Jack-of-All-Trades or Master of None?

I went to a small high school with extremely limited class choices. The only language available to take was Spanish, and the electives didn’t go much beyond drama or choir. When I decided to go to Indiana University, I was so excited to have a variety of options. IU is huge—I could learn anything I wanted to! I could learn how to write code, then turn around and read about famous Mexican muralists, then get some advice from a Pulitzer-winning journalist. (All things I’ve done, by the way. Thanks, IU!) The possibilities were endless.

As I progressed in my college career, I realized how difficult it is to master more than a few skills or subjects. It seemed like every job opportunity I came across wanted me to have infinite abilities—writing, editing, graphic design, social media, videography, photography, web design, event planning, marketing, and the list goes on. Overwhelmed by these expectations, I didn’t even attempt to get an internship for a long time.

Last summer, I told an interviewer for a small writing job (that I didn’t get) that I didn’t know what I specifically wanted to do for the rest of my life. To combat this, I’d been trying to pick up on as many valuable skills as I could.

I never expected what she’d say next. She said that her biggest professional regret was becoming a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, meaning that she could do a lot of things decently—coding, writing, designing, and more—but she couldn’t say that there was one skill she had where she stood out among the rest.

She told me that the best advice she could give me was to resist the temptation to learn everything to make yourself more “marketable.” What will really get you ahead, she told me, is to learn everything you can about one thing. Master it, and become so good at it that you don’t have to learn much else to be successful. There’s time to learn other things later. Knowing one thing really well is more likely to land you a job than knowing 10 things not-so-well.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I took that advice to heart, and it has paid off more than I ever thought it would.

I like to think of it as a challenge. If you’re a history major, learn everything you can about one time period. If you’re an English major, commit yourself to becoming an expert in one genre of literature. Don’t get stuck being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

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