The phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is usually meant as a put down. The suggestion being that despite gaining some skill in a number of endeavours you have failed to achieve mastery in any one of them.
“Jack of all trades” however describes me down to a T and I’m learning to embrace it.
There has been subject after subject throughout my life that I have taken a keen interest in, learned a decent amount about and then abandoned it for the next subject that piques my interest.
It tends to go something like this.
I am introduced to an idea, discipline or subject, I go on a several week/month long deep dive into learning the fundamentals of it then once I arrive at the point where an exponential amount of effort would be required to pursue it further I cut my loses and flee with what I’ve learned without committing to further study.
The way I see it there is two ways to interpret this.
The first is simply that I am undisciplined, fickle and lazy and… well, fine that might have just a little nugget of truth to it but there is the second way of looking at this too.
The way I choose to see this is that I have a wide variety of interests and I love learning about different things and to pursue one of these to the exclusion of all others just seems boring to me.
I think it’s important to note that I am in no way saying that no one else should attempt to achieve mastery in a subject. I would never seek to prescribe how another should live their life.
Not to mention that people achieving mastery in a subject is essential for society for function. For instance I would be somewhat alarmed to learn that my surgeon had not achieved mastery of their subject.
What I am saying however is that for a long time, and still sometimes today, I would berate myself for not having the discipline, motivation, determination, “insert suitably motivational word” to follow through with my study and take it to the next level.
I bought into the idea that if I was not going to master a subject then there is no point even starting. That mastery was the only valid goal and anything less was weakness. Go hard or go home.
This is nonsense.
Mastery is not the only valid goal.
I’ve learned to see my lazy approach to learning as something of an advantage in life.
Not least because it allows me to have a wide variety of interesting experiences and to learn about things that I would never have the opportunity to learn about if I was single-mindedly committed to a singular goal.
But also because I don’t just forget what I’ve learned after my deep dive comes to an end. I’ve learned to see my process as taking the fundamentals of a subject, distilling it into a few practical takeaways and then adding these to my ‘toolkit’ to improve my life before moving on.
By way of example, when I was in school I played the piano and was actually pretty good on the somewhat rare occasions I practiced consistently. At this time I had it in my head that I would in some capacity be a professional musician.
Music was about all I did, I socialised with other musicians, talked about music and generally made it the centre of my existence.
Needless to say I didn’t go on to become a professional musician.
Perhaps if I had my life would have been better than it is now but more likely it would just have been different, rather than better and I would be willing to bet that I would not have discovered a variety of other subjects that have gone on to influence my life in a positive way.
I would undoubtedly be a lot less fit than I am now, having been less likely to discover my love of exercise and weight lifting (I am not a professional athlete/trainer).
My finances would be in significantly worse shape having not taken a keen interest in all things finance and investment related (I am not a professional financial advisor/investor).
I would have had far fewer opportunities to enjoy world travel and reap the positive effects this has had on my personality and character (I am not a professional…. travel person?…. Okay that one doesn’t work so well but you get the point).
As I said before I’m not trying to turn this around and disparage people who do choose to pursue mastery in a single subject to the exclusion of others. All of us benefit hugely from the choices these people make and I’ve no doubt there is a satisfaction and a pleasure to achieving mastery as well.
I’m still learning to embrace my status as the Jack-of-all-trades and to accept that mastery of a single subject is probably not in the cards for me. But it helps to keep a keen eye on all the advantages I have, experience I’ve gained, people I’ve met and pleasure I’ve experienced as a result of keeping my possibilities open.
Do you agree? Disagree? Are you a Jack-of-all-trades or have you achieved or are pursuing mastery? What am I missing out on by not pursing mastery? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts.