Jack of All Trades, Master of None
I've had many jobs in my working career and they are not the kind of jobs you would pin to my personality type. I see my friends from college and high school deep into their careers and can't help but feel lost. I have had over a dozen jobs and none have completely satisfied all of my interests. I was an asbestos abatement technician, automotive mechanic, farmer, archival technician, librarian, editor, blogger, photographer, handyman, property manager, museum docent, computer programmer, webmaster, and even sold cars because I wanted to overcome my social anxiety.
When I talk to career counselors the first question they ask is "what are your interests?" I respond with the usual. "I like playing the trumpet, skiing, hiking, camping, reading, visiting museums & art galleries, skating, playing hockey, building R/C airplanes, traveling, writing, wandering/discovering, driving, gardening, cars, science, home DIY, fixing things, building websites, etc..." by the end of my list the counselor is usually confused and tuned out.
I believe that I embody the saying "Jack of all trade, Master of none." There is nothing I love to do more than the other, it just depends on my mood on that day. My mind frequently wanders and I easily see another skill or hobby I want to pursue. I chose to sell cars only because I like cars and wanted to do something to overcome being shy. I can't help but look stuff up on everything, like how to make soap or biodiesel - in case I might have to brew some up one day.
'Generalist' or 'Specialist'
So what does it mean to be a 'Generalist' instead of a 'Specialist'? In my opinion it means far less money. I can do lots of things, but nothing specialised that companies are demanding. Microsoft needs many people who can do one thing extraordinarily well. This makes fitting into this brave new world interesting, for people like me. So how to fit in?
"Generalist: one whose skills, interests, or habits are varied or unspecialized."
It's not hard to see the pros and cons of being a Generalist. Truth be told, there is still a need for the general in our increasingly specialised world. I can't help but think of the small business owner who needs to know business, marketing, maintenance, retail, and law to become successful A good question to ask yourself is whether you want your boss to know a little bit about everything or not. The General in an army is capable of firing at the enemy and commanding troops. Where would Bill Gates be if he knew nothing of marketing, politics, business and law? He would have just been another programmer in his parents basement.
Navigating the World as a Generalist
Navigating the world as a generalist can be difficult. I'm not pretending to be the next Bill Gates but who knows. I was programming my Commodore Vic-20 at the age of 12 and replacing the engine in my dad's car at 15. I just loathe the thought of being stuck at a desk or under a car everyday for the rest of my life.
Truth be told, I don't think there is a job out there for me. My interests are too diverse for that. I love history and science and working with my hands. So what does this mean for the generalists or polymaths of the world?
It means that you shouldn't give up learning about your interests.There are still careers out there for the generalist or polymaths of the world. Here are a few I could think of.
- High School Teacher: great place to be able to teach a variety of subjects from science, music, history, math, english and shop. Knowledge is many subjects makes you highly desirable as you are perfectly equipped to help fill in the curriculum gaps.
- University Administrator: universities are always on the lookout for diverse talent. Being able to grasp difficult concepts and relate in a scholarly atmosphere makes you indispensable.
- Business Marketing: marketing is becoming increasingly more complex and there is a need for people who can learn all of the skills necessary to promote products. It also helps that you can relate to your clients and can earn their trust with your knowledge.
- Museums: museum curators are bombarded with complex questions about their collection. It helps to be an encyclopedia of knowledge for your visitors.
- Sales: This might seem strange but being able to relate to anyone is a truly desirable skill. I was successful in selling cars not because I was the stereotypical used car salesman but because I was able to read people and relate to every customer and discuss what they were interested in.
- Journalist: as a journalist you might find yourself investigating everything from foreign politics to American Idol. It's better to know what you are talking about as most people can read right through your BS (NY Times writer who will remain nameless).
The 'Specialist' will soon Become Extinct
In writing this I realised something. The brave new world isn't seeing the end of the 'generalist' but is instead facilitating the extinction of the 'specialist'. Are we to believe that we should devote our life to become a specialised worker at a factory or business? What good did that do for the millions of workers who face unemployment every time a company shuts down. Instead, people are need to have diverse skill-sets to survive in this day in age. The author no longer just writes, they must market, publish and navigate the legalities in creating a book. It isn't a coincidence that when people lose their jobs the ones who tend to stay unemployed the longest are the one's who can only do one thing.
The days when a village had a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker are gone. Factories have taken over and now you need to know how to run the company that can cut meat, make bread, and produce candles.