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I am 27 yrs old and a software developer by profession. I feel I can learn and do a lot more but I also want to give time for other things. I am learning to play guitar, a new language. My wife is away for a while now and I am enhancing my culinary skills. Maybe, this is hampering my learning and performance ability as I take my own time to learn things.

I try to be master of all trade but jack of none, which has eroded my confidence. What should be done in such situation? Please provide your feedback and personal experience if any. Thanks.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I like to use Plutchik's wheel of emotions to understand a lot of things that deal with humans and emotions. I think your problem is you feel you have too much happening and are getting a sense of being overwhelmed and confused about whether you're doing enough.

Specifically look at the emotions of distraction vs focus - even I didn't think these would be primary emotions :-). When you try to do 20 things with your time you'll end up being distracted. Look at the emotions that form with the combination with distraction, awe, surprise, outrage etc. (it has its place in the scheme of things, but it's not a happy place).

Closer to something you can relate to. For example you pickup a solo freelance project that will take you 40 months. At the start you may feel rich (in terms of time) and feel you can spend it building the next big framework, you can build using the hot new hip language that you learnt recently and such. But you need to have discipline and put your time towards tasks that will finish the project. Even if those tasks are boring.

Take those 40 days as the next 40 years of your life. Sooner than later you need to get focused and start building and working towdards the things that are closer to your core goals and drop the things that dont matter in the bigger scheme of things.

  1. Your time is finite, from a day perspective and even life perspective.

  2. You need to decide what you really want life to be like and run behind those things.

  3. You need to have the courage to drop things that are not really important(things that will not impact your future in the context of what you want to achieve on the 'life' scale.)

  4. You need to have some clue about what direction your life needs to be in, in 20 years or "I should have achieved this by the time I am 60." What are those things? Have a few big and small things. Pickup things and skills that will help you move in the direction.

In short: time is running out. You can't do everything and be everything, accept that. You can, however, be and achieve what you want from life (there is a world of difference in both those statements). But that takes time, commitment, effort and persistance. So pick what you're passionate about and stop analysing and start doing.

There is a phrase in my language that roughly translates to "We spent so much time fixing the bedsheets, we didnt get any time to sleep" - Fix the bedsheets, and go to sleep already.

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I've had the same personal struggle several times. I'm fascinated by so many things in life and in addition I find it hard not to be competitive on practically anything, so I'm always trying to pick up a new skill.

In my case however, and I don't know about your situation, I was raised with that multidisciplinary skill set. By the time I was 15 I was already speaking 3 languages fluently, had certifications in a variety of things like guitar and music theory to scuba diving and was a top amateur athlete in both basketball and track & field. So, in many ways, the desire and competitiveness to excel in many things is the lifestyle I was taught.

On the other hand, as an adult, having to balance a demanding career, a girlfriend, and close friends creates an imbalance with the innate desire to just spend all day and night learning new things. But the truth is that you can be good in a lot of things but great in only a few. So I focused more on my career, focused more on my friends and family and chose between two sports I had the desire to compete in to only continue with one. I've learned to resist the urge to try and learn everything and instead be more diligent in my process and focus on useful skills/activities. So even though I wish I could speak another language, I don't pursue any new languages unless I absolutely need it. I've also put the different stages in life into perspective. For example, I have to pursue my athletic accomplishments while I am in my athletic prime.

So, I guess the short answer is that you should try to turn that passion and desire to useful things that have some ROI. That will make you happier because you will gain some benefit out of your extracurricular activities but also give your family and friends the opportunity to acknowledge the usefulness of your 'time-wasting'.

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Thanks. Inspiration I should say! – Csharp Guy Jul 10 '14 at 11:06
Good point. Its not always what you want to do but what benefits you the most (ROI) is also very important. – rageit Jul 15 '14 at 14:56

I'm not sure what do you mean by "Maybe, this is hampering my learning and performance ability as I take my own time to learn things." Isn't learning on your own supposed to enhance your learning ability?

Personally I think if you have interests for diverse things just follow your interest and go for it. Generally, intellectually serious, industrious and inquisitive guys will naturally have a wide range of intellectual interest and this is only natural. I've seen a lot of wonderful people who look almost non-human because they do so many things well at the same time, bettering the majority of others in each of them. On the contrary, I've seen some others who say they are "focusing" on their main area and not "wasting time" on the rest, while in fact they are too burned out, tense and close-minded and really aren't "masters" of their trade, even worse than the prior type of people.

I don't know how you define "ROI". It can be a very broad concept. Following diverse interests will probably make your life happier and more rewarding, which is already a huge return in itself(You might even feel your life incomplete with those pursuits). If you're talking about advancing your career, notice that people draw inspirations and ideas from their knowledge and experiences in other seemingly totally unrelated fields and achieve surprising success thanks to a new perspective.

In short, you should be thankful that you are among the type of people that have the passion and intellectual curiosity to learn more and know more. They almost always do great in their lives.

(Examples that immediately leap to my mind:)

  • Steve Jobs applied his knowledge of calligraphy to Apple, this we all know
  • Paul Graham, founder of YCombinator, studied CS and serious drawing at Italy at the same time
  • Jeffrey E. F. Friedl, the author of Mastering Regular Expressions, is an avid photographer and speaks fluent Japanese
  • I know a friend who once worked in consulting, investment banking, NGO etc, but then decided to be a commercial pilot and succeeded

Also you can refer to this hugely upvoted answer on programmers SE, which advocates explicitly for a "jack-of-all-trades".(Although I would say he's a little bit too extreme)

Of course, while doing all of them, ensure your mastery/focus in your profession. Otherwise it looks like procrastination rather than real learning. Also, to "be master of all trade but jack of none" is basically improbable so don't let it burden you. But it's not hard to be a master in several trades.

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