What should you strive to be? A Jack of all trades or a specialist? Which will help you in your life and career? First, let’s describe what they are.
Jack of all trades: The common phrase is, “Jack of all trades and master of none.” This means they are competent with a bunch of things. They can wear many hats and solve all sorts of problems. They may not know as much as the specialist but have a great understanding in many areas.
The whole “master of none” phrase puts them in a negative light. It sounds like they are mediocre in all their skill-sets. That might be true. You can’t perfect all your skills.
The Specialist: The opposite of Jack of all trades. It means that you have a deep understanding and mastery of one skill set.
First of all, true specialists are rare. So think hard before you call yourself a specialist. Knowing one thing doesn’t mean you’re a specialist. You’re actually a Jack of ONE trade and master of none.
I’ve met many “specialists” that only had one skill set. They deluded themselves thinking they were specialists, but they didn’t have the deep knowledge that a true specialist had. In fact, I probably knew as much as they did in their skill set.
Mastery takes a long time. It involves continuous improvement over many years. It takes years of practical knowledge coupled with deep theoretical knowledge. You need to keep expanding your skills by reading journals, going to classes, taking seminars/workshops, reading blogs, reading books, practicing and trying new techniques, and so on.
So Who Wins?
In my opinion, being the Jack of all trades is the winner at least at first. It makes you flexible. You can apply for different job positions. It also helps you to learn new skills because you’re used to learning different skills. You become valuable in solving problems that deal with multiple domains. I also think it’s more fun to play around with different skill sets than just focusing on one.
On the other hand being a specialist can be beneficial too. Specialist jobs can be high-paying. There are also less competition if you have a rare skill set. But that can also be bad because you won’t be able to find jobs that depend on that skill-set.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. You don’t have to be a jack of all trades. But whichever path you choose, don’t become stagnant. Keep improving your skill(s). Both paths takes a lot of discipline, time, and hard work.