Balancing Act // Being a Jill of All Trades in the Creative Sphere
This morning, I was going through my newsfeed and came across a post on a creative/productivity blog about why we shouldn’t try to be ‘jacks of all trades.’ And while I get the point, I was a little bit (OK, a lot) turned off by that. This post was about a guy who’s a specific type of marketer, so maybe for him, it makes sense to laser focus on one thing that he’s great at. But for those of us who make a living being creative, I don’t think that’s true, at all. So, it prompted me to write a bit of a response—it’s not my normal topic for this blog, but if you ever wonder what the heck I’m doing or you’re also a creative and trying to figure out how to make a life for yourself, you might enjoy this.
The world of journalism has changed since I got out of school, and that was only six years ago. When I was in school at Rutgers for English and journalism, no one talked about podcasts, no one talked about how internet journalism was making it so that if you wanted to really succeed—especially if, like me, you have a niche industry you want to write for (outdoor adventure, in my case)—you had to be able to do it all. Really, while I learned how to write, I didn’t learn many of the practicalities of the industry.
I had never taken a photography class or really paid much attention to taking pictures before I started working at my first cycling magazine. But we needed photos to go with words, so I learned to be decent at photography. Ditto social media—first Twitter, then Instagram. Then, I wanted to write books. (I’ve always wanted to write books.) So, as a sideline to writing for cycling magazines, I wrote books. I took on a lot of other writing and practical side projects, from personal assistant to team manager to cycling coach. I also learned to layout magazines, to become an editor while still being a writer, and I dabbled in some now-defunct video projects (ahem, 1Drifter). I learned to self-publish and subsequently market a book. In doing so, I also conquered being terrified of people and public speaking when I started giving my Saddle, Sore Women talks at shops and clinics. (OK, real talk: conquered is a strong word. Mildly overcame but am still scared to death is slightly more apt.)
In the background, I learned how to race my bike on road, off road, and in a combination of the two. I stayed serious about triathlon for a few years, I won 5K races. I dabbled in CrossFit, hot yoga, rock climbing the occasional aerial silks class. Even in sport, despite writing primarily about cycling, I preferred—and still prefer—maintaining a bit of the Jill of all Trades concept.
And that’s what led to our most recent diversion from that one thing that I’m supposed to be good at (writing). Peter and I started our podcast, The Consummate Athlete, to talk about what it means to be a truly well-rounded athlete capable of any kind of outdoor adventure, at any level. Is it a runaway hit? Absolutely not (yet). But I’m learning new skills—like editing in Audacity and the ins and outs of actually recording interviews to sound decent—and I’m honing my interview style, plus we’re meeting rad people as we go. And, simply put, podcasting is pretty fun, and it’s a new way to be creative.
When I look back at the last 10 years of my life and consider what would have happened if I focused on just being good at writing, it’s a little scary. Would my writing have improved? Of course. But would I have a career? To be honest, I very much doubt it. Or at least, I wouldn’t have a career that I really loved.
What has worked for me is following my interests: I love women’s cycling, I love cycling nutrition, I love fashion, especially when it’s athletically-oriented, I love the multi-sport lifestyle, I love travel, and I really, really love bikes. They’re all inter-connected and each informs the other, and I think they’ve meshed well into a life, but if you’re just glancing at a list of what I do, it might look like it’s all over the place.
I guess this post is directed to the younger generation of journalists out there. I get a lot of emails about how to get my job (typical answer: which one?). But the thing that I tell people most often is broken into two parts. The first is obvious: WRITE. Write often, write for cheap, write for free if you have to, but write. Even if no one is reading it, you’ll get better. (I shudder a little when I read blog posts from my racing blog from college, but it definitely got me started!) The second, though, is to try new things and learn new skills. This one is kind of harder. I had no idea how to use Adobe InDesign five years ago, but I read a lot of books, watched a lot of tutorials, made a lot of mistakes, and laid out a magazine in it, which led to me being able to lay out Saddle, Sore when I wanted to self-publish.
Hone your one specific, niche skill and stay true to yourself and on-brand while you do it? Absolutely. But make sure you’re building up other complimentary skills while you’re at it—no one will ever tell you that he wishes you *didn’t* take great photos to go with your writing.