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How To Be an Effective 'Jack of All Trades'

January 10, 2019

There are pros and cons to being considered a jack of all trades. In fact, the punchline that immediately follows when someone describes himself or herself as a jack of all trades is, of course, “master of none.“


A major upside of being a jack of all trades is that you have expertise in a variety of fields. Knowing how to do many different things can make you more marketable – especially in this digital age when workers must possess multiple skills. 


Twenty years ago, someone who worked in public relations could specialize in writing press releases and pitching ideas to reporters. But nowadays, you not only have to know how to write and speak well, you must also know how to navigate social media.


The downside of being a jack of all trades is that some people will assume you truly are a master of none. By doing several different things, some observers will jump to the conclusion that you don’t spend enough time in each discipline to learn how to do them well.


Being an effective jack of all trades boils down to spending enough time practicing in each area to get good at it. It’s essentially a time management issue. You have to make time to master or at least get proficient in each discipline.


And as with any discipline, you have to balance passive learning with hands-on execution.


For example, as a writer and filmmaker, I have to schedule time to hone my writing and filmmaking skills. This includes working on novels and screenplays, as well as analyzing classic films and practicing camera work.


Being an effective jack of all trades also means you have to learn to narrow down your interests. I have many interests, from listening to all different types of music – especially anything having to do with Prince – to foreign-language learning. But experience has taught me that in professional settings, in order to be taken seriously, I need to focus on writing and filmmaking.


Narrowing down your interests doesn’t mean that you have to abandon things you enjoy doing. It just means that you have to curate your interests. 


So, instead of posting on my professional social media accounts about my adventures learning Spanish or some cool concert I just attended, I’ll only post about those activities with like-minded individuals in Facebook groups that caterer specifically to those interests.


It isn't fair that some celebrities and social media influencers seem to get away with an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. They can post on Instagram about their political views, their diet and exercise regimen, what they had for dinner, the birthday party they threw for themselves, and their cool vacations. No matter what they blather on about, their totally random posts get hundreds or even thousands of likes.


But for those of us who are working to establish ourselves in a particular field – or fields – it pays to narrow our focus to those areas that will yield the highest dividends.


For further guidance on how to narrow your focus to what matters most, I recommend the book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown.

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