I learned something new today.
We have all heard the phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none.” I’ve always taken that as a limiting statement, and I often find myself applying it to my life experience. To me, variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to the task of creation. While I am very good at many things, I’m not sure I can call myself an expert at any one thing. To that end, as I think about my post-teaching future and see all of the “experts” at things, I often wonder where my place will be in the creative universe.
The jack-of-all-trades line plays right into the dreaded imposter syndrome mindset. I’ve written about that before; here’s one of the many posts that delve into that topic. If you are not considered an “expert,” do you have any credibility to represent yourself in those circles? Does having a wide range of interests to dabble in, but not necessarily become highly skilled in, make your experience less valuable than someone else with more skill, talent, or time spent? To be honest, that thought has insinuated itself into some of my thoughts about my future.
The truth is, I am very proud of all the things I have accomplished and the goodness I’ve provided to the people whose paths I’ve crossed. Even so, my self-worth sometimes seems in flux, depending upon what my last task was or the last conversation I had with someone. Is it true that you’re only as good as your last efforts?
It’s a lot to think about.
I was scrolling through TikTok and a lady popped on my screen. She’s a fantasy writer named Susan diRende. I checked out her website and came across this quote, which I love:
I go to the canvas or the computer to find what I didn’t know was in me.Susan diRende
I think she’s my new spirit animal. On TikTok, she offered a short video talking about creatives and how the “jack of all trades” phrase is often applied to the efforts of people who create lots of things. I consider myself one of those people.
I keep thinking about this phrase where I am now: my career as an arts educator, my developing interest in podcasting, blogging and writing in general about my different interests, my life as a mom and life partner. Much as I try to organize all of it well, it does feel like a hodgepodge when you look at my website. Sometimes, I have trouble connecting everything with a theme or through line, other than “my headspace.”
Sometimes it just feels like I am all over the place, even though the work I’m doing is targeted and focused.
The idea of a “Jack of all trades” has been around since before the 1600s. It may be based on the German/Latin phrase Johannes factotum which means “Johnny do-it-all” and was an insult in the 16th century. In 1592, the English writer Robert Greene used the insult to describe a young William Shakespeare for being both an actor and a writer—but I think Shakespeare got the last laugh!Anthony Garcia, englishcomposition.org (2022)
According to a Forbes article from 2013, the jack-of-all-trades concept is actually the hallmark of good entrepreneurship; there are great benefits to the self-discovery, flexibility, and curiosity that can be applied to the business world. There’s out-of-the-box thinking to having a variety of interest and experience that can be very appealing to companies who are looking for new approaches to their interests. The world is constantly evolving and changing, technology and the digital space requires us to play with new platforms to do the things we do in new ways.
Maybe it’s not about being an expert
As I watched Susan’s TikTok video, a stranger who seemed to be talking directly to me, she advised how the jack-of-all-trades phrase, as we commonly use it, is actually incomplete. The saying, believe it or not, goes like this:
Jack of all trades, master of none,
but oftentimes better than master of one.
She sees into my soul. As a creative creature who loves a variety of expression, the topics I write about and the projects I choose to do aren’t necessarily important by themselves. It’s the body of work and the myriad gains I get every time I complete something that matters to me. I am developing a vision, practicing skills, making connections, and putting it all out there for others to take in. Where it all leads will unfold over time. For now, I will take solace in enjoying the ride.
I’ll close with a wonderful thought from the end of that Forbes article:
Being a master of one thing might mean you are an artist or an academic.Jodie Cook, Forbes (2021)
Being a master of more means your work has a chance to reach people.
You don’t wait to be discovered; the power is in your hands.