Jack of all Trades and Why It Isn't a Bad Thing
We are talking about quotes, idioms, and sayings that were misquoted. I wanted to have a separate episode for “Jack of all trades,” as I feel that one is the most misquoted, one that has been said wrong and used against me for so long. The way it’s misquoted implies we’re all supposed to go into just one career and have it for the rest of our lives.
The quote that everyone says is just “Jack of all trades, master of none.” It makes it sound like you’re good at all of these other things, you can never be a specialist at anything because you are scattered all over the place. Yet, the original quote is “Jack of all trades, master of none, but better than master of one.” There is nothing wrong with trying things and being good at multiple things.
There is also nothing wrong with people being specialists, because we need both specialists and generalists. For example, we need heart surgeons and general practitioners. General practitioners refer you to specialists, and without them, how would that happen? We have to have both. Same thing with teachers, you have your home room teacher and also your math, music, and science teachers who are specialized in those topics. Home room teachers can jump in and help when needed in other subjects too.
The more you become a specialist, the less you will be able to do other things. We only have so much time and energy. Oftentimes, it ends up coming at the expense of something else: time with children, friends, family, and doing other things in our lives that are necessary. There is also this misconception that by not being a specialist, you are mediocre or boring, or not good enough to make more money. That’s not true. There is so much more to life than being a specialist in something.
They keep trying to push it on us, to have the one career and be there forever. That is not necessarily a reality now. Most people do not stay at one company for the rest of their lives anymore. So many of us change jobs every couple of years until we find something we like, and then stay five or six years before moving on again. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It gives us flexibility.
Part of this is that you need time to develop and learn about yourself to see what you do very well. When I was in high school, I thought I was going to be great at wildlife management. Then in college, I fell in love with photography and realized that I was actually creative. In my family, we get jobs, make money, avoid debt as much as possible, and hope to someday retire without being broke. The idea of me being a photographer, designing clothes, and helping with a podcast, was never an idea in my head. When I found out I was creative, I tried out new things.
I have learned so much from podcasting: how to edit, how to use equipment and plug things in the right way, how to speak better so that people will enjoy it, how to code, and more, that I never thought I could. With photography, I learned how to take photos of wildlife by tracking animals, predicting where they were going and where they would come from, and how the weather would affect the photos. If I were a specialist in just one area, I never would have learned all of this.
By not having one master, you have more freedom. If you’re a specialist in one job, but not developing other areas of your life, you can get stuck in that pattern. When you have a narrow field of work, you have people say where you can work, the time you can have off, what you can do, and more, while someone who is more generalized can take more time off. If you are specialized, then you are one of very few who can do that job and therefore can’t take as much time off. If you are a Jack of all trades, you can move around more and have options and flexibility.
If you have people telling you to stop being a Jack of all trades and you want them to stop, tell them the whole quote: “Jack of all trades, master of none, but better than master of one.” If you want to change jobs or move countries, it is better than being stuck like most people.