Johannes Factotum

The first appearance that William Shakespeare made in the wider world of arts and letters was in a ferocious pamphlet written by the now nearly forgotten Robert Greene, in which the Stratford-born playwright was called a Johannes Factotum, a jack-of-all-trades who had risen out of obscurity and playing comedic bit parts to try his hand as a playwright.  We all know how that turned out.  As a lifelong bardophile [1], I have long appreciated the writings of Shakespeare, but the insult of him as a Johannes Factotum has some personal relevance as well.  Fortunately for Shakespeare, even though he was a provincial, he was able very early on to have some powerful backers and Robert Greene was forced to publish a painfully embarrassing and awkward retraction in which he stated that he had no intention of insulting such a worthy gentleman as William Shakespeare, and he died not too long afterward in poverty and obscurity.

From time to time, I have pondered on the fact that I have acquired a well-earned reputation as a utility player among the support staff of the company I work for [2].  Over the course of my time at the company I work for, I have been answered calls from Wal-Mart employees in English and Spanish, been a lead among that group, worked for licensing and contracting, done a wide variety of odd special projects, served as a backup lead generator and CSR, been a reporting analyst, and managed the phone queues as a workforce analyst, frequently doing more than one duty in the course of a day.  Last week I was asked to help out the Finance department in dealing with commissions, and fairly regularly I have spent between one and three hours of my workday processing various reports to make sure that we can record what we got paid so that our agents get paid.  This has led to some jokes about me being a free-range chicken escaping from the cage of the office where I spend most of my time.

This morning, after returning from the restroom with one of my periodic digestive ailments, I saw that I had received a call while I was away from one of our company’s executives, and I returned the call immediately, and was told to visit his office, where he, my current boss (another executive), and one of the chief subordinates of the person calling me were at.  Being the sort of person who is easily made anxious but seeing that it seemed a friendly gathering, I fairly quickly utilized my wit, as did the other people there, and after some joking and teasing, the general tenor of the meeting was revealed, in that I was offered a raise and a chance to do what I had been doing and to help automate some of the external reports I had been doing.  It was an unusual sort of event, but given the sort of changes that I have seen, and the fact that I will now be moving to my thirteenth desk location in the course of my time, I suppose I ought to expect change to happen more often than I seem to expect it.  It is fairly easy to get used to a routine, and not realize that being a person of proven versatility means that will be tested and honed.

As I pondered to myself this afternoon, this is a common situation in my life.  Fairly regularly, I end up filling or at least showing the capacity to fill a dazzling and complex array of niches.  In the institutions where I serve, I end up being fairly quickly recognized as a utility player who can be plugged into situations wherever there is a gap to be filled.  I do not say any of this to brag, just to comment on the fact that an ability to quickly master tasks and serve in a wide variety of areas tends to be noticed by institutions.  It has been my experience that there is always far more work to be done than there are people willing and able to do the work, and so those who show an aptitude for work will find much of it to do in this world.  The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, and all that.  It seems that one of the ways in which I have sought to reduce the extreme levels of stress and anxiety in my life is to demonstrate enough competence in enough areas to ensure that I have a place wherever competence is valued.  To be sure, there are some tasks in life where I have not proven particularly competent, but I have had enough competence in life to keep myself fed and clothed and with shelter despite crippling anxiety and an excessive level of shyness and awkwardness.  At least in areas where I know myself to be competent I find life to be a little bit less stressful, at least.

In the end, we all live lives that lead us into immense difficulty.  We are placed in situations where we simultaneously have to act in faith and hope that things will improve and that cause us to grow and learn.  In the late 1500’s, William Shakespeare somehow found his way from the provincial town of Stratford-upon-Avon to London, found himself an opportunity to do what he wanted to do, and proceeded to find a place for himself in a status-conscious world by mastering a diverse variety of tasks within a theater company, ending up as a wealthy landowner and investor and among the most celebrated writers of all time.  A place can be found in the world by seeking to master whatever tasks one can see around, by finding what niches most need to be filled and going about filling them as successfully as possible.  In this world there is much to do and few who want to do it, and that gives an advantage to those who are willing to step in the gap and do what needs to be done as cheerfully as one can.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Johannes Factotum

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