Jack of All Trades – is it that bad?

Are you good at lots of things rather than excellent at one thing?

Advising the masses means that the majority of the time the advice given will be correct to only a percentage, like in epidemiology where the government petrifies a whole country into giving up butter because of a health risk relevant to only a portion. The advice won’t apply to everyone and, like with the butter, negative associations stick.

Take the ‘Jack of all Trades’ for example. He was perfectly respected until someone quipped he was a master of none, making him entirely redundant at anything and everything. But is it really such a bad thing to be a Jack?

A Modern Day Jack

As a blogger, I regularly encounter advice centred on ‘finding your niche’, the idea being that a blogger should focus on only one or two topics in order to be successful. It plagued me for many months, as I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself.

This niche conundrum and the fact I have also been unable to find my ‘passion’ or ‘my thing’ in life started to unsettle me. What is my purpose and is it really terrible that I haven’t discovered it yet?

I thought about my accomplishments and realised that I am essentially a Jack of All Trades.

We are all familiar with the expression, although many will think of the extended version ending ‘Master of None’. This saying, in fact, didn’t start out this way and a Jack of All Trades was simply someone with a competency and proficiency in a range of things.

Later the addition to the phrase meant it was no longer a good thing to be a Jack, as it indicated that by being competent in a range of things you would never be a master at any one thing.

I appreciate that many people might not find their passion or purpose until later in life, it might seem I am rushing it, but as I am at a crossroads in my life you would think I would, at least, have an inclination of my talents and preferences? No not me.

I can’t draw and yet I can copy a sketch to a standard that would indicate I can draw. I can sing but not to a level that would get me anywhere. I can learn languages quickly but only to a certain fluency and then the barrier seems impenetrable unless I fully immerse myself in the country of origin.

There are lots of things I am good at but no single thing at which I excel.

It was driving me nuts, until I came across this TED Talk by Emily Wapnick.

In this video, Emily introduces the concept of the ‘Multi-Potentialite’ – people that are good at a range of things and do not specialise, a re-phrasing of the Jack of All Trades concept. She pulls apart the common misconceptions of the modern day Jack and shows us why this misnomer of specialisation will not apply to everyone.

I particularly enjoyed the part where Emily looks at our childhood influences around this idea and points out that we have all been asked at some point in our childhood ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’.

Emily demonstrated that we are always asking our children what single thing they want to be or do, rather than showing them they can be or do several things. We are marginalising their dreams and pigeonholing their aspirations from a very young age.

Every fibre of my body screamed ‘Yes’as I remembered these conversations, especially at school, the pressure getting worse as I reached the end years of high school.

At no stage was I ever told that what you choose to do now does not have to be the decision you stick with for the rest of your life. No one ever said ‘It’s ok to not know what you want to be when you are older.

If the choice you make doesn’t turn out right, it is what you do about it that counts. What choice you make next.

Teachers of under-represented subjects, such as foreign languages, would pressure you to choose their courses, especially if you showed a certain level of proficiency. They needed the good grades as much as you did. Ultimately I felt as though I was choosing the teacher I loved the most rather than the subject.

I always felt my choices in high school dictated my path for some years after, in my case through failures rather than successes. I didn’t finish college, didn’t go to university and never got that job as a linguist. I had failed miserably.

At 21 I decided to travel the world by myself and starting with China, I finally got to study Chinese. I actually learnt it far quicker than I would have at University and I realised that those choices in high school weren’t necessarily good or bad. They were just choices. If the choice you make doesn’t turn out right, it is what you do about it that counts. What choice you make next.

My change in direction, I realised, was the bored mind of a Multi-Potentialite, a Jack of All Trades, seeking a new adventure and quenching an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

Of course, we need masters of this world to specialise – doctors, lawyers etc – but for that small percentage of people struggling to identify their ‘purpose’ or ‘passion’ maybe the Jack of All Trades theory applies to you.

Personality Traits of a Jack of All Trades

This antiquated expression and it’s dysphemistic qualities are blindsiding the many benefits of being a Jack – there are so many positives. But it is important to look out for the drawbacks too, so that you can use this personality trait to your advantage:

Benefits

  1. Quick Learner
  2. Adaptable
  3. Risk-Taker
  4. Great Conversationalist (you know a little about lots!)
  5. Willing to Give it a Go

Drawbacks

  1. Not a Completer-Finisher
  2. Bored Easily
  3. Have Tendencies to Procrastinate
  4. Complicates Employment (you won’t fit the specialised mould)
  5. Causes you to Stop Pushing Yourself

Now that I have learnt my weaknesses as a Jack I am able to make more informed choices. I still want to try and do new things, as part of my path to flourishing, but I want to make sure that I do not give up too quickly, by telling myself I will never be a master and my output now is satifactory or OK.

I want to strive always and try to finish things, even if they are not the best or add no value to the overall path.

But importantly I am also going to ignore all the advice to find my niche because at this stage in my life I am now comfortable to say I don’t have one!

Are you a Jack or a Master?

Ferg

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