On the merits of being a Jack of All Trades

I spent my life trying different things, being pretty good at everything I tried, being liked by all my teachers and told by my parents that I could be anything I wanted to be. Still, the more choices I had, the more confused I became. Classic Paradox of Choice, right? I spent most of my youth trying to find the one thing I wanted to do with my life. And on the way there I found all those other things I was genuinely passionate about. Until one day I woke up to realise the road I was supposedly on had become my purpose for living. I was so inspired that I decided to record a short talk on how to feel like a royal without ruling the world.

Transcript:

I was 17 when I generously decided I didn’t want to rule the world after all. The reason: I found out I had actual hobbies I cared about. And although I would never be a professional contemporary dancer (as I was already too old to start learning to dance from scratch), I still had a thing or two I was reasonably good at. My parents, God bless them, understood, and stopped having me recite Machiavelli before bed every night.

Not many of us are so fortunate, however. We are taught from a young age that we should choose a field and put in long hours of strenuous effort in order to excel in it. All of us, regardless of where we come from, have been introduced to the American dream – the freedom to achieve great success provided you work hard enough.

We are becoming an increasingly specialized society and our values seem to mirror this fact. When you visit your high school career adviser and tell them you have a wide array of hobbies and interests, they enthusiastically answer: “Great! So many things to choose from!” Let me introduce you to the ingenious concept of being a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ and try to persuade you to give the guy a chance.

There are many reasons one might not want to choose only one vocation. We are conditioned to think that people with lots of interests are indecisive and weak. What if I told you all of this were a lie? Society teaches us that being successful means being very good at your specific high-paying job. As if we ever cared about prestige and status as children. Man is a social animal. More than anything we wish to belong. And choosing a profession is the grown-up version of joining a fandom. But just as we can’t contain ourselves inside a single fandom, because we don’t listen to one single music band and definitely don’t like only one type of movies, why do we try so hard to restrict ourselves inside only one industry, one science or even one language?

The answer is simple – we don’t. We shouldn’t. It might be that you are not sure what you want to do with your life. Or perhaps you have too many interests and hobbies. Or even that you are easily bored and I don’t want to choose only one thing. Whatever your reason is, you have the opportunity to do the smart thing and not sell yourself short. To paraphrase Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.” We are just wired this way, to see only what is directly in front of us and give it more significance than it deserves. If we simply let our passions lead us in life, we might just surprise ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that anyone can get rich by simply doing what they love whenever they feel like it. It is not how the world works. But if you are willing to give up on the idea of being ‘successful’ in the traditional sense of the word you have the opportunity to choose your own definition and strive for that. Strive for happiness. Strive for a long, healthy life filled with meaningful relationships and hand-made art… or something completely different. You are the architect of your life. Don’t ever let people tell you that you need to ‘choose’. Our world is way too big and wonderful and full of surprises to just choose.

So, my advice to you is simple: don’t choose today what you want to be tomorrow. Spend today doing what you love, learning and being open to life. And if you have an interest which you have been afraid to pursue for some reason, remember what Earl Nightingale said: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” Thank you!

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