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Eagerness to do a lot of things at once. It’s an ambition many of us struggle with: being good at many things but not perceived as an expert with any one of them. You feel like you’re never really able to get traction.
Do you often pick up something to learn and end up gaining just enough knowledge to be dangerous?
I believe there are two kinds of Jack of All Trades:
- A permanent Jack of All Trades (you don’t want this one!)
- An intermittent Jack of All Trades.
The latter is a result of the journey to becoming a master—a good thing.
I want to talk about how to know the difference so you can determine which one you are. You’ll find out if you’re on your way to mastery or simply floundering about in the novice world of mediocre proficiency.
What are you actually DOING? What are you actually TRYING? What are you actually EXPLORING instead of just saying “What if?”
— Sean McCabe (@seanwes) August 27, 2014
- Defining “Jack of All Trades”
- 05:27 Sean: In my mind, it’s a matter of outward projection. For instance, “I’m a guy who’s a Jack of All Trades. You can hire me to do anything you want. I’m the wildcard handyman—I’m your contractor! Whatever you need done around the house, Jack of All Trades.” Whereas on the other hand, you could technically be a Jack of All Trades in that you can do many things, but you aren’t broadcasting all of them.
- 07:06 Sean: There seems to be an implied negativity in being a “Jack of All Trades.”
- 07:20 Ben: “I think it comes from feeling like I’m not known for something.”
- 10:44 Sean: Can I be a little #harshsean for a minute? I’m going to break some hearts here. I’m going to burst some bubbles…
- 10:50 Ben: “Go for it.”
- You’re not special
- 11:12 You’re not special. You’re not tormented. You don’t get any excuses. We’re ALL good at multiple things. More than one thing. We’re all interested in many things. It’s not that the other people who’ve made it or are “known” for one thing are lucky—it’s not that they were blessed with this one interest and they never had to go through the struggle of picking something to pursue, it’s that they learned to focus.
- 11:42 They did not get good by doing things all at once. You didn’t get good by doing things all at once. No one gets good at anything by doing it all at once.
- You’re good at piano because you took lessons as a kid and had to practice every day.
- You’re good as a developer because you worked at an agency for 3 years.
- You’re great at videography because you spent an entire summer volunteering at a group of summer camps where you spent 10 hours a day filming.
- You’re good at cooking because you’ve cooked every day of your life.
- 12:15 The things that come naturally to you come naturally to you because you’ve done them thousands of times. I’m serious. Think of something you would say “comes naturally” to you and tell me you haven’t done that thing hundreds or thousands of times.
- 12:34 Everyone gets it backwards. You don’t come out of the womb being good at something (Related: e062 Talent vs. Hard Work). If you have any level of natural aptitude, it’s blown out of the water by like 10 hours of hard work.
- 13:15 Ben: “I definitely agree with this idea of focusing. The idea of the 10,000 hours that you put toward a specific thing to become a master does sound totally daunting. If you look at all of the things that you’re capable of doing now, you will probably find many of those things are related in some way. Mastery is not just intellectual, it’s not just technical, it’s not just your creativity but it’s the sum of all of those things together. Where you gain technical skills that you can also translate into other things, you have accumulated hours towards your mastery.”
- 14:57 Sean: I want to break this question down into parts…
- What if
- 15:06 “What if I’m Jack of All Trades and Master of None?” What IF?
- “What if I work out 3 times a week and I’m still fat?”
- Meanwhile, you’re not even working out 1 time a week in reality.
- “What if I focus on this thing for a while and I end up not liking it?”
- (Related: e050 Weathering the Seasons of Your Passions)
- “What if I podcast twice a week like Sean and my audience doesn’t grow?”
- “What if I work out 3 times a week and I’m still fat?”
- 16:05 Meanwhile, you’re not even doing a fraction of this “what if” idea in reality—in practice.
- 16:13 I think a large percentage of the people asking this question are just stuck in the idea stage. “What if [hypothetical]?” Meanwhile, they’re not doing a fraction of it in reality.
- 16:38 Ben: “I can hear in that question a fear of the unknown. I’m really coming to understand that the only way to combat the fear of the unknown is movement—motion. Doing. As long as you’re sitting still thinking about the negative possibilities or the negative outcomes of doing something, all you’re going to have is those ideas—and those ideas can seem so big and scary and paralyzing. It’s not until you actually move forward and encounter those challenges, encounter those obstacles, and see what the real outcome is that you really have any idea what it’s going to look like in reality.”
- Jack of All Trades
- 17:29 You want to get to this end point where you’re a specialist and a master and known for something, but blazing this straight path from where you are now to where you think you want to be doesn’t work. You can’t ignore the actual journey that it really takes to get there and that is not a straight line.
- 18:39 Ben: “There are scientific studies that show that when you try different things out for periods of time and you gain proficiency in different creative fields, those things build upon each other. It helps you approach problems with more creativity and more ingenuity.”
- 19:48 “How do I know if I’m stumbling along the right journey of intermittently being a Jack of All Trades versus being a permanent Jack of All Trades and having limited proficiency in all areas? How do I know the difference?”
- 20:16 The way you know the difference is if you’re trying to do a bunch of things at one time. If you’re trying to do a bunch of things at one time, over the next 10 years or 20 years you will only very slowly increase your proficiency in each of those areas (and only to moderate levels).
- 20:49 The way you know if you’re actually progressing towards being a master is if you’re doing one thing at a time.
- 21:00 You don’t have to know what this mastery will be when you start. You don’t have to know at the beginning of the path. What you end up doing is probably going to be very different from what you know right now and that’s totally okay.
- 22:01 Once you’ve reached the point where you realize you actually don’t enjoy the process of something, you can move to the next thing. Meanwhile, you’ve made progress along the path—because it’s not a 360° array of options. It’s just forward. That’s it: forward. You’re either going or you’re not going and you’re indecisive.
- 22:30 Even the guy who is really good at a bunch of things didn’t get good at a bunch of things by doing them all at the same time. He had seasons of his life where he was focused and where he learned each one of those and then he went on to the next thing.
- 23:35 If you are in a place right now where you can do a lot of things great, that’s awesome! That’s not a bad thing. You may be worrying, “I can do so many things good but why can’t I do just one of these things awesome like this other guy who’s really well known?” The leaders and forerunners in any given industry may be masters at one thing but that’s just what’s on the outside. That’s what is being projected. Their curation is what makes them well known (Related: e074 Curate What You Share).
- 24:14 The fear is thinking that you have to project all of your awesomeness—and you can’t. You can’t project all of the things that you’re good at. If you put on your website that you are a logo designer, illustrator, photographer, hand lettering artist, compositional pianist, electronic music producer, videographer, writer, speaker, and podcaster, why are you surprised that no one hires you?
- 24:44 Since when have you ever gone to someone like that for photography? Is that the person you look for when you want someone to shoot your wedding? Is that the guy you’re going to hire for designing your icon? No, of course not!
- 25:04 Who do you pick? You pick the specialist. You pick the person who curates their output and has clearly dedicated themselves to mastering something. You pick the master. Guess what? You could be a master at a bunch of things, but no one will perceive that if you project all of it simultaneously.
- 25:14 No one’s actually going to think that you can’t do anything else in your life except for this one thing. People have a lot of facets. It’s what you’re curating in your output that positions you as a master. By NOT putting every single thing you can do, you instill confidence in the person that’s going to hire you. You are communicating that you’re good at this one thing, you’re focused, you’re a specialist, you’re a master.
- 28:26 “So how do you pick? How do you pick the thing that you output?” The thing that you output is the thing that you’re focusing on right now. You can’t pursue everything at once. You can only pursue one of those things at a time. This is crucial—really get this:
- Master of None
- 36:28 I like what Sarah said in the chat room:
- “Proving yourself as a master at a thing can lead you to being trusted as a master at other stuff. The first step is becoming a master at one thing and then people will attribute that to you when you pivot and pursue another thing.”
- 37:09 Let’s first establish: being a master is great. Being a master is pretty darn awesome. The benefits are great:
- Specialists are paid more.
- Specialists are more popular.
- Specialists have the most influence.
- Specialists have the greater following.
- 37:42 Someone who is a master has dedicated a season of their life solely to this one thing. They are focused on this and they are dedicating their life to this thing in a lot of cases. Most people who put in 10,000 hours on something don’t just quit it once they hit 10k. They dedicate their life to it. That’s where the best output is.
- 38:19 Your life at master level has just begun at that point. We’ve talked about how the best work of composers was after their 10th year:
- 38:37 The 3 that weren’t were in the 8th and 9th years. That’s the best time! It’s not just about hitting that “master” point and going to the next thing.
- 38:54 Ben: “But your goal if you’re not even close to mastery right now is not to figure out the thing you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life. Your goal right now is to stick with and focus on one thing long enough to determine whether or not it’s something that you’re truly passionate about.”
- 39:19 Sean: Can I pull this classic quote that Dave in the chat room just shared?
- Different Types of Mastery
- 40:02 Ben: “We’ve been talking about a master in the sense of a person who has the skill, the eye and the intuition. I think of a master calligrapher—their hand moves just the way that they want it to and their eye for composition is perfect. They can imagine even before they put pen to paper how each line will work on the page. But they’re made up of many different types of mastery. Technical mastery for example: When you do one thing or one motion over and over again 10,000 times, you’re going to be able to do it without even thinking about it. But then there’s a mastery with the way that you approach problems as well as the creativity with which you approach problems.”
- 43:26 Sean: Can I take the baton here?
- 43:29 Ben: “Go for it.”
- 43:33 Sean: That’s this whole “learning to learn” concept. My theory would be that the people that seem to be good at whatever they put their hand to are the people that have learned the art of mastery. They know how to master something, so they go on to the next thing and they master it. Everyone on the outside thinks whatever they touch turns to gold, but it wasn’t magic! There’s nothing magical about it. They’ve just learned to show up and go at this relentlessly until they break out of novice world. “I’m just going to do this until I’m better at it.” Blood, sweat and tears.
- Mastery requires focus.
- Mastery requires repetition.
- Mastery requires consistency.
- Mastery requires time.
- 45:39 Let me break it down:
- Focus on one thing. You’re curating. You’re spending all of your time going at this one thing—not spreading yourself thin, not trying to do a bunch of things at once—one thing at a time. This doesn’t mean you have to do that for the rest your life, it’s just right now: Focus. One thing at a time.
- Do it over and over again. And then do it over again. Keep doing it. Find the stuff that you’re not good at and deliberately practice that. Don’t just go at this and try to play a piano piece that you want to play, or try and make a lettering quote. You want to deliberately practice the things that you’re not doing well.
- Show up every day.
- It’s not just going to be one week, it’s not just going to be one month, it’s not just going to be one year.
- 46:42 Wait just one moment… how long?
- Ben: “I’m sorry, did you just say it’s not just going to be ONE YEAR?”
- Sean: One year, Ben.
- Ben: “A year is a long time.”
- Sean: Nah, it’s not a long time.
- Ben: “You’re right, it’s not.
- Sean: Not too long.
- 47:08 Ben: “So I feel like where this leaves us is it’s not inherently a bad thing to be a Jack of All Trades?”
- 47:17 Sean: I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Outwardly, yes it is a bad thing. If you end up being good at a bunch of things, that could mean that you’re on your way to mastery of something and you just don’t know what that is yet. On your way, you are going to get good at a lot of different things as you explore them one at a time—that’s a good thing! But if you’re doing a bunch of things at once then you’re good to become the wrong kind of Jack of All Trades: a permanent Jack of All Trades.
Pointing to someone who has natural talent when you don’t is like complaining that the guy next to you at the race is over the starting line.
What are you actually doing?
What are you actually trying?
What are you actually exploring instead of just saying “What if?”
The difference between being a permanent Jack of All Trades and an intermittent Jack of All Trades is whether you’re focusing on a bunch of things at once or one thing at a time.
The thing you decide to pursue right now is the one that you output.
497 of the 500 most popular symphonies were made after the composer’s 10th year of work.
Your best work is ahead. Be excited and press on.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once…
I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
The art of mastery is a practice.
If you learn the art of mastery, you can master anything. You can become really good at anything.