The Dabbler, the Dilettante, the jack of all trades
They rarely get any praise.
In fact we usually look down on them. Today the holy grail is mastery. It’s partner to always being at your absolute edge in order to be the best of the best. Or at the very least better than you were yesterday.
Dabblers get bored and drop off, they don’t know persistence or grit or determination, and they rarely make it past the beginner stages. This is the traditional narrative about dabblers. They skate along the surface, never becoming especially good at something and certainly never out there in their discomfort zone.
But is this really true?
Nope. Dabbling isn’t getting a fair shake.
There are many benefits that come from dabbling, and by dabbling I mean trying, experimenting, learning, playing around and then moving on. Although that doesn’t mean you never return and do more dabbling. It means you never take a deep dive and thoroughly explore something. And perhaps most importantly, you never get the attention that comes along with being truly great at something.
The truth is, that most of us dabble even if we don’t admit to it. Lack of time, life, other priorities, often leaves us with little choice but to limit ourselves to a dabble in something we really want to do.
So why not celebrate dabbling?
The benefits of dabbling
Dabbling is especially great for creatives who need some fresh material. But really, everyone needs that in there life now and then too. By dabbling, you give yourself a wide range of new topics to explore in your art, your writing, and your experience.
Learning is the best part of dabbling. The chance to learn and try your hand at something new. There are tons of things to try out there that will sharpen your brain and build new neurons.
Everything teaches you, and the most important lessons may be those you learn about yourself.
Making something unique
This is another great thing about dabbling: Getting to make something you otherwise wouldn’t.
Typically you might thing of crafting work, such as woodworking, sewing, painting, or building something. These hand-crafts give you something physical for your efforts and time. The results may be be beautiful or you may want to hide it in the garage, but it’s still something you made, and it’s unique.
Other types of creative work might create something more abstract. For example, building teams, trying marketing strategies, doing an ad campaign. It’s still a form of “making” even if it isn’t with your hands.
Dabbling taps into your unlimited potential for expressing yourself in brand new ways through creative acts.
Curiosity is raw fuel for your creativity, and dabbling is the perfect place to develop it.
Let your curiosity lead you down hidden side roads and dusty pathways. Use it to guide you to some new intellectual interests and ideas. Or allow your curiosity guide you to experience a new craft and a different kind of creative energy.
It always makes me a little sad to hear someone say they don’t have any passions in life.
They give life color, meaning, and interest. They can animate a person and are points of connection with others. There are many ways to develop and find passions, and trying new things is a great way to stumble upon one.
Passions fuel your dreams, they fuel your life. They are worth the hunt.
Spicing things up
There is a lot to be said for just doing something different.
It gives you a little break from the routine and keeps things interesting. That can prevent you from stagnating or getting stuck in the rut. Dabbling is the perfect way to take a break and add variety to your life.
New perspectives and connections
Dabbling opens you to new perspectives and possibilities. These add to your understanding of the world, life and other people. They bring fresh creative juice to your life and work.
Everything you learn is something you can connect to something you already know or have experienced.
It’s in these connections that new ideas are born, and this is one of the great gifts of dabbling. You take in so much new information and new ways of thinking. You can take some of what you learn and apply and adapt it to any other area or skill and become better there too.
Every new area you try, gives you the chance to learn new techniques that teach you to use materials and ideas in different ways. In other words, it can make you more resourceful.
This can be a great benefit when added to what you already do. A new sport can give you additional subjects to write about or something like stone polishing can teach you to slow down through the meditative process of sanding down a stone. Keep your mind open. Everything you learn can be useful if you are creative in applying it.
Appreciating the journey
When you dabble, you know you aren’t likely to make a masterpiece or win any championships.
This is humbling in itself and has its value. That step into something new, is a step into a process that you know little about. Your focus is now on learning and appreciating instead of the outcome. This new process we are trying something to discover and appreciate.
The dabble becomes part of the greater journey, perhaps it is only a short side venture, but it is now folded into your creative journey.
Become a beginner again
Beginners are often incredibly enthusiastic and have no idea of their own ignorance.
Perhaps this explains why we are afraid to be a beginner again and why dabbling is looked down on. We fear we look like a fool to those who are experienced.
There is something exciting about being the fearless beginner and imagining all the great things you could create and learn. It’s exciting and that brings up new emotions that fuel your desire to learn. Remembering these feelings has a value beyond just the dabble itself. They remind you of your passion for learning and creating and enjoying the process. You can bring this with you to anything you do, new passions or the old. It is a rebirth that spills out everywhere.
Out of the comfort zone
Mastery isn’t the only place that forces you to get uncomfortable.
I’ve experienced plenty of discomfort in my dabbles. Sketching is one of those things I felt massive physical discomfort in. When I began a new sketch, I could hardly sit still. My skin itched and crawled with restless energy. Somehow I got over it and learned to be alright with the whole process of artistic imperfection.
Dabbling is important and has useful lessons for us if we choose to focus on them. Allow yourself to feel the excitement of a new opportunity.
So what have you dabbled with lately?
Dabbling deserves a place right by mastery. For too long it’s been maligned and discounted as the plane of those who aren’t serious and don’t want to push themselves.
It’s time to elevate dabbling and give it another chance. There are too many benefits to totally ignore it.
Dabbling gives us the chance to explore, discover, and exercise curiosity without any worry about commitments. It opens up our minds to new possibilities which lead to new ideas, new thoughts and new directions in our lives.
The best part thing about dabbling is the fun you can have.