But oftentimes better than a master of one.
I am a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-none kind of outdoors woman. It doesn’t matter the activity, if it’s outside, count me in. I’ve snowboarded, climbed, hiked, backpacked, mountain biked, trail run, hunted, fished, snowshoed, and more. This has led to an unfortunate affliction. I dive headlong into an activity, spending money and learning the moves, but a month or two down the road, I’m dipping a toe into another one before gaining adequate proficiency in the former. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I end up being that person who can usually say I’ve done something, but when the time comes to put my money where my mouth is, I’m either not as good as I remember, or have forgotten most of what I learned.
The outdoor world is full of talented people who have their niche. They put in the hours and have a single-minded mentality in becoming better than just good. They’re a marvel to see. There’s a special joy in watching those who are leagues ahead of me at the climbing gym, doing their thing; and after my voyeuristic, open-mouthed adoration, I end up adding one or two new moves to my own repertoire. When I’m huffing and puffing up a steep-ass hill, walking my borrowed mountain bike to make room for actual mountain bikers coming up behind me, it can feel embarrassing. But then I notice how they’re riding, sometimes stopping them to ask how they navigate the rocks with such ease. I pocket their comments for when I ride back down that steep-ass hill, and they become applicable.
Nowadays, it’s becoming less important that I get 'good' at something, and more important that I just try.
I’ve met a lot of people who share this trait of dipping their toes into multiple sports. I created a poll on the “She Explores Podcast” Facebook page to see if I could dredge up a tangible number of outdoor-women who felt similarly. Out of the 182 people who answered, 120 said they also felt like a “jack of all trades, master of none.” But the more I’ve interacted with folks in the outdoors, the more I’ve come to believe that this is not a weakness.
Once, while running up Mount Helena, I passed a lady wearing a shirt that said, “Love to run.” We stopped to make conversation—also my excuse for a breather.
“This is one of my first trail runs,” I admitted.
“That’s so awesome!” she said, barely out of breath. “I walked up and just decided to jog the way down. I’m more a skier or a mountain biker, really.”
We laughed about her shirt—it was a gag gift from her boyfriend because she really doesn’t love running at all. Then she shrugged and said, “I guess it’s just cross-training, you know?”
After we parted ways, I kept thinking about her final comment. I started hiking four years ago, which turned into multi-day backpacking trips. Then I started running to improve my cardio for longer and tougher trails. From there I got into mountain biking because I had heard it aided running performance. I could string together at least three other instances where I got into an outdoor sport because it would inevitably lead to better performance in another one.
I’m beginning to feel like it’s all a trap, some kind of outdoor witchery. But I’ll tell you what, if it’s outdoor witchery, then wingardium leviosa. Floating between new outdoor sports has led to some of my favorite memories from the last year. But, simultaneously, a gripping fear accompanied each new activity: I was going to be horrible at this new thing. I didn’t have time to dedicate to become great at it, so why start? And even more terrifying, if people invited me out with them, I would be terrible with an audience.
But a myriad of good things came from disregarding those nagging fears. My overall fitness improved, I made new friends, I grew braver, and I learned that I’m a natural at bouldering. I’ve seen places that would have been impossible for me to reach had I allowed the what-ifs to bog me down.
Nowadays, it’s becoming less important that I get “good” at something, and more important that I just try. Failure still hits hard enough to knock the wind out of me, but in the past year my mindset has started to shift. I attribute that change to the same witchery that made me spend $300 on climbing equipment, the same force that made me run a half-marathon just because I had never run one before, and the same magic that made my legs pedal a mountain bike 2,000 feet up rocky switchbacks just for the fun of it.
There are people out there that have no problem failing, who never worry about bouncing between multiple sports without becoming great in any of them. I’m working on becoming one of those people, and I’m slowly getting closer. One comment on my previously mentioned Facebook poll reminded me that the phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none” continues and finishes with, “but oftentimes better than a master of one.” It was a good reminder that what I’m doing is far better than doing nothing at all.