Being a jack of all trades means never being bored again. It also means building confidence, being adaptable and being a good leader — but it requires the right mindset. Whether you want to branch out a little or wish you could do it all, this guide will help point you in the right direction.
Getting in the mindset of a jack of all trades means being open to anything. Think about the things that fascinate you. Let curiosity be your guide. If something piques your interest, throw caution to the wind and give it a shot. If you’ve always been interested in carpentry, go see what it’s really like to — safely — hold the tools in your hands and build something. As a “Jack” or “Jill”, you’re not afraid to take on something new. In fact, you thrive off of it. You know you won’t be great at the start, but you know that a little effort goes a long way. You have an “I’ll figure it out” attitude, so you’re always ready to dive in.
Learn Skills That Complement Each Other
As you go about learning and practising, look for skills that can complement the ones you’ve already developed. Look at the world of skills as a web or tree, almost like character progression in a video game or an advanced flow chart of some kind. They branch out from each other to lead to more, and some complicated skills out there can’t even be learned until you’ve learned others first.
If you worked in IT, for example, think about how learning the basics of networking, security and software development could help you do your job better. Learning to sing and write music makes playing guitar much more useful. Or, if you were into woodworking, learning some metal work, painting and technical drafting could take your DIY game to the next level. If you’re not sure what skills would complement what you already know, or which direction you should go, try this exercise:
- List three things you think you’re good at. You’re good at something, so don’t be humble here.
- Now pick the one that excites you the most. The others are there as a means of comparison to help you with your decision. One will probably stand out.
- Write that one skill on a piece of paper and draw three lines (or branches) from it.
- Now write down three skills that would make you even better at the skill you find the most exciting. These are complementary skills.
- Out of the three complementary skills, pick one that excites you the most and see what you can learn about it.
With this simple exercise, you see what complementary skills could make you be better at what you already do, and you create a map for what your next move is. Your perspective will be broader, which will allow you to bring new and different ideas to the table. You can become a better employee and even set yourself up for leadership positions down the line. Who do you think they want at the top? A one-trick pony or someone who knows the ins and outs of the territory from multiple perspectives?
“Flirt” with Side Work and Passion Projects, but Keep One Serious “Relationship”
You can hardly make a living from only learning new skills. Nobody is going to pay you to sit around jumping from one thing to the next. To be a successful jack of all trades, you need to make a commitment to some kind of work just like everyone else. As David Mansaray puts it, you need to have a serious relationship with some flirtatious relationships on the side:
Whenever I take on a new subject or try to develop a new skill I like to think I’m starting a new relationship. After all, I’ll need to spend a lot of time and make a lot of effort. That sounds like a relationship to me… You won’t develop a serious relationship with everything you try to learn because most of the time you’ll be flirting, testing the waters, exploring something new. You’ll often lose interest and want to move on. This is the advice I have: serious relationships are extremely valuable, but as a jack-of-all-trades we’re always going to want a bit more, something on the side.
Your job that keeps you afloat is your serious relationship. It’s a commitment that involves a lot of depth, attention to detail, and a strong personal connection. Think of it as being a “jack of all trades, master of one”. You need this foundation in order to branch out. After all, branches grow from the trunk.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with keeping an eye out for new opportunities, even if you’re not ready to leave your current relationship. If you see something that you like, it doesn’t hurt to flirt a little. Read up on it, find a part-time gig to get a taste, or talk to people who do the work you’re interested in. Who knows — you might discover your true passion in life. And if that’s the case, you’ll know what skills you need to start learning in order to pursue it.
If you’re not sure where to start looking, volunteering can be a good way to flirt with new skills and it’s good for the community too. You can try your hand at different types of work that interest you without the full-on commitment of a new job. It will look good on a resume, and you might even be able to use the skills you learn to help make a career change. It’s important to keep in mind that many volunteer organisations may want to utilise the skills you already have, but it’s still possible to find your way into things you haven’t done before. It never hurts to ask if you can do something specific, just don’t get upset if they need you doing something else. Keep at it and eventually you’ll get to do something new. Whatever you flirt with, just make sure you don’t abandon your serious relationship unless you’re sure that you’re ready.
Make Practising New Skills Your Hobby
You’ll only develop skills if you practise them. You could read hundreds of books to learn about something and have no idea how to actually do it. Practising lets you learn and develop at the same time. Get the basics down and learn by doing. Don’t get hung up on what you want to do, either. Pick something that excites you and start. If you find out you don’t like it, great! That’s one less skill you should bother with. Marianne Cantwell at Undercover Recruiter puts it well: not making a decision is a decision. You might think you’re just “keeping your options open” by daydreaming about starting, but you’ll never grow your list of skills if you don’t actively pursue them.
Practising takes time, though, and you’re probably a busy person, so turn practising into your new hobby. Make some reasonable sacrifices to make room for it. Dedicate time every weekend to developing a new skill, take classes online or on slow nights, and cut out some of your less productive uses of your time. Don’t cut out all of your lazy time, but only keep what you need to recharge your batteries. Taking on a new skill should be fun, and eventually it will feel natural. At some point down the road, you’ll have some free time and feel the urge to practise instead of plopping yourself in front of the TV.
Look to Others for Help
Being a jack of all trades doesn’t mean that you won’t ever need somebody’s help. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. Instead of thinking of yourself as a hero that knows how to “do it all” on your own, think of yourself as someone who wants to learn something from everyone you can. You probably have friends or family that know how to do something you’re interested in, so go bug them about it.
For example, I have a friend that brews his own line of beers. I don’t know a thing about brewing, but I can’t wait to get him to show me the basics the next time I visit him. Will his experience rub off on me over the weekend? No, of course not, but I’ll get to learn about it firsthand. Then if I want to try my hand at it, I’ll have a little know-how to get me started. So take a moment to think about all of your friends and family. Imagine they each have a trading card of some kind with stats and skills. What skills do they have that you want to learn? Chances are they will be thrilled to teach you, and you might even strengthen your relationship with them in the process.
If you want to learn a skill that nobody you know has, at least find somebody that wants to learn the same skill. Just like exercising with a buddy, having someone else learning with you can keep you motivated and excited. You can push each other to get better and you’ll have an outlet when you want to discuss your triumphs or vent your frustrations. A jack of all trades is certainly capable on their own, but always sees the value in help from others.
Know Your Limits
Even the best jack of all trades has limits, so be aware of yours. You can get so caught up in learning new things that you’ll burn yourself out. Take your time and only focus on a couple things at once. If you find yourself constantly low on energy, take some time off from learning and go recharge. You can’t become a Jack overnight, and you’ll never become one if you can never muster the energy to practise things. Those skills will still be around when you’re primed and ready to go.
Don’t waste energy pushing your way uphill with something you hate, either. There may be rare times where slogging through some horribly uninteresting skills can benefit your career enough to make it worthwhile, but stick to what you like for the most part. There’s nobody making you continue, and you’ll lose your motivation fast if you try to force it.
You also don’t want to spread yourself too thin with the skills you learn. Think about how you might apply the things that you’re learning one day. Someone who only knows how to play the fiddle, fold origami, and cook a ham is going to have very limited career options. That’s the exact opposite purpose of becoming a Jack! You become one to be adaptable and fit into almost any career that interests you. So don’t inadvertently limit yourself by going too many different directions.
Lastly, you don’t want to lose the mindset of a problem solver. A Jack can easily come across as someone who has no idea of what they want to do in life. Liz Ryan at Forbes gives an example of why it can be important to know what problems you can solve:
“I can do a lot of things, but I’m not sure what specific pain I relieve. I’m not sure what I especially want to do in my job. You’re the employer — you figure out what I should do!” Employers have pain. That’s why they hire people.
Always think of the ways you can use your talents to solve problems. It’s ok to learn the fun things, but try to keep them complementary so they’re still usable. You may not know exactly what you want to do in life overall, and that’s ok, but you should make an effort to be useful. You may be a multitool, but you’re still a tool. Remember, a jack of all trades isn’t confused about what they want to do, they just know they want to do a lot.