How to be a Successful Jack-of-All-Trades

by David · 18 comments

I’m a real Jack-of-all trades. I study Spanish, Japanese and Italian. I’m currently writing a book about effective learning. Just for fun, I recently picked up programming. I like to take photos, record videos and I also write music. Next week I’m picking up Salsa. At University I study Linguistics and Anthropology, but I used to go to film school. I really like yoga and I can touch my knees with my forehead :) I could keep going, but I think I’ve made my point. I’m extremely curious and I love to learn. I’m a real Jack-of-all-trades.

The Problem with Being a Jack-of-All-Trades

The expression ‘Jack-of-all-trades, master of none’ comes to mind, which suggests that a person who is involved with many areas will spread themselves thin and become a master of none.

For obvious reasons, this is something to be concerned about, especially if you’re trying to become an expert in a particular field. However, It’s important to realise that the need to become an ‘expert’ is preached to us by society, and it’s not something we have to accept.

If you’re a jack-of-all-trades like me, then one of your biggest concerns at some point will be how you’re going to find a career and make money when you have a number of different skills, a wide span of knowledge, but you’re just not ‘great’ at anything.

Trust me, I understand.

The problem isn’t with you, it’s with society’s poor ability to cater for all types of personalities.

But don’t worry about that. We don’t need permission to live life the way we want.

Society excludes us and makes us feel cursed, but actually, being a Jack-of-all-trades is a blessing.

The Advantages of Being a Jack-of-All-Trades

Studying a wide range of subjects and learning different skills means you’ll develop a unique way of looking the world. Unique perspectives are important. In fact, Innovation often comes from connecting unrelated ideas; this is also the case for creativity.

I’ll go as far saying that in-order to innovate you have to be a jack-of-all-trades.

But more on this later.

Commitment vs Flirting

Whenever I take on a new subject or try to develop a new skill I like to think I’m starting a new relationship. After all, I’ll need to spend a lot of time and make a lot of effort. That sounds like a relationship to me.

While relationships can be complicated, to illustrate my point I’m going to over simplify and assert that there are only two types: serious relationships and relationships for fun.

Serious relationships are all about depth, understanding the small details and developing a strong personal connection. However on the flip side we have not-so-serious relationships. Imagine a relationship two people have based on flirting. They don’t pay each other much attention but they have fun and they’re not committed. When the flirting gets boring they stop giving each other attention and the relationship becomes a distant memory.

Looking at new endeavours as relationships can be helpful for a jack-of-all-trades. You won’t develop a serious relationship with everything you try to learn because most of the time you’ll be flirting, testing the waters, exploring something new. You’ll often lose interest and want to move on.

After going through this cycle a few times it’s normal to start feeling worried. Maybe you’ll jump onto google and search for things like ‘is it bad to be a jack of all trades ?’ or ‘why can’t I focus on one thing’ if you did that then that may be how you ended up here.

This is the advice I have: serious relationships are extremely valuable, but as jack-of-all-trades we’re always going to want a bit more, something on the side.

It’s ok to start new relationships and there’s nothing wrong with dropping them when they’re no longer interesting. When this happens it means they’ve served their purpose and it’s time to move on.

Not everything you flirt with has to become serious.

How to be a Successful Jack-of-All-Trades

Success here is defined as being able to pursue your interests, being happy and making money. If you want to be a ‘successful’ jack-of-all-trades then you’ll need to pursue something that enables you to constantly learn and explore new areas.

Again, Innovation and creativity is driven by those who are able to bring together unrelated ideas in interesting ways.

I’ve found my wide range of interests to be helpful when writing. My knowledge of different areas allows me to connect interesting dots which I would not have been able to do otherwise.

I’m also drawn to entrepreneurship and documentary film making.

Entrepreneurship because of the uncertainty, the adventure and all of the different aspects involved.

Documentary film making purely because it’s centred around learning about the world.

These are the directions I’m heading and they may be of no interest to you, but the idea here is simple: find something that requires you to have knowledge of different areas and possess a number of skills.

This what I believe it takes to be a successful jack-of-all-trades

What will you try to pursue?

  • Igor Efremov

    “Just for fun, I recently picked up programming.”

    Head First Series!
    http://shop.oreilly.com/category/series/head-first.do
    Amazing stuff. Right Brain Programming Languages Learning.

    On the far second place: Teach Yourself Visually Series and Your Visual Blueprint Series.

    • http://www.davidmansaray.com/ David Mansaray

      Thank you Igor! 

      These books look great. 

      I assume you’re a programmer? If so what languages do you work with and what are you working on? 

      Any advice for a newbie? 

      • http://twitter.com/roman_druzyagin Roman D.

        I would recommend beginning with two books:
        http://learnpythonthehardway.org/book/ http://openbookproject.net/thinkcs/python/english3e/These two teach all the basics of Python to get started and the stepping stones of CS theory, basic algorithms and data structures.

        • http://www.davidmansaray.com/ David Mansaray

          Thanks Roman these resources look great! 

          Out of curiosity, why do you recommend starting with Python? 

          • Igor Efremov

            I would start with PHP but Python is great too.
            However, going this way:
            1. http://shop.oreilly.com/product/9780596802387.do
            2. http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920003434.do?sortby=publicationDate
            would be way more efficient.

          • http://twitter.com/roman_druzyagin Roman D.

            It is a solid general-purpose dynamic language, well-accepted in scientific circles and therefore great for learning not only the basics of programming, but also of computer science.
            There are other languages you can take on: PHP, Perl, Ruby are the most obvious candidates.

            PHP has a complex, poorly structured library, almost no learning curve and therefore can force you develop bad practices. There is a ton of garbage written on PHP.

            Perl is too confusing for a beginner and, to be honest, goes out of rotation, with Python and Ruby taking its place. But you might appreciate it as a student of linguistics.

            Ruby is also a solid choice, but there is a huge hipster-like culture around it which might force you to avoid studying the necessary basics of CS in favor of “make a blog with Rails in 15 minutes”-like tasks.

            As a disclaimer, I know all these languages and three of them are used in the current project I lead (all except Python, curiously), so I am not picking favorites :)

            If you want to discuss this more, let’s skype some time.

          • qzchris

             What’s your view on Java? It’s the language I myself started with (well, actually I started QBASIC technically, but that was years ago I’ve long since forgotten it), and I’ve found it both easy-going and very useful, as well as increasingly popular. But I’ve also heard that Python is easier to learn and for that reason might make a better First Language.

          • http://twitter.com/roman_druzyagin Roman D.

            Java in itself is a decent, solid language. However,  in these days enterprise-level businesses and huge corporations, which employ architecture astronauts, have written millions of lines of useless, obtuse, over-engineered code ridden with incredibly awful engineering practices.

            95% of native and third-party code in Java is so badly written and poorly engineered, hidden under layers after layers of useless abstractions that serve no purpose but to eat up gigabytes of servers’s RAM, produce screens worth of error stack traces and megabytes of badly designed XML data (yet another modern evil that always comes in pair with Java).

            Therefore, I mostly oppose Java if only for the hope that one day I see that all the vile practices it had created are gone.

          • http://www.davidmansaray.com/ David Mansaray

            Thank you sir! 

            I’ll be picking more at your big brain soon ;)

      • Igor Efremov

        Well, I’m “limited” to web development/design only, which is a broad term itself. I work with HTML, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP & MySql, WordPress, Photoshop…
        If you’re interested this hub is great to start with:
        http://stormyweather.hubpages.com/hub/How-To-Get-Started-With-HTML—Write-Your-First-Web-Page-Now

        • http://www.davidmansaray.com/ David Mansaray

          Thanks for the link Igor, much appreciated :)  

  • Luna

    Thank you for reminding me that there is value in my diverse knowledge and abilities…sometimes I forget.

    • http://www.davidmansaray.com/ David Mansaray

      My pleasure! ;)

  • Domsta333

    I also studied Linguistics (a minor/4 units) and Anthropology (1 unit) at university, I am still thinking about these subjects today. I like to learn about music although I never studied it, I speak 4 languages, I enjoy learning about a variety of topics from geography to religion and others. I never stop learning and with the advent of sites such as youtube and the vast expansion of the internet in general we have acquired new spaces to spread our knowledge and learn even more.

    • http://www.davidmansaray.com/ David Mansaray

      I couldn’t agree more!

  • Manoj S. Kumar

    So What do you do for a living David…? You and me are more or less in the same track with Film Making and Entreprenuership.

  • Nate Simon

    This guy is not a jack of all trades, a true jack of all trades is a carpenter, farmer electrician, plumber, mechanic, hunter. Someone who knows the ins and outs of most essential trades and can provide for her or his family when times get tough. Yoga, computer programming, and languages are not trades and will not help you when you get a flat tire or when your roof starts to leak.

  • Wangyal Rigzin

    I think it is more important to have a range of skill that compliment each other into a singular system, each skill should make the other skills stronger… for instance you have IT and then you have painting two completely unrelated skills come together into graphic design similarly that could go into robotics and even martial arts because you would have a better understanding of human kinetics I think it is like water coloring

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