I first heard the saying; ‘Jack of all trades, is a master of none’ from my dad. While I took this as face value and later felt it is valuable mindset to have, I now wonder if this is true or false. On one hand it is humanly possible to be the best in all trades as there are millions of them. We would not have the time to master everything in a lifetime or just even explore them. Anyway I don’t think this statement suggests that anyone attempts to be a master of all trades.
We also don’t have the time in our lifetime to be a Jack-of-all-trades as well. But what do you think the original writer meant by the use of the word Jack. If it is the Jack from the pack of cards, then we are referring to the person who does all the work for the King and Queen. Therefore, by doing all the tasks required he learns many things, but will he ever be the master of any of those subjects.
Recounting my experience, I was in the collage rugby, athletic and chess teams. I was also a Boy Scout and I studied the subjects required to be an engineer. I believe I excelled in the engineering class when I lead a team of my classmates to make a electronic scale in the late 70’s. While it was very primitive and shabby we believe it was one of the first such attempts in Sri Lanka. It was viewed by the then President of the country J R Jayawardena and a later Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
I suppose I also excelled as a Boy Scout by being one of the two ‘President Scouts’ selected to represent my country at a jamboree and youth forum held in Japan. While wanting to be an engineer I ended up becoming a marketer an became the gold medal winner with the highest marks from students of 80 plus countries who sat the exam of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Then I went on to learn management and excelled in management by being the youngest executive director of a subsidiary company of John Keells Holdings, the company with the largest market capitalization in Sri Lanka at that time.
Then I stumbled upon ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’ (NLP), the newest branch of psychology and became a master practitioner. While using this science to run learning experiences to help people unlock their potential, I also learnt and started consulting, coaching and training organizations on strategy, leadership , team work, sales, negotiating, customer service, continuous improvement, creativity, communication etc.
In addition to running the Middle Eastern and South Asian operation of my consultancy firm, I also played a CEO role in a super market chain and now a super specialty, tertiary care hospital part of my time. I believe I have excelled as a NLP master practitioner as well as in the CEO role of the supermarket chain. It is too early to comment on my Leadership role in the hospital.
I also practically live in 3 cities, Colombo, Dubai and Dhaka. I use a variety of methods to keep fit and focused that includes meditation, yoga, aerobic exercises, lightweights, swimming and jogging and I keep rotating them. I read all types of books from the Harry Potter series to the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series, from Harvard Business Review to medical journals, from self-leadership to organizational leadership and from novels to science fiction. Then I love classical music to pop music, from inspirational movies to comedy, from Les Miserable to Lion King. Quite a mix!
Therefore my experience shows that I have been a Jack of many trades and have also mastered some of them. I also believe the other areas helped me in mastering the areas I mastered although I did not totally excel in those areas. We teach in our learning experiences that we make our brains more productive by switching the type of activity every 30 to 40 minutes. That’s why schools have subject periods. This helps us using different parts of the brain to develop a whole brain perspective.
Therefore given my personal journey, I believe that we should be Jack of a good mix of trades purposefully selected so that we can become the master of a meaningful few of them.