Lately, I’ve been thinking of my next 30-40 years—those last few decades that will close out this lifetime before pursuing the next. The recent passing of a mentor and professor of mine had me thinking about a specific avenue, developing and leading online classes for a university that has a Transpersonal Psychology program. After all, I have a master’s degree in it, I’m particularly fond of the various topics that feed into Transpersonal Psychology, and I was specifically influenced by my mentor and teacher through this program. As I looked into it, though, I would either need to become an expert of one particular topic, being a leader in that field, or I would need to get a PhD to even be considered, which in and of itself requires a certain level of mastery of a particular topic in order to write and defend a dissertation. I’m not sure I have that in me right now.
You see, I’m easily a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” kind of gal, and it occurs to me that I might not want to be a master or an expert of one particular topic or task or skill.
As an Office Manager for a small business, I do it all: customer service, sales, technical support, human resources, accounting, dispatcher, supplies and materials buyer, webmaster, etc. When I published a niche magazine years ago, I was the publisher, editor, proofreader, ad designer, page compositor, distributor, accountant, customer service, human resources, problem solver, mailroom person, webmaster, and so on.
Am I a master of any one of these tasks? No. But I know enough to keep the office/business running smoothly and successfully—at least to my own standards—and I know enough to realize and ask for help when I need it from those who have mastered their trade. Maybe I am a master at being a “Jack of All Trades.”
Many years ago, I had the privilege of helping a woman start up a company. I was referred to her by a mutual friend, we met, and she hired me. I accompanied her to the lease signing for our first office space. While she continued to work full time at a pharmaceutical company, I put together the office—literally and physically! Office furniture, equipment, logos, stationery, filing, phone system, procedures, accounting, and more. It was challenging and fun. I remember helping her fill out a five-year cash flow chart for a bank loan she was seeking. We really didn’t know what a cash flow chart was, but we figured out the template provided by the bank. The interesting part was I asked her how much she wanted to have in the bank at the end of five years, and she tossed out a random number of $5 million. I might be remembering this wrong, but I wrote that number on the cash flow statement, and she got her loan. Five years later, she achieved that and more.
Anyway, back to being Jack. As her company started to grow, I knew my “Jack of All Trades” position needed to be parsed out to others who were more specialized: an accountant for the accounting work, a secretary for the secretarial work, and so on. She needed this to happen for the company to move to the next level, and she had me in mind for a particular role—a specific, challenging, career-making position. What I needed was to step out of the way so others could be hired to assume more specific positions. I knew, without consciously knowing, that a “specialized” place was not for me. Not because I couldn’t do it, but because I think being a Jack of All Trades suits me better. I like knowing enough but not needing to know it all.
I recently learned that those who consider themselves a “Jack of All Trades” are “Generalists”—a formal categorization in the business world for those who are not specialists, I presume. Who knew? Obviously not me, but apparently Generalists can be just as valuable—if not more so—in work environments. Those who are “Jacks” might have a broader perspective from which to mine ideas or solutions. Specialists are equally needed, bringing their expertise to the table and having greater clarity on future directions for their given field. I’m oversimplifying, but you get the gist.
Obtaining a PhD is probably not in my future. Money is the biggest factor, with a tinge of fear not far behind. The programs that interest me are cost prohibitive, as we are soon to be on a fixed income because we are retiring early to travel full time in our Airstream for a few years. The fear, which I can eventually get past, is from the high expectations I would place on myself for success in the program of study. Would I have it in me to achieve them?
Ultimately, though, I’m realizing that I’m a master at being a Jack of All Trades. I’m skilled enough to get things going. I know enough to keep things moving. And I’m smart enough to know when to get out of the way so I don’t get run over when the train reaches speed.
I sometimes envy those who are a master in their given field—their passion, their drive, their expertise, their success. But, honestly, they probably have someone like me in the background taking care of everything else. Ultimately, I’m okay with that.
So, now that I no longer run a magazine, will soon no longer be the Office Manager of a small business, and I have my Master’s degree, what will be my next “Jack of All Trades” gig? Will it be self-made, home grown? Will I be sought out, or will I do the seeking? Will I be wise enough to accept that which will bring me joy and a certain level of challenge? That chapter is yet to be written, but I am imagining walking into an interview, extending my hand to introduce myself, and saying “Just all me Jack.”
Maybe I have a storied past with this whole “Jack of All Trades” theme, and why I have never been satisfied in finding a career, and why I can’t figure out what my next big thing is. I mean, in college I changed my major five times officially: from French to International Business to Mathematics to Education, finally landing on Psychology. French was a continuation of the language I began learning in high school, and I enjoyed it. But “everyone” majored in business, and it seemed to have better career potential. An accounting course, and not buying all the recommended books for it, quickly derailed that plan. But I was pretty good with math and, at the time, I had a good handle on calculus. A bad professor during an accelerated summer session of an advanced calculus class did me in. Luckily for me, I loved my job in a special section of the campus library that was mainly used by education majors. Maybe majoring in education was my thing? Apparently not. I didn’t see myself as a school teacher. All the while, I filled my credit hours with courses in philosophy, sociology, and psychology. When I finally decided it was time to focus on graduating, I was just a couple of courses away from a Psychology degree. It was a very well-rounded liberal arts degree and has served me well these past years.
Even my book collection tends toward the varied and eclectic. I discovered this as I was sorting through, loosely categorizing, and culling my collection. I have close to 400 books: Jesus and Mary Magdalene, favorite authors (Buscaglia, Shapiro, Braden, Ehrman), metaphysical greats (Chopra, Williamson, Ruiz, Villoldo, Dyer), Hinduism, Buddhism, quantum physics, spiritual exploration and awareness, religious texts (Torah, Kabbalah, Holy Bible), Edgar Cayce and other channels, ancient wisdom, consciousness evolution, and alternative healing, just to name the major themes of most of my collection. I get excited just looking at them and thinking about each topic, looking forward to diving deeper into each one of them. I wish I could take them all with me as we travel the country, but we have space for only one small container of 20-30 books.
Being an expert of one thing is just not my style, it seems. I’ve even chosen a life partner with similar tendencies. I might not be a master of one particular topic or career or hobby, but it appears that I have become a master at being a “Jack of All Trades.” Let me get caught up in the minutia of the “trade” du jour. I’m good at it, and it gives me contentment. It makes me happy … generally …
© Karen W. Newton. Karen has a Masters of Transpersonal Psychology from Atlantic University, Virginia Beach, VA.