I heard the saying ‘Jack of all trades’ when I was pretty young. It sounded like a superb idea altogether. Imagine being good at everything! It was some time later before I heard the full thing ‘jack of all trade – master of none’.
Wait! Say what now? I sort of like the idea of being a ‘master’. Of all of the things. Ever.
Did this mean I had to choose between doing a lot of things ‘OK’, or a small few things ‘great’? Shitballs! Mega decision time!
Fast forward a fair few years, to a discussion in the WG private FB group about this very thing. The author of the article was celebrating those who focus in on one thing. He said it took a special kind of crazy to dedicate years of your energy and life to one skill or idea.
I commented that it’s something I still ponder on a frequent basis. Does doing lots of things, at a low level of commitment, indicate that you lack focus or commitment, and a huge fear of failure, or is variety the spice of life? Will doing one thing to near perfection make you boring & narrow minded or a supremely fulfilled individual? Dave challenged me to a blog off on the topic. My prediction is that we both say more or less the same thing but he uses less words, rainbows and unicorns to get his point across. Let’s see!
Doing all of the things: Let’s face it – life is never going to be boring. You’ll be meeting new people and learning new/varied skills on a frequent basis. This is obviously a win – mentally, physically, and socially – both right now, and as you swan gracefully through life. You’ll never forget what it’s like to be a beginner so it’ll keep you humble, open minded and unafraid to try new things. Because you don’t get too invested in any one thing the fun factor remains high, and if you don’t stay at any one thing for too long – you’ll avoid those pesky plateaus that can plague and infuriate! Everything is Awesome, FOREVER. Right? Mostly. Depending on the gear needed for each new venture, it may turn out to be an expensive way to live. It may also be exhausting to have your mental/physical energies going in so many different directions at any one time. You may make lots of new friends through all your endeavors, but do you never stay around any of them long enough to have a meaningful relationship?
Doing one thing, TO THE DEATH: This requires effort, focus and dedication. What part of your life won’t be improved by honing these skills? Even if you are naturally passionate about something, doing it for extended periods will present fun challenges. You will be asked to find ways to keep it fresh so you stay interested. You’ll need to cajole yourself into continuing when the initial enthusiasm for a new goal wears off. You search deep into your soul for answers to WHY THE HELL? when you feel like it’s all madness and you should just quit. You develop perseverance and the ability to endure. These challenges help reveal your personal thought patterns, triggers, motivators – both good and bad – and you can end up knowing yourself on an epic scale. If you know your topic inside out, and upside down – you’re a valuable resource. If you’re interested in sharing the information then you could affect huge change peoples’ lives, in the world, and potentially earn income from it. Plus there’s a huge sense of personal satisfaction in achieving a level in something that the majority of the population don’t have the attention span to do. Win, win. Deciding to pour all your energies into one or 2 simple ideas means you can get ruthlessly efficient. Distractions are fun, but if you have a specific focus, then they may be a waste of precious time and energy. This ‘no bullshit’ attitude can result in huge inner calm if you’re someone who gets overwhelmed as to the best course of action in a world full of inputs and options. Whatever comes your way simply ask ‘does this help me in my goal to’….become kettlebell world champion (for example). No? – bin it. Deliberation over. Simple.
OMG this all sounds so fulfilling – being a highly sought after, calm, best-in-the-world-at-something totes amazeballs person – where do I sign up?? Not so fast – everything has a price. The flip side can involve living in a fairly small world, rarely exposed to new people or different ideas. You may be mentally less agile, as a result. You might become afraid to try new things because you lost the habit, or because of ego – you’re not willing to be rubbish at something new when you can stay in your comfort zone and be awesome.
When something goes wrong in your world – your whole world is shite, because you only have that one thing. From a mental health perspective, this is a top concern. There’s no way specialise without developing some (if not tonnes of) mental and physical training scars. Plus, specialising requires single minded focus and a lot of time – this means less time for family, friends, other pursuits/skills. Some of these things and relationships you can pick up again in the future, some won’t wait for you. Only you can decide if that’s a sacrifice and if it’s worth it.
So what’s better?
Ultimately, I believe the world needs both the jacks of all trades, and the masters of one. The masters cultivate a phenomenal level of information, skill, and expertise in their chosen discipline. They make scientific discoveries, break sporting world records and provide building blocks of information that the future will be built on. They are inspiring.
The jacks, because they dabble in many different things, provide perspective and cross pollination of worlds that might otherwise be separate. This can lead to all sorts of awesome – Pahlavhandles for example. They show how to keep perspective and get a lot of things done. They are inspiring. I think it’s up to each individual to do whatever the fuck they want. I decided long ago, that I would, for the most part, do each thing I chose to do, as well as I could, for as long as I enjoyed doing it. This has lead to both the most fulfilling moments in my life, and to some of the hardest and loneliest ones. Of course I struggle with missing out on the fluff and frivolity of a less focussed life, but I feel a desire to test my limits and see what I’m made of, so that’s just how things are for now. In the future that desire may become less intense and the balance will shift again. Maybe I’ll branch out into 70 new hobbies. Who knows? So do whatever is most appealing at any time. Do it to the level you enjoy. Be open to changing track once your enjoyment stops. The end.
It’s a short life, it’s ok to knock as much fun out of it as you possibly can.