Jack of All Trades

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Middle schooler Athena Nguyen plays numerous musical instruments and sports. Is she guilty of a lack of focus or blessed with an abundance of talent?

I clearly remember when my music teacher first called me a ‘Jack of all trades.’ When I returned home that night, I searched up the definition of the phrase. I’m sure that my teacher meant well, and it was not meant as a derogatory term, but the definition I found was not what I wanted to hear. “Jack of all trades, master of none.” What hurt the most was that my teacher was not wrong, since I fit the description exactly.

I would find an instrument, delve into it, then switch. Piano, percussion, trombone, saxophone, violin, and flute. I ended up reaching a point, then switching and turning to a different instrument, just adding to the growing list of what I could play.

I noticed that this pattern didn’t only occur in my choice of instruments, but also in sports as well. I participated in gymnastics, tennis, swimming, karate, volleyball, and ballet, and the same situation happened. Once I noticed this pattern in my behavior, I started to question whether I was “normal”. I began to think that I was wasting my time; as if this was a constraint, a limitation, the capacity to spread my abilities across many different subjects instead of focusing on one thing and excelling at it. I wanted so badly to fix it.

From a young age, we are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would never be able to answer this question because there were so many different options that I wanted to take. Yet, I was told that you simply couldn’t have more than one job. I was told more than once that I couldn’t play more than one instrument, no more than one sport. “Just pick one!” was a phrase that I heard often. And so I did. At least, I tried. I stuck with ballet and stopped playing three of the instruments.


Now, I wish I hadn’t. Since I learned how to play multiple instruments and sports, I adapt easier to new situations. I learn more quickly because I am so used to being a beginner. I am trying to unlearn what I had originally perceived as a setback as something that can be used.

I’ve now added French Horn to my still growing list of instruments.

With a Perspective, I’m Athena Nguyen.

Athena Nguyen attends Kent Middle School in Kentfield.