Dear Dr. Rob: Should I Be a Jack-of-All Trades or a Master of One?
Updated: Jan 12
By Dr. Rob Carpenter:
As we start a new year, many of us are making resolutions, setting goals, and making decisions about what we want for our lives in the coming year.
Dr. Robert Carpenter continues his "Dear Dr. Rob" series for Flapper Press by starting 2022 with some practical advice and guidance for some of the hard questions that you might be asking yourself. This week he tackles the question:
Dear Dr. Rob: Should I be a jack-of-all-trades or master of one?
Dr. Rob: The quick answer is that there is no right or wrong answer. And there is no need to ask and make the decision about this only once in your life; you can continue to ask and answer this question depending on the season of life that you're in (your goals for your 20s will be different from your goals for your 40s).
Just know that regardless of the decision you make, there will be a set of consequences associated with whatever approach you take that you should be aware of.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before answering whether you should be a jack-of-all-trades or master of one:
Do you want to be self-employed in the future or work in somebody else's organization?
If you want to be self-employed, being a jack-of-all-trades is absolutely crucial to being your own boss and running your own business. You will need many skills to succeed, and only knowing one or two things well ( à la master of one) could be a handicap if you don't know how to skill up quickly. On the other hand, if you want to work for other people, being a specialist is the quickest way to stand out and get noticed.
Do you like being a leader or in the background?
If you like being a leader (whether for your own organization or somebody else’s), being a jack-of-all-trades will be helpful because you will have a wider breadth of knowledge and experiences from which to make comprehensive decisions that will help you with being a better strategist and decision maker.
On the other hand, if you like working in a department as an expert or on a particular issue, then it is much better to be a specialist, as you will find much more enjoyment from that versus all the issues you would have to face as a leader of an organization (most of which are organizational and people-centric, not subject-centric, like a specialist faces).
Do you want to climb fast up an organizational hierarchy or within an industry?
If you want to advance yourself quickly as a professional, being a master of one skill will be a much faster approach to getting ahead than being a jack-of-all-trades, because being a master of one is better for personal/professional branding as well as filling needs organizations or industries need right now.
On the other hand, if you start and run your own business, you can advance quickly too as a jack-of-all-trades; but usually this is not as quick as a master of one advances in their own field. However, the caveat is that over time, being a jack-of-all-trades can enable you to be more successful and make more money than a master of one if you play your cards right.
Do you like variety or stability?
If you like learning new skills and taking unexpected detours, being a jack-of-all-trades is definitely for you, because it is a career of the unusual and adventurous. On the other hand, if you want to hone your craft with predictability, being a master of one is your path, as this will often give you an income and respect that will make you successful to a certain degree.
Of course, there are other questions you can ask yourself when trying to decide between being a jack-of-all-trades or a master of one, but these are some of the most important ones.
Just remember: only you can decide what's best for you given your personality, interests, and goals (as this is not a decision for your friends or family to make or even for your mentors to make for you).
Dr. Rob is an author, filmmaker, and host of The Dr. Rob Show. He advises celebrities, pro athletes, and everyday people on how to live their best lives and has been published in The Oxford Business Review and The Harvard Journal for Public Health, among others. His book, The 48 Laws of Happiness: Secrets Revealed For Becoming the Happiest You, is available where books are sold.
Read our interview with Dr. Rob here!