How I got to be an expert at nothing

How do you play video games or board games? Do you decide, ahead of time, what you want to do in the game and what strategies you want to take? Do you figure it out as you go? Or, do you try to do it all? This is the story of how I got to be an expert at nothing.

As a little child, I remember sitting down playing with a little toy restaurant. My granny had given me and my little brother a piece of bread to make “hamburgers” with for the toy restaurant, which was roughly 1/3 of my height. We played for hours and filled our little bellies up with hundreds of tiny pieces of bread. One day, one of granny’s friends came over and watched as we played. I don’t remember the person well, but I do remember the discussion about what I wanted to be when I grew up.

“A firefighter.” I shouted. After a few seconds I stopped and looked up and said, “And a doctor, that would be cool. I could help people.” I kept playing while the stranger asked me more questions about what I wanted to be. “Well, I guess I could be a nurse.” Those tiny bread rolls never tasted so good. I’d roll the bread up into a little pea-sized “bun” and drop it down the “chimney” of the restaurant where it would roll down onto the conveyor belt (that didn’t convey, incidentally). I’d then pick it up and eat it– or share it– but mostly eat it.

The stranger kept on asking more questions. “Is that all you want to be? A firefighter, doctor, and a nurse?”

“No. I think I will be a teacher too.”

“Which one do you think you’ll be first?”

“First? All of them. Why do I have to pick one first?”

That conversation is one of the greatest examples of why I don’t meet my own expectations of where I think I should be, today. I still hold that belief, to this day, that there will be enough life on this earth for me to do everything all at once… even when reality tells me something different.

When I survey my past, I can see more examples of this, in various circumstances. In second grade, when I was 8 (I was 8-years old in Room 8 on Bus 8… that was really funny to me), I received the “future writers” award. My teacher, Miss Pencense, exclaimed several times that I would one day become a famous fiction author. Those were really great hopes, teacher. I was really proud of that recognition and, well, I still secretly want to be a famous fiction author. In sixth grade, during my graduation ceremony, I was awarded recognition as “future scientist of the year.” Well, that was nice and unexpected, especially since, while I loved science and really got into how things work, it’s not what I ever thought I would get recognized for.

It was often the case, during school, that I was awarded recognition in some fashion or another for subjects I felt entirely confused about. So the recognition was confusing to me. For instance, in 2nd grade, I was the ONLY student who was pulled from class twice a week to work in the computer lab and play math games and logic games. I was told it was because I was “gifted.” In fourth through sixth grade, the “gifted” kids were all pulled out of their regular classes and put into a class together where we had to sit around a table and do strange puzzles like…make a pig pen to hold seven pigs, one in each pen, with only six toothpicks… or answer questions like “If a train was headed towards Dallas at 1 billion miles an hour and another train was headed to California at 1 trillion miles an hour, at what point would the conductors be able to wave to each other” or some crazy questions like that. It was also when I started building computer programs. We drew little turtles and hearts on our COMMODORE COMPUTER RAWR using matrix commands and syntax. I admit, I looked forward to going to that class ONLY if it wasn’t during science because it got me out of doing the rest of the boring stuff everyone else had to do, even though I still had to do the homework. Besides that, I was still confused as to why I was the special one to be picked.

I have never felt “gifted” in my entire life. I have, instead, felt an ongoing sense that I am capable of more than some of the other kids, and I can do more, at once, than many of the other kids. I guess I got that idea because I did the school work that all the kids did, AND the “gifted” work on top of that.

So, any time I have ever played games require skill-building… heck, even the game of RISK, I have repeated the same pattern. I want it all. I want everything. I want all of the skills. I want my soldiers on every country. I KNOW I only have a limited amount of skill points, but I want to spend them evenly on everything.

Neapolitan is my favorite ice cream, because it’s all three flavors. As you can guess, if I were into pizza, I love me some supreme pizza.

I want it all.

So hey, remember the subject of this article? How I got to be an expert at nothing?

I have been doing computer programming for ten years, so there’s that. That’s about the only skill I’ve developed for that long and I’m not doing too bad with that. However, when I zoom out a bit, I also can strum a few chords on the guitar, can play the piano enough to lead a singing group, can sing enough to occasionally pipe out something nice, can play chess with intermediate level players, can paint enough to know how colors mix, can write enough to elicit people’s responses or to encourage analytical thinking, can make videos with some forms of transitions and add music, can create graphic designs to some degree, and can pick up sweet dance moves fairly quickly.

Well, I guess I am an expert at something…being a “Jill-of-all-trades”.

When I think about that, “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome kicks in. Maybe I want to be the kind of person that is exceptionally skilled at one thing or another. I’m looking at what either lifestyles are like, in general. Like, why do I think being either a “Jill” or an expert is a good idea over the other one? I get that having a specific skill-set has more potential for greater return of investment when it comes to money. What is it about having a wider pool of skills at a lower level that seems so beneficial to me? If I think back on the “occupations” that I have wanted to do “when I grow up” that have stuck with me throughout the years… it’s “Teacher”, “Mommy” or “Writer.” This kind of mindset lends extremely well to all three of these career paths.

Moving forward, I want to encourage my future generations to craft skills and become experts. If one of my currently non-existent children wants to be a famous rock-star… I will have a sufficient musical foundation to be able to help them start in that direction. If they want to be a nurse, a doctor, or a firefighter… I will be their cheerleader. If they want to be a teacher, I’ve got their back. I intend to encourage skill-crafting as much as possible, even though it’s not something I’ve really ever wanted for myself.

How do you even know when you’re an expert, beyond degrees or certificates? What kind of things do you consider yourself an expert at? A brother of mine is a plumber. Another brother is going to school to be a respiratory therapist. These are specific skills that allow for extreme specialization. How do you view specialization and expert-ization vs knowing a-little-bit-of-everything?

A Teacher, A Writer, and a Mommy. I’m still sure that I can have my cake and eat it too.

Image from GoodlookinVintage

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2 thoughts on “How I got to be an expert at nothing

  1. How do you know if you are an expert at something? Hmmm. I suppose, constant repetition. You do that “something,” over and over again until it is second nature to you. I don’t know if people can be an expert in all things…. but I understand the drive and desire to be.

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