Being a jack of all trades is the path to master

The greatest thing I love about my mama is that she’s good at so many things. She’s not so good at some things too but I forgive her for those – she’s human after all.

I don’t know she used to be able to cook a gourmet meal whilst helping me interpret, answer and articulate complex homework. She’d juggle the phone talking business, welcome friends into our home, engage in another debate (whilst still on the phone) and still manage to read an article on the bench. Her general knowledge is ridiculously deep, her legal and financial insight is uncanny and she’s mastered the art of negotiation.

She reads a lot, talks a lot, writes a lot of lists, asks a lot of questions and generally doesn’t settle if it really matters to her. I don’t think she’s changed much since I’ve known her.

I remember being reeled into a newspaper general knowledge quiz with my sister. This was before the internet and our days were spent trawling libraries, magazines and researching the old fashioned way – by phone, car, walking and guesswork.

Once the competition was over, we were back to renovating the house, digging up the garden, fixing the car, building a deck, cooking and learning how to get rid of the stains from our clothes. We spent the best part of our childhood doing manual labour and my sister and I were convinced it was child abuse.

We didn’t have gaming consoles or eat much fast food. Instead we had seventeen pet ducks, two dogs (who liked eating ducks), a house that needed regular work and 7.5 acres to set things on fire, dig up and try out my new inventions. I was always inventing something.

It was in this house that I restored my first car, raised and buried my first pets, wired my first local area network and learned to paint, build, cook, garden and all those good domestic duties. I don’t think I ever told my mum (or the new owners) that I re-wired the phone lines so I could still use the internet even if she unplugged it on me. I’m sure they’ve figured it out by now. Maybe.

My family had a very practical way of life – “if you see something that needs doing, then just do it. If you don’t know how, then figure it out” she would say.

We didn’t really have job titles or roles or specialities in our house. And I like being that way. I didn’t realise I was getting a first class education on critical analysis. Maybe she had no clue how to fix the washing machine either but it was ok with me; I was being taught to think.

I didn’t give specific thought to what I was tinkering with or learning about. I just tried, failed and cut myself open a few times. I now know why she always said, never use a plastic knife with a scalpel when cutting paper.

Now in my adult life, I’m also a writer, a musician, a rower, a cartoonist and until recently, a CEO. This doesn’t take into account that I’m also a friend, a lover, a son, a brother and so on.

It’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of attention to detail, a lot of duties and challenges. I can safely say that it’s probably not that different from your own story. You’re a multi-faceted person with a lot of skills. You’re not a one trick pony either.

I spent most of my teenage and adult years not giving a second thought to my broad skills, so why now?

It’s only come up because in my recent life, others have questioned my ‘skill-set’ like a labelled box of goodies. I’m not sure where to start. I’ve stammered and had to think hard about it. Whilst I’m quick to say ‘I’m this’, I realise that ‘I’m also that.’ I fear that committing to one label means being type-cast. It doesn’t go down well.

So when I’m unable to pinpoint a specialty that they can relate to, I tell them that I’m a Generalist. Someone who has a thorough knowledge of many things and how they connect. Someone who can join dots, connect people, understand multiple concepts and simplify them for a specialist to chew upon. Much like a general physician does for the cardiologist. To me, being a generalist is a specialty.

Unfortunately, their reply is often said with a confused expression. “Oh so you’re a jack of all trades and a master of none?” Ouch, really? None? That’s a bold statement.

I think most people are generalists (or want to be) but they don’t feel confident admitting it. Why? I don’t know; it confuses me too.

Apart from the occasional poo-pooers, I’ve had most people open up and share their other skills, dreams and aspirations that have been put on hold to please the label makers.

They lament neglecting their music, their art, their relationships and their sport. They cite reasons of work, responsibility and the like as if justifying it to me. I think it makes them feel better about the life they’re missing out on.

Be a jack of all trades. Be a generalist. Try many things, don’t discriminate, fail often and don’t be fooled into a labelled existence. It’s how you discover love and purpose.

Besides, if you love your life then haven’t you achieved mastery after all?

2 thoughts on “Being a jack of all trades is the path to master

  1. The phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” has been misquoted continuously. The correct ( and complete ) phrasing is “Jack of all trades, master of none. Though of times better than an expert of one” The point of the phrase is exactly the reflection of your blog.

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