“Jack-of-all-trades, Master of None” Isn’t a Bad Thing

At a very young age, I learned that the standard adult’s life trajectory goes as follows:

  1. Choose a career.
  2. Never look back.
  3. Put your head down and work hard.
  4. Move up the ranks, earning increasingly more impressive titles and a proportionately larger salary.
  5. Buy a house with a white picket fence.
  6. Have 2.4 kids.

So someone like me—who moonlighted as a cooking instructor while writing ad copy for clients, running a blog and bartending—was a terrible excuse for a grown-up. I distinctly remember my best friend saying to me after a few cocktails, “You’re so good at so many things; imagine how great you’d be if you stuck to one thing.”

Despite there being a compliment in there, I didn’t hear it. Instead, I got the message that without specializing, I’d never be great at anything. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none—in the flesh.

I bought into this narrative despite the fact that I had long been aware of the term “Renaissance Man,” which is, incidentally, the opposite of a specialist. The term also describes the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Benjamin Franklin.

As far as designations go, nothing to sneeze at, right?

My mom called me a Renaissance Woman when I got the exact same score in both the math and language sections of my SATs. I was satisfied with the title at the time, but then . . . something shifted. As more avenues became appealing to me and more business ideas were obsessively pursued until they unceremoniously sputtered out, I started to view myself as a failure. Eventually, my life became a broken record of mental vitriol as a result of never following through on anything.

Sound familiar? Got that Jack-of-all-trades blood in you, as well? If so, I’ve got some good news.

No, You’re Not Lazy and Childish

Nor are you flaky or lacking in character or grit.

But if you’re creative and actively living a creative life, I’ll bet you’ve believed you were some combination of these things at some point. If not every single day.

If you enjoy and excel at many different things and have always been curious about multiple and varying career paths, you’re likely a multipotentialite.

Multipotentialites, multipassionates or generalists—the list of synonyms is as long as our list of passions—are the people whose friends tease them for constantly chasing after sparkly things. The implication, of course, being either that we have a flimsy work ethic or live in Never-Never Land. But you know what I think they’re really saying?

We’re not boring.

I dig it.

And relishing not being boring seems like as good a springboard as any from which to rewrite the narrative. Best yet, there’s a whole tribe of multipassionates worldwide who are choosing to make a career out of “all the things” instead of just one thing. Aaaand, the bravery of those pioneers is helping everyone else embrace that choice as well.

Emilie Wapnick, founder of Puttylike.com and author of How to Be Everything, says:

“Multipotentialites are lovers. We’re lovers of knowledge, lovers of creativity and lovers of challenges.”

I’d argue that we’re also lovers of change.

And that’s just one of the things that uniquely positions us to crush it in the new world order that has bloomed from the ashes of our pre-COVID economy.

Multipassionates are quick studies.

Jacks-of-all-trades may only have “mastery” of one thing, but that thing is being a beginner. We’re continually diving into a novel field of study or trying new artistic mediums, and because we’re so well-practiced at learning, we do these things quickly and easily. This ability to obtain new information rapidly makes us adaptable, which is an asset in the rapidly changing landscape of online business.

Similarly, being able to lean into change serves us well. Multipassionates aren’t scared of the unknown—in fact, we’re motivated by it—so we’re less likely to hesitate when the pressure is on. We can pivot quickly and reassess priorities more easily than our specialist peers.

There’s no one quite like us.

James Altucher, author of Choose Yourself, says that you should invest the time it takes to master a skill (10,000 hours, if Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed) into multiple skills and become an expert in their overlap. This hybrid knowledge will be entirely unique to you and becomes a signature style that’s unrepeatable.

Even if you’re not a dog walker who makes allergen-free food for private clients as a side hustle, and even if you want/need to work for someone else, being knowledgeable and competent in a lot of areas will work in your favor. If, for example, you demonstrate to your boss that you’re an effective communicator, leader, problem-solver and organizer, you’ll make yourself indispensable.

Your goal as a multipassionate, then, is to make sure your role is necessary, difficult to describe and impossible to replicate.

Jacks-of-all-trades make the best innovators.

According to a paper out of Michigan State University, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely than typical scientists to perform as actors, dancers or magicians. They are 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels, seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts, and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.

The article quotes neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who says:

“To him who observes [scientists with artistic hobbies] from afar, it appears as though they are scattering and dissipating their energies, while in reality, they are channeling and strengthening them.”

And to think all this time, we’ve been chastising ourselves for chasing shiny objects!

Don’t let the bastards get you down.

In elementary school, multipassionates are in our element; we study a different subject every hour. But once we hit high school, we’re expected to choose one future path. When we fail to do that, that failure becomes part of our identity.

Since we’re conditioned to believe that only specialization brings career security, it’s easy to fall victim to the belief that we’re doing it all wrong and that there’s no place in the world where we belong. The next time you’re visited by imposter syndrome, which loves to remind you of the shortcomings you demonstrate as a Jack-of-all-trades, consider this:

In Aristotle’s time, no one told him it was bad to be interested in so many things. Goethe wasn’t guilty about writing novels and studying optics and all the other shiny objects that caught his attention—since no one criticized him for it. Ben Franklin didn’t write a defensive treatise on variety, because he didn’t believe he had anything to defend.

And that kinda changes everything, doesn’t it?

Your Turn

Barbara Sher first championed the idea of embracing the love of shiny objects in her book Refuse to Choose. Instead of multipassionate, she used the moniker “scanner.” Sher believed that if you’re a scanner, you should give your soul what it wants: variety, novelty, play—and permission to quit.

So, how can you bring more acceptance into your multifaceted creative life? In what areas do you need to be more playful? What can you give yourself permission to quit, and what new creative venture might you embark upon in its place?

Let’s chat in the comments . . . and if you read this and thought, “This is my life!” be sure to check out Best of MultiPassionate Like a Boss, the Podcast. On it, we celebrate the fact that multipassionates would be useful as fuck in a zombie apocalypse while chatting with Jack-of-all-trades success stories about how they’ve redefined that word for themselves.

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