Jane of All Trades


“A human should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert Heinlein

I like this quote, because although I’m certainly becoming specialized in my field of study, I enjoy branching out and learning other skills. It helps me to become a little more self-sufficient and keeps me in the growth mindset. I think learning new skills is important for 3 reasons.

  1. It increases our appreciation for how society is built and culture is created

A bicycle while elegant and simple, is also kind of complex to understand how everything fits together and can be adjusted. There are a lot of moving parts in our society and it’s kind of cool how it all fits together! By learning how things work and what tools are needed, you have a better appreciation for the work that others are doing. I might not know everything about these different parts – there is definitely a spectrum of knowledge from “knowing what a derailleur is” to “knowing how to fix it when your chain is not properly aligned on the chain.” – but having a better understanding of how my bike works helps me to treat it with more respect. Learning these new skills things take a lot of patience and invested time. So try to appreciate those artists, designers, and engineers who create things for our basic needs, entertainment, and convenience!

A new crankset installed with the help of BicyCal!

A wonderful, kind-hearted bike mechanic from my hometown let me shadow him for a day as he tuned up my bike. Though he cautioned me that to become a bike mechanic takes at least 5 years. Luckily, there’s a high probability that I will have more than 5 years left in my bike-riding/bike-repairing “profession”. I have been slowly working on my bike – replacing the crank sets so that I can climb the hills around here (have successfully made it up my steep road twice now!) and adjusting the break cables so that I can effectively stop at the end (see: The Berkeley Hills Death Ride).

  1. It builds a sense of ownership of the product or experience created

It matters a little bit less if I mess things up, because I’m not going to be perfect in the new skills I’m learning. I have been trying to learn to sew for many years. When I say that learning things takes time… I have been working on a t-shirt quilt project for 6+ years. And it’s not that even close to being finished! In my defense, I only am able to work on it when I’m home, which is quickly dwindling down to a couple of times per year since all the tools and materials are at my parent’s house.* There are many imperfections with this quilt. There are crooked lines and places where the fabric was not pulled taut and is now rippled, but that’s OK. It’s mine!

Sewing project 6 years in the making.
  1. It’s fun to contribute in different ways!

Learning the skills is fun, and so is being able to share them with those around you!  pie

This is a lemon meringue pie I made to thank my neighbor for letting us take his lemons from the lemon tree that overhangs in our driveway.

So I’m going to be trying to learn some new skills and share a few of them! The next one: the 5 “mother” sauces for cooking!

*Disclaimer: Learning new skills can also be difficult because of all of the tools that you might need to beg, borrow, or steal for in order to be able to adequately solve your problem. Trying to work on a problem without the right tools is very frustrating. It might not be realistic for someone to own all the tools for jewelry making, car repair, and mountain climbing (or even one of these!) While this can be a great way to build community – by learning in groups and borrowing from neighbors, it can also be a huge barrier for those who do not have access to neighbors with car jacks, or a library that rents out tools to their members. And so I’m grateful for organizations that reach out to these communities to try to provide skills to their constituents. Like this organization that allows kids to learn about bike mechanics, and in return they build their own bicycle for keeps.


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