Korean, Proverbs/속담
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명심 해야 할 속담

So I have a job and, aside from that, I have a million other hobbies.

Korean and Japanese are my more serious hobbies (I’ll be taking TOPIK for the first time this year!)  I’m pretty bad at sitting down and studying everyday but my everyday life is inundated with those languages.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But then there are my other hobbies – knitting, origami, blogging, writing fiction, reading, teaching myself how to code, designing websites – and when I get those rare pockets of time I have outside of the job, I’m literally scurrying from one hobby to another.  And, now that I’ve decided to take the 40th TOPIK exam, I feel guilty when I’m not spending my free time studying.

On the one hand, having a goal to work towards is great, especially since I’m this busy.  On the other hand, the more I throw myself into studying Korean, the less time I have to develop my other hobbies.  Maybe it’s the new year, but I just got back into writing fiction, reading again, and practicing Japanese conversation with an awesome language partner.

I tell myself that the timesink of preparing for TOPIK is short-lived.  Sure, I can get back to my random amalgam of hobbies after I’m done with the exam, but the fact of the matter is, well, it’s impossible to do a million things and be great at all of them.  Developing advanced skills, especially if you’re teaching yourself, takes a lot of practice, which takes a lot of time.  And time is limited.

I fear, as the old aphorism goes, that I’m turning into a “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Turns out there is a Korean 속담 that captures the sentiment of Johannes factotum quite well:

열두 가지 재주 가진 놈이 저녁거리가 없다.

Literally:  “A man with twelve talents has nothing to eat for dinner.”  어설픈 재주를 여러 가지 가진 사람이 한 가지 확실한 재주를 가진 사람보다 못한다.  That is, a person who knows many things superficially is less able than a person who knows one thing thoroughly.

Sigh.  But I want to know all the things!  Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the brain capacity to be a 만물박사[萬物博士] – that’s the Korean term for a Jack of all trades.  Considering the Hanja, literally, a “Professor of a Thousand Things.”

The thing is, having multiple skills or talents doesn’t mean you’ll be the master of none.  You can most definitely be the master of some.  The trick is prioritization.  That’s where I inherently had a problem with my thinking.  I wanted to be an expert on every single thing, so I couldn’t sit down and delve deeply into the few things really cared about, including passing TOPIK.

I know I can’t be the “master” of Korean and also 79879 other things I love to do.  But I can be the master of Korean and, perhaps, two or three other things.  Like blogging.  Or writing.  I have to take a long, hard look at the rest of my hobbies and decide what I don’t mind being mediocre at (a good example is knitting – I really only know how to knit a garter stitch and barely can manage purling) so I can shine at the things that really matter to me.  But I would never give up any of my hobbies, no matter how “bad” I am at them.

After all,

Jack of all trades, master of none,
Certainly better than a master of one.

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