The Rise of the Jack of all Trades

Finding your skills can be difficult, so two months ago I took a survey on Authentic Happiness that measured my 24 character strengths. My number one character trait was “Love of Learning”, and I think that it fits me well. People describe me as a Jack-of-all-Trades because I have a very broad range of interests. Needless to say, it wasn’t a shock to be told that I’m passionate about learning.

Currently there’s a stigma in our society that we need to specialize and that being a Jack-of-all-Trades is a bad thing. It stems from the phrase, “Jack-of-Trades but Master of None”. We think that if you have too many interests, that you cannot be skilled in more than one area.

This is a silly thought because with how much information passes our faces, it’s near impossible to choose one interest. This conflict stems from grade school, where we’re taught to “pay attention” and to “focus” on school work. The teachers tell us that it’s bad to lose focus or to daydream. What’s worse is that we think these traits are for children and that we’ll eventually grow out of them.

As we age, we believe that we need to focus on one subject. We should go to college and be a doctor or an accountant. The truth shows itself when you look at statistics about college students: at the University of Florida, 61% of students change their major (NYtimes). People simply have a difficulty in choosing one interest.

“Shop Class as Soul Craft” (Mathew B. Crawford) discusses this dilemma extensively. It focuses on how we’ve shifted from a society that desires “to know” into one that desires certificates and diplomas. It’s self-evident that we learn from a young age to focus on one category and get that diploma. This model of education and learning has destroyed Aristotle’s statement “All human beings by nature desire to know”.

The Jack of all Trades is rising in popularity again because we have a large volume of information at our fingertips. During my parent’s era, if you wanted to learn, you had to go to the library and find a book. Today, you can pull out your iPhone and learn about polar shifts or current quantum theories.

However, the education system is still built on specializing in one area. You either become a mathematician or zoologist. At best you can major in one area while minoring in another. You can’t minor in too many subjects or you’re clearly not a specialist. This sentiment lingers into our personal lives: we believe that we should only have a few interests.

As a Jack, I follow what I’m interested in. If I hear an electro-swing song and it has my fancy, I’ll go listen to more of it. When I’m scrolling through Facebook, articles grab my interest. Maybe one will be about animal testing in Europe and the next will be about the FIFA World Cup. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, as long as I’m interested in it.

Tim Ferriss has written about this on his blog, and he’s spoken about it in interviews before: our society measures success with dollar bill signs instead of with invigoration. The goal of life should not be to become rich but to instead to be passionate and interested. If you are bored, you have failed.

If we reorient the purpose of our life from getting a well-paying job into a life that we are passionate, you’ll find that the money doesn’t matter. When you find excitement in your daily life, you have succeeded. The more interested you are, the more you’ll find happiness in life.

When I took that survey a few months ago, I gained an appreciation for learning. I’ve found passion in my daily life and while I choose to specialize in certain areas, I don’t limit myself to one subject. If I find something that interests me, I follow it until I no longer fancy it. I urge you to do the same thing; find what lights a fire in you and make it part of your life. Blogging was a spark to my belly full of fuel, and I’ve felt more alive since starting this project. People aren’t born passionate, they learn to cultivate it in themselves. Find what you love and chase it, life is too short to stay in and watch TV everyday.

231/365

Oh, and here’s some of the photos in color from yesterday!

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