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How to Be an Effective Jack of All Trades Part 2: Find Mentors

January 20, 2019

Being an effective “jack of all trades” - i.e., excelling in more than one field – isn’t an easy or conventional path, especially when it comes to the arts. But with a few tools at your disposal, you can indeed become like a Swiss Army knife that is useful for a variety of purposes.


This is a follow-up to my previous blog post, “How to Be an Effective Jack of All Trades.” Here are some additional tips:


When people tell you to specialize in one thing, take that advice with a grain of salt. Theoretically, it might be easier to focus on just one skill. But pursuing a narrow path can limit your options.


“I don’t get how people do just one thing.  ... I’ve found that the more things you do, the better,” best-selling author Ryan Holiday writes in his popular book, “The Obstacle Is the Way.” “If you do three to five things, they all help each other and make you better at them.”


Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”) said in a recent directors' roundtable discussion hosted by The Hollywood Reporter that when he followed industry advice and abandoned screenwriting to work solely as a director-for-hire, he began to feel creatively stagnant. So he went back to writing his own material. The result? His new movie “Roma," which has been nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. 


Make sure your interests complement each other. Don’t drive and text, but you can certainly walk and chew gum.


No one would tell Jennifer Lopez that she must choose between singing, dancing and acting. These skills complement each other and can easily be combined into a single venture, such as performing in a musical. Who knows, since J.Lo conquered Vegas, maybe Broadway is in her future?


Seek out mentors and role models. Find people who do more than one thing and do them well.


There are numerous examples of successful “multi-hyphenates” who have set an example on how to excel in numerous disciplines:


Quincy Jones, the legendary music producer who also founded Vibe Magazine and produced movies such as the Oscar-nominated, “The Color Purple.”


Debbie Allen, the triple-threat dancer/choreographer, actor and singer who branched out into directing TV shows such as “A Diff’rent World” and made-for-television movies, and producing epic movies such as “Amistad.”


Sometimes you may have to seek out mentors and role models who may be relatively obscure. I recently came across the critically acclaimed 1982 movie “Losing Ground,” one of the first feature films directed by an African-American woman, the late Kathleen Collins. She was a true renaissance woman who was a college professor, movie director, film editor, playwright and novelist who was fluent in French and English. A real jack of all trades!  

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