The Surprising Benefits (and Pitfalls) of Being a “Jack of All Trades” – Life Hacker

By May 8, 2018Web Articles

Patrick Allan | 03.03.2015

People look down on the multitalented—even the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” has a bit of a negative caveat. But there are a lot of hidden perks that come with being a Jack. These are the best reasons you might want to reconsider the notion that a Jack of All Trades can’t be equally as successful.

What a Jack of All Trades Is

A Jack of All Trades is competently skilled at a lot of different types of work. A “Jack” (or Jill, for that matter) knows how to do a little bit of everything, but it sometimes comes at the cost of never having the time to master one particular skill. For example, you might know how to do a little programming, build furniture, and cook decent meals well enough to get work, but you’re not amazing at any of those particular things. Imagine you’re a multi-tool, like a Swiss Army knife, as opposed to being just a screwdriver. A multi-tool can get the job done, but a good screwdriver does it better.

In general, we’re taught throughout our lives to pick something and specialize at it. Think of the classic “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question, as if you can only be one thing. Specializing certainly has a multitude of undeniable benefits, but it’s not necessarily the only way to find success in life. Not everyone believes you have to choose, or that being a Jack of All Trades comes at such a high cost. Many people—myself included—believe being a Jack can make it easier to master certain skills. James Liu, the founder of BoxCat Games suggests being a Jack is a necessity:

Over my many years of learning, iterating, and teaching, I’ve arrived at the conclusions that the process of learning, as humans, can be abused, tuned, and scaled easily. There comes a specific point in your life where you can reach or obtain near mastery of one specific subject. After that, there’s a base of knowledge that you can (and will) build analogies on. By doing so, you take one industry and mirror it into another industry. I would emphasize, you can not be a jack-of-all-trades without being a master of at least one. Perhaps it is social skill, doll making, mathematics, language, emotional awareness—you must be a master of at least one in order to be a jack of many others.

No matter where you land with the concept, being a Jack of All Trades has plenty of benefits for those who want to try and do it all. Of course, you can’t talk about the benefits without talking about the pitfalls too. If you know what to expect, though, you might have an easier time as you go.

The Benefits

First of all, let’s talk about the benefits—starting with the obvious…

You Are Adaptable

As a Jack of All Trades, you’re able to take on a wide range of jobs and situations. Your expansive knowledge base can make you just as comfortable doing manual labor as you would be in an office chair processing data. You may not be a superstar at everything you do, but you can do things just well enough that you’re never stressed about what might come next. You know how to use the knowledge and skills you’ve developed doing other things to make any job easier.

When opportunity arises, you’re also likely to be the first one to dive in and go for it. You develop a go-getter attitude that can make you look really good. Lots of different fields have problems arise that sometimes require a different approach what’s considered normal, making you a go-to employee—or friend, or family member—that’s ideal for the job. Essentially, adaptability is usefulness, and that’s what you want to be: useful.

You Learn How to Learn

A Jack of All Trades is not content learning about just one thing. Your thirst for knowledge gives you the best skill you can learn: knowing how to learn. When you learn how to do one thing, curiosity takes hold and you start to learn associated skills too. You develop a sense for the best ways to learn something efficiently so you can be good enough at whatever you choose. It might sound a little silly, but when you know how to approach new skills properly, no mountain is too high. It just takes a little elbow grease and time. Will you be the first person to climb Mt. Everest, or be the fastest? No, but you’ll sure as shit get to the top in one piece.

You Fit Well Into Leadership Roles

When you think of a good leader, you think of someone with experience. A lot of great leaders have a wide range of experience, though. Leaders that know all the aspects of a business have an edge on someone who rose through the ranks doing only one job. Author and leadership adviser Tim Ferriss explains:

In a world of dogmatic specialists, it’s the generalist who ends up running the show. Is the CEO a better accountant than the CFO or CPA? Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals” are called such.

If you’re not interested in being a leader, there’s nothing wrong with that, but a good deal of people want to make their way to the top. Even if you just want to be your own boss, having a wide variety of skills can mean needing to hire fewer people, or give you a jumpstart on an idea since you don’t need help with it.