainty of whether you chose the right craft at the expense of everything else. I just don’t know if I could do that.
I think that on a more fundamental level it has to do with the human urge to belong. We want to be in groups, to identify with others who are like us. That’s part of the beauty of being a Master- after years of work you gain admittance to a small and highly exclusive club of people with whom you can identify. Bakers, painters, masons, fishermen, gymnasts, soldiers. People who have become professionals in their field. Jacks don’t have that. Jacks can’t even associate by virtue of being Jacks, because they’re all Jacks of various fields- sure, there’s overlap, but nothing worthy of a sense of profound association.
I’ve just never found that one, all-consuming craft for which I am willing to sacrifice all else. It bothers me, because I do long for that association, that belongingness. I want to be a Master of something, and I do think I’d be willing to sacrifice if I found something worth sacrificing for. But perhaps I am once more taking the easy route. Perhaps the passion, and the willingness of sacrifice comes not before, but after Mastery. Perhaps I am expecting the results before doing the work.