A while ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a Ted Talk given by an industryexpert at Western University. His talk revolved around a figure of speech I am sure most of us have heard being thrown around in one-way shape or form—“Jack of all trades, master of none”. However, he had a rather interesting twist on this quote that made up the central theme of his talk—“Jack of all trades, master of SOME”! According to him, an age-old figure of speech, often used with a negative connotation, could be the key to success or at least, the most informed way forward.
Although puzzling at first, I was intrigued by his approach and thought process; perhaps because I somewhat sided, albeit unknowingly at that point, with that approach. It was not until recently though that I have come to truly understand the importance of being a “Jack of ALL trades, and a master of SOME”.
You see, the two parts of the idiom are interconnected, in either iteration of the figure of speech mentioned above, with one part leading to the other. There are quite a few reasons why I think it’s beneficial to be doing multiple things at once or trying out a variety of things. It is what LEADS one to master “some” of those many things.
Firstly, there is the more apparent advantage of being a jack of all trades—It is the best way to find out what lies at our core, by experiencing a variety of things first hand. This could apply to a future career, or a job. They say that the best way to understand what we like is to live it ourselves. Imagine how much of a self-discovery process it must be when we can truly validate all our initial impressions by studying something first-hand. It is an exciting challenge that may well just inform our opinion about that something. Even if we are set on a certain trade or profession from an early point in our lives, experiencing different things always adds to the type of unique qualities one may bring to the table. In retrospect, every life experience adds up and gives you different ways of dealing with problems that we face in our lives. Being a jack of all trades certainly gives you a plethora of tools that someone on a rather direct trajectory may not have even thought about when it comes to problem solving or developing creative solutions.
Secondly, and perhaps less intuitively (but my personal favorite), it gives you an opportunity to manage your time most efficiently. As the nature of the figure of speech suggests, “being a jack of all trades” comes at an opportunity cost of truly mastering one art or skill. However, I have come to realize that doing multiple things at once may just help us increase our productivity. It’s quite simple – when we have just one or two things on our plate, we seem to think that we have all the time in the world to accomplish/complete that certain something. Inadvertently, however, we end up losing track of time, often taking longer than needed to accomplish/complete that thing. Contrastingly, having multiple things on our plate forces us to allocate only a certain amount of time on one task, given there is little “leeway” to begin with. We are forced, out of necessity, to spend only the allotted amount of time on one task. There is a huge opportunity cost of not doing so, inevitable making us more productive and efficient.
Now I know that this is easier said than done and there are lots of caveats to living life with this approach. In fact, the Ted Talk presenter himself laid out some of the cautionary measures one must remember. It is important to recognize when you must pull out of one thing and go forward with/to something else when trying out different things. To master SOME, a “Jack of all trades” must not delve into something deep enough that it becomes hard to pull out and move forward. The idea is to learn about something enough to make an INFORMED opinion but remain open minded enough to explore other opportunities without being dead-set on that ONE thing.
Nonetheless, the idea here is to develop a mindset that opens one up to the world full of opportunities, eventually LEADING us to that one job or career or a skill which we MASTER.
It may very well be the time, then, where we start challenging ourselves to be a “Jack of ALL trades, and master of SOME”!