Being a Jack of All Trades Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Personal mastery goes beyond competence and skills… It means approaching one’s life as a creative work, living life from a creative as opposed to a reactive viewpoint.

—Peter Senge

I don’t like watching football — not even the Superbowl. Or baseball or basketball or any organized sports, for that matter. For the longest time, I thought this made me weird.

Jack of All Trades
Photo credit: Kheel Center (Creative Commons)

Most guys like sports, right? So how could I associate with my own gender if I couldn’t spend three hours on a Sunday watching the “big game”? Honestly, it just felt like a waste of time. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt bored.

Instead, I found myself enjoying activities like playing chess or reading books or even participating in my high school academic bowl team (think Jeopardy for adolescents).

As a kid, I was picked on for being chubby, nonathletic, and kind of a nerd. I listened to Led Zeppelin and wore baggy T-shirts. I was not cool, and I paid the price for it in social capital. That awkward feeling of being left out lingers with me even today. Because I still do things that make me weird.

As an adult, I sometimes feel out of place. Instead of playing a game of cards or watching television, I would rather focus on something like working on my blog or playing the guitar by myself.

For a very long time, this embarrassed me. That is, until recently.

The epiphany

It wasn’t until I heard an interview with the author Robert Greene that I began to understand what this feeling was. I always felt like a misfit, a person who was never content to do what “normal people” do. And it really bothered me.

But here’s what I’ve come to understand:

Life is full of distractions. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional diversion, you need to be very careful how you spend your time if you want it to count for something.

Those who make a difference have mastered the discipline of focus. They may have many interests and a good amount of luck, but the bottom line is this:

Life is not an accident for these people; they are living intentionally.

If you are going to be a master of anything, you will have to forsake many things. This is the cost of greatness. (And I’m learning to embrace it.)

In his book The 50th Law, Greene writes:

The fools in life want things fast and easy – money, success, attention. Boredom is their great enemy and fear. Whatever they manage to get slips through their hands as fast as it comes in.

You, on the other hand, want to outlast your rivals. You are building the foundation for something that can continue to expand.

To make this happen, you will have to serve an apprenticeship. You must learn early on to endure the hours of practice and drudgery, knowing that in the end all of that time will translate into a higher pleasure – mastery of a craft and of yourself.

Your goal is to reach the ultimate skill level – an intuitive feel for what must come next.

So if you feel this way — like a misfit, sometimes — what comes next? What do you do with that? Embrace mastery.

The call of the craft

If you do something you love long enough, it begins to take over your life. You can become a bit obsessed. As the saying goes, the more you know about a topic, the more you realize what you don’t know.

There comes a point in the pursuit of any skill when you have to make a choice: Either you will treat this as a hobby for the rest of your life, or you will begin to take it seriously. You will do what Steven Pressfield calls “going pro.” You will endeavor to become a master.

If you do this, you will practice like you’ve never practiced before. You will fail miserably, and you will learn how to use failure to get better. You will never give up, never give in, and always persevere.

You will experience hardship. You will be tempted to resign and give in to the taunts of your enemies and critics. Your hands will crack and bleed, your back will hurt, and you will cry.

In all of this, you will be humbled and humiliated, and your respect for the craft will increase.

Count the cost

So before you decide, take a moment and consider what’s at stake here.

Understand what you’ll have to give up, how you’ll be misunderstood, and the loneliness associated with any kind of greatness or leadership. It will be difficult. Which is what makes it so great.

For me, it’s been writing — pursuing how to do something as best I can (and giving up a lot of other pursuits in the process).

The irony in all of this is that in my disdain for sports I’m actually learning what it means to be an athlete — what it means to strive and strain and push through the pain to achieve a goal.

If the idea of hustling like you’ve never hustled and hurting like you’ve never hurt before actually appeals to you, then there’s hope. You may be on the right path after all.

If not, I completely understand. This ain’t easy, and there are no guarantees you’ll be a “ninja” some day. So if this doesn’t stir something in you, by all means go back to watching the game.

As for me, I’m tired of being good at many things, of being a jack-of-all-trades. I want to be a master of one.

What do you think: Is it better to be a jack of all trades, or to pursue mastery? Share in the comments.

120 thoughts on “Being a Jack of All Trades Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

  1. I think people are sometimes suited to one or the other, and I don’t think there’s necessarily a right and wrong way. It seems that working hard on mastery clearly has its benefits, but sometimes dabbling in multiple areas allows people to have breakthroughs. For instance, Steve Jobs was into typography, design, electronics, and coding. The combination of all of these is what made him successful.

    And one main thing I’ve found about “jacks of all trades” is that they’re really good at conversing with people. Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, was a voracious speed-reader – which allowed him to converse with people about whatever *their* hobbies and interests were. In this relationship-driven world, I can see how that’s a notable advantage.

    But I guess there’s a difference between an intellectual curiosity in multiple areas, and people who are afraid of focusing. Sometimes, people are jacks of all trades because they flit around at the first sign of difficulty in mastering something. I think of professional students – it’s more comfortable sometimes to be constantly learning than out there in the real world of risk, failure, and fear.

    1. I think you nailed it.  The difference between intellectual curiosity and fear of focus.  And I do think personality plays into it.  Very well-stated.

      I think my earlier comment (below) was a bit defensive because I’ve been attacked by those who are very focused.  They claimed I lacked discipline or that I was squandering my talent.  When I tried to explain different priorities and interests, they dismissed them as distractions.  

      Perhaps the key word here is when Jeff used the word “flit” in the Twitter posts.  Flitting implies inconsistency, lack of commitment, randomness.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m thinking more of “flow”… as in flowing from one interest to another, connecting them all in a river of ideas.

    2. Good point, Loren. I think there is a difference between having a variety of interests and hedging your points, as you indicate.
      For example, one could argue that Jobs’s mastery was art — his ability to syncretize seemingly disparate topics into one arena (media).

  2. We’re blogging on the same page today. (Misfits) I blogged about combining your quirks with your gifts to make your own unique ministry.  There are many writers, but when we combine those things (quirks) that make us, us, then we are truly special. As for you, I don’t think not wasting time makes you a misfit. It does make you unique, and gifted.  Keep working your craft.

  3. Ahh this has been on my mind for SO long. Being top of class all through school AND being the best cricketer at the same time felt so good up until high school. Then I got into blogging and found good success there too. That was a few years ago. Three years, a long term relationship and two internships later, I feel like I’m average- at best- at each one of those things. And it’s been eating me up. I have no clue what to do. “Count the Cost” has been on my mind, the solutions haven’t! And all this at 18 years of age. I think this Jack-of-all thing has ruined me 10 years too early!

  4. Often in our pursuit of mastery, life waylays and I’m not saying that as an excuse. As a life long Jack I have always tried to overcome my multi-tasking but with the invention of children and other responsibilities, am increasingly finding it difficult to focus toward my mastery. I was accused as a child by my mother to be a Jack of all trades and master of known. Being the person I am, I set out to prove her wrong, and did, in the short term. In the long term, I see shiny objects. Even when I’m focused on one thing, I am multi-tasking and find for me, that I focus better that way. Learned as a young adult when I have a single focus, I stumble too focused on the process to find the joy. Eh, for what it’s worth, there’s my ramble of the day

  5. Awesome – just what I needed to hear! Sometimes, looking at my own work in comparison to those I look up to makes me wonder if it will ever be on par with them. Then I remember the small compliments – a professor commenting that my writing is much tighter than it was, and the respect I have by my writing friends. I realize that the self doubt I have is natural, and the best way to handle it is to keep pushing no matter what, or otherwise I will never reach the dream I have for myself. Thanks, Jeff.

  6. Great insight. The Academic Bowl – I remember well. You’re totally not weird for being a guy and not liking sports. I’m sure your wife is very grateful! 

    Thanks for posting great stuff. 

  7. I couldn’t agree more. The idea of the Renaissance man is so alluring, but dabbling never gets you anywhere. A few weeks ago I saw a gorgeous oil painting and wanted to try my hand at oils. But I can’t afford to spread myself too thin. Writing is my art and my profession, music is my hobby, and I don’t want to stray too far from this because life is already busy enough without me wasting more time. Plus, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t paint if my life depended on it 🙂

    1. Indeed. Dabbling is stalling; it’s hedging your bets. That said, I DO think there is place for the Renaissance men and women; in a way, that’s its own mastery.

  8. What a challenge, to be a master of one. I’m listening to “My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business” by Dick Van Dyke and he often states in the audio book that he got breaks and was lucky. But, as I listened to him talk about “Mary Poppins,” I heard a man with a clearer sense of the end in mind. Prior to that movie, he said to his agent that he wanted to make movies he could watch with his whole family (this was after “What a Way to Go!”–a movie more risque than he wanted to be associated with). He narrowed his focus, excelled in one area, and has done well in walking his particular career path.

  9. Jeff,

    Your post is in line with what’s been in my heart for a long time and I’m slowly moving in the same direction. My epiphany came after reading a biography on C.S. Lewis and I realized some of the things he felt while growing up, wishing to have a mild sickness to keep him home so he could work on his stories, and his desire for solitude, I feel too. I’m no C.S. Lewis but I do share his desires, and your’s too!

    I have a long way to go, I still have sacrifices to make, and lessons to learn, but I am on the path and that is sometimes the most difficult part.

    Thank you for the regular encouragement!


  10. “Understand what you’ll have to give up, ****how you’ll be misunderstood****, and the loneliness associated with any kind of greatness or leadership. It will be difficult.Which is what makes it so great.”
    This, for me, has been my greatest overcoming fear…being misunderstood. Yet, every time I try to be understood…I still wind up being misunderstood; so the effort really is wasting time. I simply need to be the me God created me to be, and if others don’t like it – well, they don’t like it. I can’t fix, nor will I try to fix, others – again, another waste of time (I’ve live this waste of time…I highly recommend against it).

    Thank you for this reminder today, Jeff! This is highly encouraging for me!

  11. I appreciate this post.

    I guess you could say I was a misfit, though I did have freinds.  I was disabled, so I couldn’t do what everybody else in school was doing, because I just physically couldn’t do it. 

    So I was alone alot.  Not because I really wanted to be. 

    But I’m going to continue to think about how being a misfit can work to my advantage.  Maybe there’s a way it can be a positive and not a negative.

  12. I struggle with this, because I genuinely like doing so many things. I’m also good at them, but rarely am I great at something. I’ve never been able to decide what I really want to go after, but I am searching and trying things on an intense level to see what sticks. Someday, maybe I’ll just figure it out. 

    1. I do, too. But honestly, sometimes, it’s because I’m just afraid of committing to one thing — and failing. Be encouraged, Evan. Keep risking failure in pursuit of excellence.

  13. I didn’t even know it was Superbowl Sunday or who was playing until the game was half over and someone mentioned they were tracking the score on their phone.  🙂  You’re not weird.

    As for the focusing thing…  I’ve known those who became masters at one thing, and I’ve known (and been) the Jack-of-all-Trades camp.  For me, the greatest happiness came when I could focus my energy on a few things (2-3).  Not sure what that’s called….Straddling somewhere in between focusing and diversifying.  I am unwilling to give up all my interests for any one of them because they are part of who I am.  My love for those interests/crafts allows me into diverse circles of influence or communities.  If it means I will never reign in one, I’m okay with that.  Neither fame nor power are goals for me, and if being a little less focused on one thing helps me understand others who are outside of that sphere, then I can make a difference one-by-one instead of en masse.

    Does that mean I’m not understood?  Sometimes.  My priorities don’t fit in a box that most understand.  But it’s not about me.  Being a…. queen-of-a-few-trades (?)… enriches my life and helps me connect with others in meaningful ways.

  14. Neat post. However, I will say that one author I know of said to experience as many things as you possibly can in life because this will help your writing. You will be able to write with experience on many things–or at least it will be helpful. Now she wasn’t suggesting one become a jack-of-all-trades, but it’s okay to try something and determine that it’s not for you. I’ve tried all kinds of things in my life: ballroom dance, piano, fine art classes, just to name a few, and I do find I gravitate to certain ones of those throughout my life; and in my writing, sometimes these experiences make great fodder for novels! 

        1. I hope you’re being fecitious, Jeff…about Hemingway and fishing.  I don’t particularly care for his writing topics, but I do admire him as a writer. 

  15. It wasn’t until high school that I started to feel a sense of weirdness.  I guess that’s when all the clicks started forming, and I wasn’t a part of them.  Sure, I was in honor’s groups (at least I was smart), but I didn’t get any heckling from anyone, and I sure knew some of the unlucky ones who were heckled and bullied.  I’ve always asked myself why not me?  I certainly felt like a target, but the arrows never came.  Maybe it was the intelligent way I learned to deal with life — on the outside — but on the inside I was a shivering ghost.  Yes, as like with you, I am good at many things, and I think it’s difficult for a person who has so many talents to settle on just one thing and decide to make that one’s life work.  Writing, as we all know, is a talent — a talent that seemingly few want to pursue.  I now consider myself a writer, as do you, but it’s difficult when I think of all the other things that I could do, and do well.  It makes focusing on writing terribly difficult — focusing on just that one thing.  I guess if I were Micheangelo, I could do many things at the same time, but how  many Micheangelos  have there been in the world?  Just one.  And I’m no genius as he was, so I go about my merry business of putting words on paper.  So be it, and it’s grand! 

  16. I feel it’s important to have a variety of interests that enhance and enrich your life.  To be exclusive to only my art or my writing would make both rather boring, in my opinion.  I agree with you about devoting time to your passion and not being a jack of all trades, but after a while it would be like living on a private island with no stimulation to spark greatness, don’t you think?

  17. You are just who you are.  Not everyone is wired your way.  Not everyone is wired like me.  Somehow, though, most people think they should be wired the same.  Those that truly stand out in life aren’t.  It’s awesome that you have come to realize it.

  18. Very insightful. I don’t think there’s a better in these two choices. I think the important point is to be something you choose to be; to be intentional. So if you are a jack of all trades, are you satisfied with that? Or is there one thing that matters most to you? And if you don’t master that one thing, will you be disappointed or miss your calling?
    I also think there are smaller things, not necessarily the big life picture, where we might choose mastery for a time. It might be one song that I want to master on the piano or one particular meal that I want to perfect. Excellent food for thought.

  19. At age 40, I realize that all the flitting and flowing I did in my early adulthood has given me a much clearer sense of who (and what) I am and want to be.   That said, when I look back on the ways I flitted and flowed, they all were centered around a core love of communicating well with others – via the written and spoken word.

    Sometimes it takes the exploration of different parts of that area we long to master in order to figure out the best way to pursue the goal.  

  20. Love this post today Jeff!  I can identify with being a misfit.  I tried so hard to fit in during high school and college, but have come to realize about 7 years ago to let go of that expectation and instead just be me.  Flaws and weirdness and all the rest.  You know what?!  I’m much happier for it!  Reaffirming that there are more of us out there who are being true to ourselves even if that doesn’t fit in with what society and mainstream culture want or expect out of us.

  21. Isn’t the full saying,  Jack of all trades, master of none? Over a lifetime, I suppose though, it’s good to be master of at least a few things. Perhaps Jack of all trades, master of some. Yeah.

  22. always better to be specific I think, helps you focus. I’m with you Jeff, last year I read 47 books, I watched very little TV (who has time anymore?) I read an interview where Seth Godin said he has time to do everything he has to do because he doesn’t go to meetings and he doesn’t watch TV. Not bad company we’re in..

  23. I’d have to go with being a master. One of the reasons, I think, people are so miserable is because they are jacks of all trades. They’re so unfocused, uncentered,  unfocused because they’re trying to be and do everything. I’d rather focus and see specific, monumental results rather than a scattershot that might be a result.

  24. I love reading your posts. I do it every day and its funny how I smile when reading it, just because I recognize myself so well in what you’re saying.

    Keep speaking your mind! You encourage many people in this world, for sure!

    Like you say  – there are no guarantees but I can’t see myself being 80 years old having to look back at my life knowing I never tried. I’d rather try and fail over and over again. . at least I’ve done everything I ever could then.

  25. I agree that it’s impossible to be a master of everything, or even a master of a lot of things.  But I’ve found that there are many things that I can be great at that supplement the thing I’m trying to master.  Running, for example, supplements my writing.  It gives me space to think, generates ideas, rejuvenates and inspires.  Same with music.  Some of my greatest story ideas come while I am playing the violin.  I’ve accepted that I will never “master” running or violin, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them and that I don’t continue to learn and improve at those things in addition to writing.

    I also agree with some of the previous comments…having a variety of interests makes you a more interesting writer.  I believe that life inspires writing, but in order to do that life must be exciting.  I could never be happy as ONLY a writer.   I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

    1. Well said. I agree. I think this is called being a renaissance person. I have a variety of interests as well, but they all tend to focus around the arts. What’s been helpful about this realization for me is that I don’t have to like or do things that “most people” do just because it’s expected. I can be my very weird self. (So can all of us.)

  26. I can relate to what you said about not being into sports, Jeff. I’m the same!

    I also agree that there comes a time when you’ve got make a decision.

    For years, I sang and played guitar in bands. Music has been a huge part of my life. But recently, I’ve been drawn to writing.

    Looking back, the written word has also been a big part of my life. (My favourite thing in writing songs was always writing lyrics!)

    Now that I’m nearly forty, I’m ready to take a risk and put all my eggs in one basket. And, like you, that basket is writing. 

  27. I really like this, Jeff!

    Entering an athlete’s world for just a few seasons has helped me see exactly what you wrote: “what it means to strive and strain and push through the pain to achieve a goal.”

  28. Jeff,

    I was thinking about a similar idea to this (blog post coming soon) in the context of how organizations try to improve the performance of an employee that is not meeting expectations. What normally happens is they asses what you suck at and say “let’s work on fixing these things and if you don’t fix them, then we’ll fire you.” So instead of becoming the master of the things they are good at, we make sure they suck less at what they are bad at which leads to average performance.

    I can’t help but wonder what would happen in these scenarios if an employer said “you know what, this is what you’re awesome at, so let’s build around that and see what happens.” 

  29. As usual, thanks for sharing Jeff.  

    I have personally realized what you have chalked out for us here but have been struggling to articulate it.

    To help me lately, I have created literal guidelines…rules I have physically written out as to what I am allowed to work on.  For example, like you, I also dabble in music.  I have made a list of ten songs to work on.  Until I lick them at a level I am comfortable with, I am ONLY allowed to work on those ten songs.

    I have also done the same with materials I read.  I’m not adverse to browsing the web and checking out new content, but I realize what a time-sink this can be.  I am making a conscious effort to stick to a few sources and get to know the writer vs. having just exposure to many.

    Thanks again for the piece.

    Cheers, Steve

  30. Yay academic bowl!  But seriously, I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now and I love it.   Great post.

  31. Jeff, My cup of tea exactly!

    I’ve never really grasped the concept of a fan.  I always cultivated friends that climbed mountains rather than going to football games. I would sing and write songs rather than go to concerts…sail, camp, join digs, climb water towers, hop trains, paint and just be creative.

    Your words are poetry to my ears!

    I wrote this little short piece back in October Are You A Sportsman Or Are You A Hunter?

    Again, I am wowed by your article.

    1. I feel that one has to be careful in limiting his or her interests.  Otherwise, if one has no interests in things other that writing, what does one write about?  It’s taken me 61 years of being interested in many things and mastering some of them, that I now get my knowlege and experiences in the “Jack of all trades area”, and I now have a wide base from which my writings can come. 

      1. Good David.

        The guy in the picture is no “Jack of all trades.” He’s a machinist, a master in his field. You can see the pride and the pleasure in his face.

        Every year I take up a new skill to learn. It knocks me out of my comfort zone. One year it was Marketing, another it was Surfing, and so on.

        But I do believe we are all masters at something. We may not even know what it is, because we’ve been doing it our whole life. I’ve been growing plants since I was 6. How about you?  What’s the eye of the storm of your life? What’s your center of passion?

        Even at 61 (I’m 62), we are venturing with the young and old out into this vast frontier. We are explorers, and creatives and this totally Rocks!

        And so, we knock out the distractions and laser focus on the job at hand, writing killer stories drawn from our vast library of life.

        Jeff,  I believe, is highlighting our creative action, rather than any knee jerk reaction that might distract us from the creation at hand.

  32. A really good question! My immediate answer is that everyone is different. Being focused is critical for some, less so for others. It seems to depend on your ability to be focused on yourself and manage the situation around you – not always easy in some circumstances where we have commitments that are less easy to change. I’m thinking of a woman (or man) with young children who has to work hard to support the family. Still, we all have choices we can make. 

    The piece that resonates for me is, ‘living intentionally’. That’s one I think to which we should all aspire. That way we can make the most of what we have and perhaps master something within the framework we have to live.     

    1. ‘living intentionally’
      Im my mind/my terms, I call no living spontaneously, with spontaneous refering to the type of chemical reaction- where the result is an increase in entropy/disorder. It’s the best fit, in my mind.
      But you seems to have found the phrase that most people would understand…lucky!

  33. This is a great post. I’m in my 40s, and I have never watched an entire football game… maybe one basketball game in college, but I was just there to socialize. I’m a firm believer in the pursuit of mastery and the “sacrifice” associated with it. For years, I attempted to maintain a dozen hobbies/interests, but I started to realize that I wasn’t making the progress that I desired in any of them. I pared down the list and focused on my career interests for 2 years and was thrilled with the results. The most difficult part was to look at myself honestly, and decide what I really wanted to do. The challenging part is to strip away the influence of friends, family, and peers. What will they say? What will they think? And finally acknowledging that none of them may ever understand the direction that I chose or even why I miss some social events. In the end, I think Gary Vaynerchuk said it best “You have to follow your DNA”. In order to do that, you have to have the courage to be a misfit.

    As always, thank you for the inspiring post!

  34. Thanks, Jeff, I can completely relate to this. A few years ago I felt like a top heavy tree, but after  amputating my extra limbs one by one I can already feel my writing teeming with redirected nutrients. And I like that. I like committing to things.

    But I also believe very strongly in the concept of balance. I am afraid of tipping the scales too much in favour of writing, and in doing so missing something vital to my experience of life.

    I wish it were so easy as diving head first into this sea of “mastery.” But even if I did manage to crawl, triumphant, up the sands of a distant bank, would it be worth it?

  35. Hi.  Not sure if anyone else has encountered the same problem, but when I viewed this article on my smartphone, the “Share” bar that scrolls along the left side of the page doesn’t really appear.  Well, I mean it does, but almost randomly. And when I try to click on a button (say “Tweet”), nothing happens.  I had to view this article on my laptop in order to use the Tweet button.  Just thought I’d note that in case anyone else has encountered this issue but didn’t let it be known.

  36. I’ve not known many people that would admit to not liking sports, especially a male. I admire you. Many of the items you mentioned sound just like my son. He is 32 and definitely walks his own path. He’s a freelance writer too. It was difficult for him during his teen years when almost everyone breathes sports (esp. here in GA). He has many of your qualities and I’m very happy to say that. Loved the post.

  37. Wow. I am really floored by this. It’s amazing how juvenile one can be, “Boredom is their great enemy and fear”. For too long I have been distracted. “Lord, set my face like flint toward my Jerusalem”

  38. Try to be a jack of ALL trades and you end up being a jack of, well, nothing. While it’s important to diversify, being able to lazer focus and establish expertise in a crowded market of everyone trying to be everything to everyone is insanely important. 

    Great points all around here, Jeff. PS, we’re neighbors in Nashville and should def. grab a cup of coffee sometime. Cheers!

  39. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic and have determined I have DCD (Distraction Compulsion Disorder) but it ‘s focussed on writing. Better to distract myself from writing with writing than with TV, shopping or too much facebook. I write a blog (about being and becoming a writer), short stories, novel, memoir and essays. I do fear that my completion rate, particularly for the longer projects, will be low, but I am attracted to many genres and have decided to feed that attraction.  I’ve been writing in earnest for about 18 months (erratically for about 20 years) and while I do bounce around a lot, I feel that overall the movement is forward. I’m so glad you put this question out there Jeff. As one comment says, there is no right way or wrong way. I’d like to be a jill-of-all-words.

  40. Favorite line…”If you are going to be a master of anything, you will have to forsake many things. This is the cost of greatness.”

    Oh, to avoid the mediocre…

  41. Very thought-provoking post.  Makes me think of the “well-rounded” individual a classical education sought to shape. Definitely has its purpose – a “well-rounded” President is a huge asset in foreign affiairs, for example. A lot depends on the role we are preparing for.

  42. 19 uni student here. Reading this gave me a huge sigh of relief that there is someone else like me, an outsider. As for sports, I can never watch any televised sport either. Why do I care if people who are better at me in something wins or not? It seems just a way for someone to brag over someone else’s favourite team.

    I find being a jack of all trades being better than a “do nothing.” I am surrounded by people who spend there time gaming, or face booking. I find myself introverted, and requiring energy to spend time with people, so instead i spend my time alone more often than not. I have an endless amount of goals, which constantly appear and disappear. I am fairly fond of Audio production and occasionally fiddle around with fruity loops, or logic pro trying to write electronic music, i also play guitar, but at the same time I try to keep up with my reading, as I am teaching myself to speed read, as well as reading about subjects that interest me such as Biology (which is my major) and business, and recently looking into computer engineering(I’ve always wondered exactly how a computer worked), just for straight fun. I juggle clubs and unicycle every so often with juggling friends, I was trying to learn french, and now switched to latin for a future latin course i’m preparing for for university going into my second year Biomedical. And to top it all off, i’m trying to get into shape by running and in the middle of doing p90x, a daily workout routine,

    It may sound exciting or impressive, but I can assure you I am a wimpy, jack of all trades. I suck equally at most of these things. Yet I constantly remind myself, there are people who are doing less with their time than me, so is that not a good reason to keep going. 

  43. One thing that stands out is “life has to be not balanced” if you wish to achieve something worthwhile and be tremendously satisfied! If you want family then it is family, if you want to contribute to the whole world and want to go down in the history then “sickening work ethics, absolute determination with do or die attitude, obsession, knowledge and tremendous will coupled with positive actions and thoughts and time management that pushes your limits every single second” is the only sure way. It pays off big time, may be you won’t be alive or you will be alive, but it definitely pays off big time.

    If you think and believe it won’t pay off then it is better to quit now because then that’s what you will achieve in the end because your compass is pointing that way 🙂

    Good Luck bro and wish you all the best 😀

  44. Thanks Jeff. Your message certainly comes just when I needed it. “Misfit” rings a big bell. You remind me of why I am doing this. And why it will always be worth doing.

  45. Dear Jeff,

    Spot on, I share your thoughts. Also I think this ties up with Cal Newports “be so good they cant ignore you” ala career capital theme that I think you also blogged about some time ago. Maybe you should link it to the readers.




    being a jack of all trades means you have lack of focus….you get distracted easily and you dont have clear direction in life. Its very different from simply being curious and having variety of interests to satisfy your appetite with. That said, Jack of all trades is an insult and should be taken as one. It would be wise to find your true purpose in this world, passion some may call it. and focus on that and not only master it, but be the very best you can be at it. Set new standards for others to follow in it, etc.

    Allow me to carry on here. I am 18 graduate high school last year, not enrolled in college, looking for a job atm. Alot of my buddies went on to college out of state and the ones who stayed in state live in dorms or are busy working when there not in college. I spend quite a lot of time thinking, being alone, etc. The best thing about this was i stopped fighting it, and embraced it. I started using the hidden potential it has. It was during this time, I stopped having peers influencing me – always negatively, cause there was nobody to influence me. During this time i also found an identity and cultivated a vision for myself long term that i never had before, before i always jumped from one thing to the next and never could quite find what i liked truly, instead i looked at what my peers were doing and most if not all wanted to dedicate there life to money. I didn’t know what was right so i followed in the step of others. Which I realized shortly after i separated from my peers that is the most commonly traveled path of mediocrity. I really committed myself to personal development since i graduated high school at 17.

    I was what you would call an extrovert during childhood, i was involved in sports, parties, chilled with friends, volunteered, etc. But i was never was productive and never used the maximum potential of any opportunity i had. I compared myself to others and felt satisfied knowing that i blended in and wasnt some lazy bum or low social status kid that was labeled as worthless. What i found about myself is that i still am that extrovert, i fully enjoy company of others and still participate or start activities with large groups but i am at my peak productivity, mentally, emotionally when I am isolated. I found that ive learned more, achieved more, happier and more creative than ever before and still see bigger, better levels for me to reach. Going beyond limitations and whatever boundaries I have. I never had this attitude when i blended in crowds!! Ive also read that it is a habit of high achievers, to spend time to yourself and engaging with others but never making a bond, but use to rather benefit yourself, which sounds bad but common amongst successes nonetheless.

    I could go on but that would be enough writing to take up hundreds of pages, i wont get into it. My advice, from what i learned this past year would be 1) Dont conform 2) Avoid distractions ( Learning is not a distraction, sports are not a distraction. i define distractions as something unproductive and have little to no benefit in helping you reach your goals or anything related, sports are actually a fun way i get my exercise) Distractions would be watching TV, video games, fictional, non real things – (religion?) 3) Avoid the comfort zone, if you not failing your not trying. 4) Have goals 5) Bad attitude is one of the greatest enemies of human achievement. I do plan on starting up a blog but i think i need to get at least 30 articles ready to post before launch and look into the science behind coding, technology in order be truly successful in this next endeavor i tackle. But thats a bridge i will cross when i come to it

    Best wishes,


  47. What most people forget is that jack-of-all-trades is a PERSONALITY above everything else.
    Being it myself, I find it very insulting when people call jack-of-all-trades an insult – You are basically saying my personality is wrong, but you don’t even realise how blessed I am!
    – Until now –
    Yes def, not having focus is a major problem in our current society. But only if you believe you have to find one passion in life, to commit completely to one thing – live for ONE thing.
    I don’t live for one thing – I live for life! The entirety of it – How wonderful is that? I LOVE everything. I can even find beauty in sorrow and fear – This is an amazing ability.
    I am a flirt (not a commitment phobe). I flirt with Life. It’s all about exploring every aspect of Life for me – and let’s face it – WE ONLY LIVE ONCE AFTER ALL 😉

  48. I consider myself jack-of-all-trades, and it has made me understand many things about myself.
    I love doing and learning many things and I find my life very “flexible” because of it. To me, life is not about focusing into one thing only. and I don’t stress out trying to find that one thing.
    To me learning and experiencing IS life. Why should we limit ourselves to one thing only?
    We also need to remember that being a ‘master’ of something is subjective.
    Are you a master when you have met the predetermined conditions someone else has laid out, or when you FEEL that you are master of it? What are the conditions for you to be a master of something?
    While life is definitely about finding your “true” calling and passion, it’s is not about efficiency. Don’t mix the two together. We are here to learn many things, whether or not you believe so. Being open minded to many things and changes in your life you can enjoy life to the fullest.
    Having goals in a life is not a bad thing, but it’s also way of controlling your life, making it very often rigid and predictable.
    I don’t believe we’re in a rush to become master of one thing, since I believe we spend many life times here. 😉

  49. I too consider my self as “Jack of all trades”, but recently I changed that on my page to “master of all trades”, because you don’t have to only be a master of one, if skilled enough (which I believe I am) you can be a master og.. ye, all trades if you wish and have the passion etc. to do it.

  50. I consider myself as a jack of all trades because I’m a fast learner an im good a t a lot of things but not a master. If I was a master I would quickly get tired and look for a new hobbies. That is why I consider myself as a jack of all trades.

  51. I have had many jobs and am a jack of all trades master of none.I too at times feel this is a curse,after about 5 years at a job the learning slows or stops and i get bored and move on.I am now 50 most people my age are getting ready for their retirement, i however never stayed anywhere long enough to get retirement accounts.I will most likely work till the day I die. The problem is that I can no longer work like a 20 year old for extended periods.
    Sometimes I feel there might be some ADHD involved and yes many times I wished I could only do one thing and do it well. but thats not the hand I was delt and I am still trying to make the best of it.
    Good Luck

    1. I dont mind to get 50 80 or 100 and dying working in something I love doing. But you can still masterize and get to be 80 doing something you love without working for anyone but your self.

  52. Maybe it’s better to be a jack-of-all-complementary-trades. I started off with graphic design, then when I got tired of using stock photos I learned photography. Now I’m learning programming and I’m noticing my background in graphic design is coming in handy since some programmers don’t design their own interfaces. Try to think of your craft as part of a complete system and find ways to own the whole system. If you’re a chef (cooking), you can learn how to grow your own ingredients (gardening).

    However there are some soft skills I think everyone should have: social skills, managing money, maintaining your overall health (physical and mental).

    …and I do have some hobbies that aren’t related to my trade skills: learning Spanish, and learning guitar. But these only serve as a “break” from my main trades and soft skills and are my lowest priorities.

    I do think you can find just as much success being great at 3 or 4 complementary trades as opposed to just mastering one. They key is how those trades relate and what kind of market you’re in. I prefer the trade-off for versatility over mastery since I feel mastery can have diminishing returns.

  53. “As a kid, I was picked on for being chubby, nonathletic, and kind of a nerd. I listened to Led Zeppelin and wore baggy T-shirts.”

    Dude, listening to Led Zeppelin instantly made you awesome in my book.

  54. I considered my self as a jack-off-all-trades after I resigned from my previous employer as a management consultant and now I’m doing my old-time-hobbies as my full-time activities not as occupations, but more about doing everything for the sake of avoiding doing nothing. The little me was very excited on doing something related to visual art, the adolescence me was more attracted on writing novels, the grown-up me were quite distracted to computer and programming which ended up graduated in computer science and worked as a programmer, but lately I change my career path into more high level management area not in technical things but still in a very broad functions and industries. Along the way I was more concentrated into one particular functions related to market assessment but I eventually resigned from there until now which is unemployed. I’m still figuring out the path i want to choose. I still do not have a clue for next but I know I love cooking, photography, writing, and doing something in a project typical pressure and timeline. As a husband who also planning to have kids, sometimes I expect to become a normal people who do one job, get financially stable, be a lovely husband and father for my family. But you know what I mean, I don’t want to perceive all of these things as a curse and time is ticking and probably I am still I am who love to learn many things and easily get distracted and excited at many things.

  55. It’s naïve to suggest there is a simple binary answer as to which path, the path of the master or the jack, is better. As with many things in life, that answer is circumstantial on profession, environment, personality, and so on. Hyper-focus and passion is a hard requirement to be a productive and successful scientist, researcher, engineer, or perhaps even writer, as you are. These types of professions are vertical in nature; that is, they require depth and knowledge that can only be acquired by focused dedication and grittiness.

    However, that laser focus without breadth can be detrimental to other functions. For example, it would be very difficult for a person who has dedicated their life in learning every detail about pharmaceutical chemistry to then start a pharmaceutical business, and still expect to be able to be able to control everything from administrative work, to fundraising, to the actual work needed for the pharmaceutical products. It would be a shame for such a person to have to spend their time fundraising at the expense of what they do best. At this point in time, it would be beneficial to be a jack; a person who knows enough about the product and how it is made to be able to explain it to laymen stakeholders, but also know enough about all the other functions the company needs and perform them to leave the real brunt of the work for the people who do that work best. Those type of people would not be wasting their time in wearing all these hats.

    Being a jack is often seen in unfavorable light, partly because the expression “jack of all trades, master of none” has come to imply that jacks are not good at anything, and are unable to be masters of anything in addition to be jacks. In fact, jacks can be quite competent at several things, just not at the level of a regular master. Just from this article, you proclaim that “The fools in life want things fast and easy – money, success, attention. Boredom is their great enemy and fear. Whatever they manage to get slips through their hands as fast as it comes in.”, likely implying a bijection between the set of fools and jacks. Jacks are often understood as having no discipline, and requiring instant gratification, when in fact, they can have as much discipline as a master, just spread across several functions rather than focused in just one.

    As a self-diagnosed “jack-of-all-trades”, I find this popular belief to be an insult. I’ve spent over 18,000 hours programming (professionally, recreationally, and for academia), over 3,000 hours playing the saxophone, over 2,500 playing the piano, over 800 hours sewing, over 750 hours practicing Aikido, etc, etc. A person who desires instant gratification would not invest hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of hours of their time in learning and nurturing skills. If we are to accept Gladwell’s conventional thought that 10,000 hours makes an expert (yes, I know it’s a controversial thought, but for the sake of a quantifiable argument), I’ve greatly surpassed expert level at my degree and career choice, and am at notable percentages in many others.

    I am no exception; many others I know of the jack mindset are equally, if not not even more, driven in developing new skills to a point most would call proficient. There is no ego involved, there is no “boredom”, there is only a strong curiosity and love for learning and a lack of desire to narrow our learning to just a single focus. We are a bunch of people passionate in big ideas rather that on single paths. Does that make us better? No, just different.

    You mentioned that in your childhood, others viewed you as a misfit for your ability to hyper-focus and your conventionally unpopular hobbies. Ironically, I experience a similar sense of estrangement from society as you described, because of society’s lack of understanding of what a ‘jack’ really is.

    1. I agree with this 🙂 I’m a jack myself, but it’s not due to boredom at all, and not due to things like poor discipline or what have you. Mostly it comes down to a combination of having many, many interests, and not having the money to properly pursue any of them to a very large degree (ie. I need to pay the bills, but don’t have a job that pays extremely well, thus relegating everything else to “hobby” status). Likewise, my recent poor health is limiting the energy I have to pursue my interests.

      I’m currently in the process of deciding which of my many interests to pursue, and to what degree. It’s kind of a fun exercise, to be honest, but one that takes a lot of consideration. However, I’d hardly say I’m lazy or lack focus – quite the opposite. I just like to spread it around. I guess in a way, you could say I could get bored with only one laser-focused endeavour, but I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s the result of insatiable curiosity, and the enjoyment of trying new things.

  56. I think being a jack is a good thing, in many situations. Being a master of your craft is also good – it allows people to create truly amazing things, and in many areas, leads to the expansion of our boundaries, abilities, and knowledge. But being a jack is good as it can bring more flexibility and a broader perspective than a laser-focused endeavour could. I guess it just boils down to what you want out of life, and where you see yourself fitting in the big scheme of things. We need both, in my opinion, to make a happy world ^_^

  57. its not about being a jack or a master, what truly matters is soling the actual problems of people around us with the work we do .

  58. I personally prefer being a Jack of All Trades as it matches my view on life. I don’t believe being a master of anything is ever possible, at least not in my Computer Science field, but I feel if you can be knowledgable enough to do multiple things: I’m doing CS, Informatics, Security, and Linguistics so I can work with multiple clientell, that pays off in the long run.

    But being good say at CS, Baseball, and Drinking wouldn’t correlate very well at first, you’d have to be ingunutive to have that count in your favor lol

    Basically the sky is the limit but better to be learning multiple things then have to get out your comfort zone and start from Square One

  59. A good example of a “Jack of All Trades” is Story Musgrave. The retired astronaut was also a physician, a scientist, brain researcher, engineer, U.S. Marine, pilot, skydiver, entrepreneur and more… His vast experiences helped him devise the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope. He also helped design the Skylab, the Space Shuttle and more. He’s a consultant to Disney’s Imagineering as he’s also an accomplshed artist. He holds multiple degrees across a varied arena. Benjamin Franklin was also a Jack of All Trades as was Leonardo Da Vinci.

    I agree that we should have a deep expertise and I also agree that we need a wide general knowledge and in many cases, wide expertise.

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