You know that ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ phrase? I’m pretty sure that has been giving me nightmares since I was 11, maybe 12, years old. Basically, a long time. It’s always said as a criticism. Like, everyone needs this one thing in life they’re great at and if you don’t know what it is then you’re a failure.
People say it about businesses too. It’s one of those pieces of advice that makes every top 10 list; ‘Find something you’re really good at and do it better than everyone else’.
But what about those of us who have never mastered just one trade? What about us indecisive individuals who want to try everything, learn as much as we can and never be limited by ‘it’s not my area’?
Is trying your hand at everything really so bad? Is trying to be good at everything that interests me holding me back? I decided, after 12+ years of wondering, to finally do a bit of research and find out.
So What is a Jack of All Trades?
I decided to start my investigation with a little investigation into what exactly a ‘Jack of All Trades’ was and found this great little definition on LifeHacker:
“A Jack of All Trades is competently skilled at a lot of different types of work… but it sometimes comes at the cost of never having the time to master one particular skill.”
Ok, I thought, that doesn’t sound too bad at all! And that’s exactly what I am! I’m good with computers, building and designing websites, I take a decent photo, try my hand at painting and blogging but I’m not exactly a leader in any of those fields yet. Then, they went on to use this little analogy:
“Imagine you’re a multi-tool, like a Swiss Army knife, as opposed to being just a screwdriver. A multi-tool can get the job done, but a good screwdriver does it better.”
A Swiss Army Knife? Really?! I don’t want to be a Swiss Army knife – it’s a last resort, an afterthought, it makes people shout and swear and cry out for a ‘real screwdriver / knife / bottle opener’ in frustration. I don’t want that to be people’s response to me, do I? ‘Argh, get me a real web designer / photographer / writer! Why did we hire this multi-tool?!‘
I’m Not The Only One…
After I’d calmed down and stopped imagining being fired and called a multi-tool, I decided I couldn’t be the only one, right? There have to be plenty of people out there in the same situation as me – maybe even a few who’ve been successful despite (or even because!) of it!
Of course, when I tried to think of anyone, the only person who came to mind was Kirk from Gilmore Girls. Damn you Netflix for enabling by binge watching addiction…
That said, while Kirk is a bit of a joke and probably not the best role model, what we can learn from him is that it’s not all bad news. Being a JoAT (typing out Jack of All Trades every time was getting a little annoying if I’m honest) allowed Kirk to meet everyone, save up a ridiculous amount of money and mostly just enjoy his work.
After doing more research I found there are also a lot of famous people who are seen as JoATs:
- Kym Marsh – Singer turned Actor – Her music career was average at best and while she’s found some success acting on Corrie, I’m not sure she’s ever going to be nominated for an Oscar…
- Katie Price – A so-called ‘TV Personality’ but really just a reality TV star who’s tried her hand at singing, writing, modelling, designing clothes, even some horse-riding and dressage stuff . She’s definitely not a master of any of these trades (unless Queen of Trash is a title she was aiming for?) but she’s definitely made herself a pile of money and her name is known, if not always for the right reasons.
- Kim Kardashian – Famous for being famous who has claim to call herself a model, actress, tv personality, has a book and in some vague sense of the word could be called a business woman. (For earlier incarnations see Paris Hilton, etc.)
These and a few others are what I got from 5 minutes of Googling and it didn’t fill me with a hell of a lot of confidence.
All these people are well known for causing drama and controversy, not for their actual skills. The book deals they’ve had, even their TV appearances, have all been a consequence of creating hype around their name – not the other way around.
That’s not something I want. That’s not something I would ever, or could ever, aspire to be like.