Jon of All Trades

JoAT Origin Story

Jon Eks, host of the Jon of All Trades Podcast

I’m Jon, and I love nothing more than listening to someone with an interesting or unusual job talk about the ins and outs of that job. So I created a weekly podcast that features interviews with people from all across the employment spectrum. You’ve likely heard the figure of speech “Jack of all trades” referring to someone who is versatile and adaptable to a wide variety of tasks. That’s what this is designed to be an audio exploration of. Except, I’m Jon, not Jack. Welcome to Jon of All Trades. New episodes post every Wednesday.

Still not sure what to expect at Jon of All Trades? Below are three related stories that should shine a light on what you can expect here. You can call this the Jon of All Trades origin story.

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The first time I ever created something substantial was when I launched CruJonesSociety.com with my friends in early 2008. The site was comprised of daily comedy essays and taught me a lot about the demands of constant content generation as well as the practical challenges of trying to grow something from the ground up. It was the first time I actually had to become Jon of All Trades and handle virtually every aspect of the site.

One of our recurring features was called Happy Friday, which was an article that aggregated noteworthy links from throughout the week and put a funny spin on them. As I was digging into old editions of Happy Friday looking for something that would help inform a piece I was writing for EksAxis.com (also now defunct), I came across this entry from Happy Friday 57, from July 2009.

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I’m referencing an article that had appeared on ESPN.com written by a vendor at Fenway Park. Here’s a snippet from Happy Friday:

“Hauling cumbersome trays of shit up and down hundreds of flights of stairs in the oppressive heat of the dead of summer while fans yell at you to “get out of the fucking way” sounds physically and emotionally exhausting.

And it is. Jack McCluskey, who’s been a vendor at Fenway since 2002 gives us an inside look at the life of a vendor. We would argue that there are few things as fascinating as listening to someone who has an unusual job talk about the ins and outs of that job, and to that end, McCluskey delivers the goods. All the good, all the bad, and all the bizarre are on display here. Very well done.”

I had apparently been working on this podcast (without realizing it) for 5 years.

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Back when I worked my corporate job, I was on the go a lot. During one particularly harried week where I spent virtually every night at some gala, networking thing, or weird work obligation and just wanted to go home on time for a change, I chatted with one of my colleagues in the elevator of our building. He noticed me wearing a freshly pressed suit and asked what I was up to that evening, and I replied thusly:

“Oh, I have to go the fucking Governor’s mansion again.”

He looked at me and then put his palms in the air and retorted sarcastically, “Oh, you have to go to the Governor’s mansion again?! How fucking terrible for you. Do you think you’ll be able to survive going to the GOVERNOR’S. MANSION. AGAIN? Give me a break, dude.”

I laughed, he laughed, and then it hit me. Going to the Governor’s mansion is probably awesome to your average person who doesn’t have to do it as part of their job. For me, it’s something I have to do, and at the end of an extraordinarily long week, I looked at it as a burden. But when I talk about my job, people are frequently blown away by the fact that I regularly talk to reporters, have to interact frequently with U.S. Senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and that I make public presentations all the freaking time. Your job is probably boring to you. You do it all the time, so you become numb to it.

I once hired a film crew for something my company was doing, and the sound guy was a freelancer. I asked what job he had lined up next. He told me he had a gig with NFL Network for the Bronco game and that he would be holding the boom mic on the field after the game and for locker room interviews. I asked him how many times he’d been in the Broncos locker room.

He snorted, chuckled, and then said, “Oh… At least two dozen times. Easily.”

A place you may have dreamed of going, this guy has been there at least two dozen times and couldn’t care less about it. It’s part of his job. I want to talk to those people. No matter how glamorous a job, how interesting a profession, how mysterious a trade, someone out there has done it more times than they count and are now probably bored by it. If you ask them the right questions, what you’ll find out is scintillating.

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Paying your dues. It’s a concept I’ve heard over and over again on my show, and while it’s tempting to think of it as something you do once and get over with, you actually never stop.

So, while not technically part of the origin story of this podcast since I wrote it three years into the show, I’m compelled to point you to an article I wrote called “Ditch Digging” on the Deft Communications blog. Here’s a snippet from that piece:

“You’ve got to be willing to tackle the projects, work for the industries, swallow your pride, do the shit, about which people literally say, “You couldn’t pay me enough to do that.” To which I reply, “Oh yes, you could. And your price is lower than you think.” So what does this look like?

For one client at the PR firm, I drove out to Wheat Ridge on a night when the high temperature was 6, set up poster boards for the public to review in a side room of a rec center from 6-9 pm because the local government required us to update everyone on the dirt my client was moving around (seriously, it was a meeting about re-grading), and 8 people showed up.

One client wanted to buy ad space in a bunch of publications, so I learned how to buy media on the fly. For anyone who’s never bought media before, you have no idea how complicated this is and just how unpleasant media salespeople can be. These are people who LIVE to haggle with you and dick you around on cost, and I fucking hate haggling. Why did I do this? No one else would, and it needed to be done.

In my corporate gig, one time I drove two and a half hours to Sterling to give a presentation to their Rotary Club, hopped back in the car, drove two and a half hours back straight to the airport, flew to Houston, met with someone I needed to talk to for dinner, then went to my shitty hotel room next to the highway and prepped for a different presentation the next day at 7:30 am.

And more recently, it means lots and lots of cold calling. Without getting specific, there’s a project pertaining to public infrastructure in a Denver suburb I’m working on. My client wants support from the business community, so that means I go and I knock on doors of businesses, assure them I’m not selling anything, give them my pitch, and ask them to sign a letter of support that’s then submitted to City Council. I won’t tell you how many of these I’m tasked with delivering, but suffice to say it would probably make you gasp.

During this project, while most people are generally very nice, I’ve dealt with rudeness, outright hostility, coldness, disinterest, calls and emails ignored and more general unpleasantness than any one person would ever care to deal with in a day. And I’ve done it several hours a week for the last six months. It’s challenging, and I’ve now mapped this particular suburb in my head in greater detail than I ever had desire to. And there are days I don’t want to do it, but you look inside yourself, and just put your shovel in the ground and start turning over the earth.”

If I’ve learned one thing on this show, it’s that the people who are living their dreams every day aren’t afraid of the hard work. Whatever it is that you’re chasing, get out there, put your fucking shovel into the ground, and turn the goddamn dirt over. And then don’t stop. Because the work never ends. And when you get right down to it, wouldn’t you rather be the one dictating where you’re digging, or would you rather someone else tell you when, where and how to do it?

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hattori hanzo

If that’s a little bleak for you, that was not my intention. So let’s close it up with a pop culture reference.

One of the great storylines in the Kill Bill movies is that of the pristine qualities of a Hattori Hanzo sword. The Bride requests one from Hattori Hanzo, he obliges, and we see him present it to her with a great deal of pageantry and impenetrable mysticism. It’s a great scene, and it works on me as intended because it’s a great movie made by a great director.

But I can’t help but always think… Yeah, but he still had to forge some fucking steel and actually MAKE the sword. How did he make the fucking sword?

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As Jon of All Trades, no matter what job is featured, I hope we always answer the proverbial question of how he or she made their fucking swords. Thanks for joining me, and thanks for listening.