I’ve learned something today and it’s way too good not to share.

Fellow Generalists – are you ready?

You know the saying we’ve heard all our lives: “A jack of all trades is a master of none”? Well, guess what – that’s only part of the statement. The whole thing is:

“A jack of all trades is a master of none,
but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

Are you hearing this? It does not even mean the same thing!

Whenever someone pulled that gem out on me I felt it attacked, nay, mocked my multifaceted nature. My sense of self-worth is not dependent on a saying but as a proud Jack of many trades, I don’t think it’s wrong to feel a small, yet satisfying sense of vindication.

Fear Not – Our Time Is Nigh

The world is changing and so is the conventional belief that specializing is the only viable option. The most rapidly growing commodity is creativity. As our economy continues to evolve, those of us who can effectively problem-solve across industries will be in higher demand. And professionals with diverse applicable skills often present advantages over an individual with a more specialized skillset.

I’ve successfully served as a writer, nonprofit Executive Director, producer, production manager, project manager, founder of a children’s theatre, teacher, playwright, and operations/administrative consultant. It doesn’t hurt for an event manager to communicate effectively, for a writer to know how to program websites, for a fundraiser to understand SEO, or for an artist to excel at customer service. In many cases possessing varied skills results in overlap that supports clients in ways we aren’t always able to foresee during an initial meeting. I’m grateful that the variety of positions I’ve held enabled me to hone so many different skills. Instead of diminishing my worth by falling prey to the notion that not specializing is somehow wrong or irresponsible, I now view my multiskilled nature as diabolically perceptive, luckily charmed, even magically delicious.

This term – Generalist – isn’t my favorite. Most of us have multiple aptitudes but we don’t claim to be good at everything. Plus it’s boring. I’ve also heard us referred to as Multipotentialites and I’m not sure that one resonates with me, either. Do I have the potential to do stuff or do I have a successful track record of doing it? (But I love Emilie’s TED talk on the subject and if you’re one of us, you will, too!)

People also bandy the term Polymath around. MW says a Polymath is “a person of encyclopedic learning.” I’m pretty sure memorizing the presidents in order doesn’t qualify.

Scanner is another term for us, coined by Barbara Sher. I like how Sher describes us, part of which includes, “Intense curiosity about numerous unrelated subjects is one of the most basic characteristics of a Scanner. Scanners are endlessly inquisitive.”

Curiosity is definitely a common trait for Scanners. Resourcefulness is another quality that successful generalists likely share. We find the answers, constantly synthesizing information, expanding our knowledge base, and improving how we can serve others. [Incidentally, I’m so passionate about how many important life skills support creativity I’ve developed Creativity HQ, an enrichment program for 8-12-year-olds designed to develop our next generation of creative and critical thinkers.]

Friends, Scanners, Generalists, Let Us Stand Tall

Join your fellow Multiskilled creatives as we proclaim to the world: “I, [state your name], have lots of interests, know how to do many things well, and will continue to feed and explore my curious nature, so long as I feel called to do so.”

I now pronounce us Multiskilled. You may beam with pride.

My Generalist Brethren: Prepare To Have Your Minds Blown

6 thoughts on “My Generalist Brethren: Prepare To Have Your Minds Blown

  • Beaming! 🙂 I appreciate this timely post, Shari. There are many of us out there and I also have felt the pang of not feeling appreciated for my approach to living life. Love this!

  • As a generalist on a seemingly hopeless search, this was very encouraging. So encouraging that as an etymologist I’ll ignore the expanded master of none better than master of one thing! :p

    No , seriously, thanks for writing this. It helps me better understand how to brand myself.

  • Hi Aaron,
    Thanks for the comment! Always happy to provide encouragement. So cool that etymology is among your various skills. Now I’m curious to know more about this expanded text from your etymological perspective!
    –Shari

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