Why you need to be "a jack of all trades" to be successful
We live in a world of generalists.
You must have heard this age-old adage that “a jack of all trades is a master of none.” The saying has become synonymous with insult and is now taken in a derogatory meaning. But what if I tell you, we have been conditioned the wrong way just because someone in our English language history was so lazy that they converted a compliment into an insult.
The entire phrase is “a jack of all trades is a master of none, but often times better than a master of one.”
This compliment was actually given to none other than William Shakespeare because he was always doing everything in the theatres, from setting the stage to costumes to directing. But unfortunately, due to the popularity of half of the saying, we have reduced its meaning to an insult.
We have spent years and decades convincing ourselves that we must restrict ourselves in our trade. We need to “niche” down in every area of life. We have been told that picking an area and learning everything there is to it makes us a master of the field. The idea covered in the book “outliers” of spending ten thousand hours is built upon the same concept. But that is not entirely true.
History tells us the people who mastered medicine also wrote dozens of books about mathematics and philosophy. The mastery was not restricted back in the day. But in the modern world, we are so much embedded in the idea of being able to do one thing and one thing alone that we have forgotten the benefits of being a generalist.
I am not saying that being a master in one field is bad. But if we look at all successful entrepreneurs, they have mastered at least a few skills in their journey to success — from the art of selling to negotiations to public speaking. They will tell you that they tried many things before getting to something that helped them build an empire. It is through their trial and error that they reached their desired area.
Successful people will tell you that when you are NOT “niching down,” you can get your “lucky” breakthroughs. Trying a few things before settling for something you desire will give you a chance to learn about your strengths and weaknesses quickly. It will tell you what the areas where you can succeed are and what areas will need you to ask for help from others.
In today’s world, when an algorithm can take away your job or a virus can shut down economies, you need to skill up. There is no hiding from the fact that we are replaceable at our jobs. But that does not mean we cannot skill up to make a decent living. Proficiency in multiple skills can make your life more accessible over the longer term.
Let me explain with an example. I recently chatted with a six-figure earner who started his own company after getting fired. The company he started helped car enthusiasts find rare cars or parts for those cars. The company began when he helped a friend, then a friend of a friend, and so on. He swears that “the previous hospitality experience helped in going the extra mile for clients,” which resulted in referrals at the start.
Another successful businessman (previously a business analyst) who started Amazon FBA to sell ping pong balls explained that his love of numbers and analysis helped him see the gap in the markets for ping pong balls. His private label now brings in more profits in one year than he had earned over the last fifteen years at his job.
We have all tried, at least once, to “think outside the box.” The problem is that when we limit ourselves to only one area of expertise, we lock ourselves in that box. To bring in diverse opinions, a better understanding of problems at hand, and to find correlations between seemingly disconnected ideas, we need to have a broad experience that is not highly specialized in one area.
I am not telling you to spread yourself thin in trying everything. That is a recipe for disaster. All I am saying is that do not limit yourself at the very start of your journey to “niche” down. Go and explore the world before you settle for one area of expertise.
If you are looking for a quote to guide you, try “the world is your oyster.” You can achieve anything that you wish in your life.
I’m Armaghan Tanveer, a numbers guy by profession and a romantic by heart. I write about everything I find interesting, including productivity, investments, passive income, and personal experiences. If you like what I do, you can buy me a coffee ☕️ here.