Who Else Hates the Term “Jack-of-All-Trades”?
Photo courtesy of Chris Penny

Who Else Hates the Term “Jack-of-All-Trades”?

Written by Emilie

Topics: History

Out of all the terms used to refer to multipotentialites, the one I like least is “jack-of-all-trades.”

With the exception of someone choosing to self-identify as a jack/jill-of-all-trades, the term always appears to me to be dripping with condescension. “You are a little good at many things, but not great at any of them,” “You have a superficial knowledge of many areas,” “You don’t take anything seriously,” it seems to scream.

Well, here’s an interesting fact. Did you know that the term jack-of-all-trades, did not always have a negative connotation? In fact, it wasn’t until recently (my guess is post-industrial revolution) that the second part– “master of none,” was added.

According to Wikipedia:

“The earliest recorded versions of the phrase do not contain the second part. Indeed they are broadly positive in tone. Such a Jack of all trades may be a master of integration, as such an individual knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring his or her disciplines together in a practical manner.”

Sounds like a fairly accurate description of a multipotentialite, right? But add on that second part “master of none,” and it completely changes the meaning to a point where we now no longer remember the positive connotation it once held.

There is some funny history surrounding this term. Apparently, Robert Green used it to dismissively refer to William Shakespeare in 1592. Pff, that Shakespeare, what a dilettante! ;)

The term is sometimes extended into a rhyming couplet which restores the earlier positive meaning,

“Jack of all trades, master of none,
Certainly better than a master of one”

The Wikipedia page lists related expressions translated from other languages. Some of them are amusing, but most are pretty offensive and outright declare a person like this to be ineffective, sometimes even saying that this person will starve or go broke. For instance, the Korean expression goes, “A man of twelve talents has nothing to eat for dinner.” And the Polish one, “Seven trades, the eighth one — poverty.”

Yeesh. Such cultural baggage. No wonder so many multipotentialites grow up feeling bad about themselves and have so many fears associated with their plurality.

Could specialism via a catchy expression serve to keep the masses ignorant?

This might be cynical of me, but it seems as though propagating a cultural norm like specialization through a catchy saying, could be a really effective way of maintaining the status quo and preventing the masses from knowing too much about how things work. Everybody get in line, learn your craft and keep your head down, this way no one starts asking questions about things they don’t understand. This way no outsiders sneak their way into anyone else’s domain.

Well, those days are over. We are now a culture of multi-everything and cross-disciplined individuals who NEED to understand many facets of life in order to be effective. Yet, unfortunately this expression and the cultural myths associated with it linger on. This was part of the reason I felt we needed a new, empowering term. We are not jack-of-all-trades, we are multipotentialites.

What if we called specialists “one trick ponies” rather than experts or masters?

Wouldn’t that be something.

We could do this. But I think it would be more helpful for us to all stop calling each other names and stop prescribing ways in which to live. Do what works for you and leave everyone else alone.

Your Turn

What do you think of the term “jack-of-all-trades”? How do you respond when you hear someone use it?

em_authorbioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist. Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. Katja says:

    The German term would be “Tausendsassa”, which could be explained with “does a thousand things”. Since high-level education and specialization is a really big deal hereabouts it has a mildly negative connotation.

    Nevertheless, I use it proudly to describe myself. I’m rather confident in my skills within my rather diverse portfolio, so it does not bother me, if people think that i’m not able to “finish anything”. We know better, don’t we?

    Mind, this attitude came on gradually, partly due to more maturity and partly due to a lot of success in my endeavors. In my early twenties it DID bother me, but no longer.

    • Jo Moore says:

      That’s interesting. It would be interesting to compare the terms for it in different languages to see what literal meaning they have and what that could imply about that society’s attitude towards multipods.

      My Master’s dissertation was on something similar. I looked at sexuality labels (like homo, faggot, dyke, lesbian, etc.) in German and Slovene. Often there’s a literal meaning built into the phrases. For example ‘vom anderen Ufer sein’ (‘to come from the other bank’) and ‘anders(he)rum’ (‘the other way round’) suggest an otherness, which suggests that German speakers who use this term might see gay people as different to straight people. ‘Falsch (rum)gepolt’ (‘with the wrong polarity’) implies there’s something wrong with it.

      It’d be interesting to see if different languages have different ways of describing multipotentialites, to see what these phrases imply about that culture’s attitudes towards them.

      • Emilie says:

        Very interesting! I would also be interested to know whether these terms changed post-industrialization. Time for a new research paper? :P

    • Emilie says:

      That’s awesome, Katja. I think it’s totally cool for someone to self-identify as a “jack-of-all-trades.” It’s kind of empowering and takes the meaning back.

      Also, I agree with you. Confidence around your multipotentiality is a wonderful thing, and people usually back off when they see how comfortable and happy you are with it. But it definitely takes some time to get there.

  2. Ben says:

    Maybe this is a regional thing, but here in the Mountain West I rarely hear “master of none”, and the first part of the expression is meant … well, 1/3 the time it’s a complement, but more often it’s a non-judgmental description. Sort of a “to each his/her own” sort of thing.

    But now, every time I’m feeling defensive I’m going to be tempted to describe myself as “Jack of all trades, master of … one or two.” ;)

  3. Lizzie says:

    Interesting article. I have actually used that term to describe myself, before I came across ‘multipotentialite’, which I have now replaced it with. Although, I have to explain the latter rather more than the former…
    Looking back, I suppose I did use ‘Jack of all trades’ somewhat self-deprecatingly…multipod is a much better word for it.

  4. Siggy says:

    Who cares what ‘they’ call us, who makes ‘them’ into the boss to tell us what and how we should be living our lives? Stop that!
    Anyone heard of Leonardo Da Vinci?
    Some multipotentiality there!

    Be all the greatness you can be!

    • Emilie says:

      I totally agree, Siggy. However, I think terms like this can be discouraging to young multipotentialites and others who maybe don’t have people in their lives who are encouraging them to go out and be the biggest, best multipods they can be.

      • Joanie Higgs says:

        And I couldn’t agree with you more, Emilie.

        This was your most powerful post for me, to date. That saying has had a huge impact on my life and I think contributed to the shame I’ve felt over never having found that one lasting “career”.

        I’m 62 this month, and finally about to launch my website (“Bliss or Bust” inner peace coaching). But I’m going to print this article and keep it where I can see it, as the legacy of “failure” still wants to haunt at times.

        Shine on, dear girl!

  5. Paula Prober says:

    I wonder what people would say if they knew multipotentiality was associated with giftedness. Multipotentialites (I love that word, Emilie) are actually very smart. They love learning (not necessarily schooling) and are highly capable in many areas. I call them people with “rainforest minds.” Like the rain forest, they’re highly sensitive, colorful, creative, intense, complex and prolific!

  6. Nela Dunato says:

    I agree with your point on “one trick ponies”. I think it’s rude to assume that a Jack-of-all-trades is necessarily not a master at anything. We may not be equally good at all the things we do, but most of us have been doing at least one thing long enough to have mastered it.

    It’s interesting that we don’t have a name for that in my language (Croatian).
    The only words I’ve been called was a “Renaissance woman” and “multi-talented”, which I both like very much :)

  7. Dreama says:

    I live in the midwest and I also hear the “master of none” term a lot. Usually it’s people talking about themselves. I say it all the time about me. I am a nurse so it’s kind of true. My friend calls me “the queen of useless information.” and they can’t believe I can remember every extension to every department in the whole hospital. And results of a long list of labs and tests on my patients without looking. Even patients I had 10 years ago. Not all of them of course, but some just stick in my brain forever…

    • Emilie says:

      That doesn’t bother you? I think I would feel rather annoyed if people called me the queen of useless information, but I guess if you have a sense of humour about it… Anyway, I’m sure your patients really appreciate that quality, so I doubt it’s useless at all.

  8. Margaux says:

    I think parts of the world are coming around to:

    1. it being okay to do a lot of things well at the same time;
    2. what “it” is that one does.

    In the first case, plenty of entrepreneurs and other celebrities are making a name for themselves in being good at more than one thing.

    In the second case, many people are redefining the “it” that they do really well. It doesn’t have to be the case that the “it” is a traditional career field or endeavour, such as medicine, engineering, baking, basketball. “It” can now be “developing new online markets for start-ups” or “relaying context in a simple but fun way.” When the “it” is about a process, then it doesn’t matter what field you do it in — you could do it in all of them!

    So for me, the jack-of-all-trades label is a misunderstanding of what the person is good at. Describing someone as a Jack-of-all-trades puts the area of interest ahead of what the person is actually doing within that interest—which is often quite specific and often fundamentally very similar for that person across all her interests.

    If you think about Da Vinci and compare him with Murray Gell-Mann, you’ll probably find that the driving “It” is different for each, but each was driven the same across their interests. Just a theory of mine. I have no facts to support this. :)

  9. It does have a negative connotation to it; however, I wear the first part of this phrase with pride. The “master of none” is just not true. There are some people whom it holds true for, who thrive in linear focus, but that’s not me.
    Of course when we first try something we’re not masters. With determination and persistence there are those of us that master many things. I like to refer to we folks as Renaissance Folk.

    :) Jill-of-all-Trades. Master of mucho.

  10. Jen says:

    I’m not a fan of it either. So next time someone calls me that, I intend to follow with, “master of ALL.” ;)

  11. Ian Anderson says:

    I think that “jack of all trades” is a positive thing, it’s only the “master of none” part that’s negative.

    Fortunately, I don’t hear the second part very often, but if I do it’s real easy to respond with the third line which really takes the sting out of this much misused phrase!

    Plus, almost no one has heard of the final part of the saying, so it’s an interesting ice breaking point.

  12. The closest I ever got to having my multipotentiality being a ‘good thing’ was when I was considered a triple threat in musical theater.

    As soon as I got out into the ‘real world’, it was back to flakiness and dilettante. *sigh*

    I love the idea of calling specialists ‘one-trick-ponies’ but I know that’s not the way to live and let live.

    I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have found you, Emilie … thanks to you, I’ve revised and revisioned my whole business to celebrate every bit of me. Waaaay more than a triple threat now!!

    the goddess known as Jacqui

    • Emilie says:

      Someone I interviewed recently told me the same thing. She had gone to a performing arts high school and the idea of only doing one thing well would have been preposterous. Gotta love musical theater…

      Thanks Jacqui for the kind words. :)

  13. Jay says:

    How about jack-of-all-trades,
    master of innovation?
    master of understanding?
    master of context?

  14. I like “deep generalist”. I think of it as having a broad awareness, like seeing with peripheral vision rather than just a narrow scope of focus. I think being self-employed it really helps, and a lot of people who are specialists find it hard to be in business, because they don’t want to “wear all the different hats”. I love it. I’m not that excited by the idea or challenge of mastery…I’m excited by learning new things. There is a diminished return thing that happens for me in learning more and more about the same thing.

    I think when I have heard the “master of none” comment, it was when I was younger…and it seemed to come from a fear on the other person’s part that I wouldn’t be able to be successful at anything. (i.e. have the financial rewards of expertise in a field). I think it is true that it’s easier (or simpler) to be successful as a specialist. It’s easier to tell people what you do, you can concentrate all your energy on a single thing, you make sense to other people…it is easier in a lot of ways. That doesn’t make it better…but I understand why people would worry. It’s a projected worry, because the reality of a multipod is that being financially comfortable but miserable trying to be a specialist isn’t really success, it’s conformity.

    I think now that I have a successful business and have created the lifestyle I want, and have a lot of freedom and can pursue what interests me, I get more people saying, “I wish I could do that”. Maybe people don’t have enough examples of successful multipods to understand what it looks like and that it’s possible.

    • Emilie says:

      Beautifully put, Emma. I think you’re right. Multipotentialites really thrive in the business world. And it just so happens that with the state of the economy and technology right now, things are really shifting in favour of an entrepreneurial approach to work. I think we’ll see this particular brand of conformity (traditional employment, specialization, etc.) begin to decline pretty quickly in the upcoming decades.

  15. rakesh poddar says:

    I think being a multipotential is good as sometimes there is some situation which is out of your reach like bad weather the reason why i say this if i cant play golf i would like to play squash

  16. Cheryl says:

    I’ve have always viewed the phrase “Jack of all Trades” as a positive thing and most often hear it used in a positive way. An acknowledgement that someone is skilled at a variety of different things.

  17. AthensWalker says:

    The Greek expression for this would be (using latin alphabet): “Polytechnitis ki erimospitis”, which would literally translate as… “multi-craftsman and desert-houser”. The meaning would be that someone who knows many trades (therefore, none of them deeply) has ended up (because of this) unmarried / without a relationship (in an empty house). “Obviously” because they have not managed to settle down and / or acquired the means necessary to be in a long-term relationship…
    Really old-fashioned sh@t!

    The funny part of course is that this is the same root for the term “polytechnic”, as in a Polytechnic School, which I suppose everyone sees as something neutral or positive.

    • Emilie says:

      Haha yeah, totally out-dated and ridiculous.

    • Gray says:

      I was wondering when someone would mention the greeks…Odysseus’ epithet was “polyteknos”, I remember learning in my classics lecture, which meant “man of many ways.” I always hung on to that – being someone who often had to come up with plan b, c, d…etc. I looked at being a Polymath as a skill in and of itself. If you’re a master hammerer, that’s great…as long as you’re only hanging around with nails.

  18. Berit says:

    In Denmark we use the word “tusindkunstner” which means “artist of a thousand things”. From the dictionary: “A person that can do many different tasks, crafts or is knowledgeable in a lot of different areas. He was a tusindkunster because everything he saw with his eyes, he could make with his hands.” Pictures associated with the word tusindkunstner have mostly positive connotations.

    Searching for the word I came across Peter Ustinov and an entrepreneur, who could solve problems in his line of production, that no-one else could solve. He had an unbelievable broad base of customers, took orders that were challenging even if they didn’t pay well. And in his spare time he was a runner and a marine archelogist. Another tusindkunstner had used his life making High End art, playgrounds, ergonomic and colorfull furniture, decorating offices and hospitals. And he cofounded a wellknown childrens theater.

    The Tusindkunstners I have met had very special houses and gardens filled with funny projects, paintings or books all over the place. Not perfectly cleaned though :) Too busy for that.

    • Sunil says:

      Iceland has a cultural image of warrior poet… Someone who is a master in very diverse subjects… In my two years of living there, this is true of majority of Icelanders… Almost everyone I met there are good at least two things… Ex: one of coolest programmers plus an amazing carpenter.

  19. Jon says:

    Brilliant article! I don’t personally think “jack of all trades” by itself is positive, I guess because of the word “jack” – in a saying like “you don’t know jack” (jack, as in, you don’t know anything). I’m not a fan of multipotentialite either (no offense, Emilie) – it’s just a bit jargony, it has to be explained for anyone to get it.

    But yeah, being called a jack of all trades, still licking my wounds from those years when literally everyone I ever knew called me that. Ho hum.

  20. Hemant says:

    As far as my little knowledge is concern i’ve seen this phrase “jack..
    …none” on many astrology sites.

    To some extent I believe in astrology. I’am a Gemini and if you type “gemini description” over google you will definitely find this line in almost every astrology site.

    It was also written why this kind of trait occur.
    What I have learnt is it occurs because of two factors
    Curiosity and Satisfaction

    Every human is curious by nature, in fact it is necessary for development, but Satisfaction is a choice.
    ok let me ask you a question, “Have you ever been satisfied with the norms and conducts of society, or Don’t you find an urge to see the hidden truth behind what is seen to you.”

    Actually we are the Finders, Explorers , we just can’t settle down for a single thing. This hunt of Exploring and Analyzing things to get the ultimate truth ever goes on in us.

    We never leave the things(before getting mastery over them) due to lack of potential, we quit because we found there was nothing left to revealed there, and instead of repeating the same thing to become a Master we would like to spent our energy on some thing.

    Practical reason behind that is we are not like those typical person. We have a wide range of thought and dimensions of our mind are very vast. This allow us to capture ans synthesize all this information.

  21. Beneden Dickt Danglespan says:

    What about: “In times of war, none specialist is useful.” (hmmm…)

  22. BDD says:

    This being labeled multipotentialite or multivirtuose comes to one when being complimented multiple times on multiple disciplines in one lifetime.

  23. BDD says:

    You saved my resumé ;)) thanks!

  24. Em says:

    I’m trying to think what we say in Czech… I’m thinking “všeználek” (knows-it-all) or “kutil” (kinda builder, person able to fix things). The first one might be meant as a bit of negative thing as, the other is better but implies actual technical skills and handiness, so neither seems to be the perfect. We also say rennaisance person but to me that was always someone who is extremely talented in many areas. I certainly wouldn’t call myself that :D I know many different things but usually on a not so amaizing level, or at least I don’t feel that the level is amaizing but what do I know, I might be underestimating myself :)

    I personally call myself as a person “a bit into this, a bit into that…” but I wish there was more official term for it. When I’m trying multipotentialite, people don’t seem to be getting it, noone really knows what it means and I have to explain. It’s quite frustrating :D You’re looking for a label and when you find one, noone knows what the heck it means.

    But in English, I’m quite happy to use “jack of all trades”, followed by “I sort of do many different things, I have many hobbies and so…” :)

    Well, now reading the comments above, I think we also do say “a man of hundred crafts” but it’s not something you would use in a common speech, it’s more suitable into literature and fancy old school speeches.

    It’s not just the language, I think the whole Czech Republic is not very open to multipods yet. There are probably few opportunities but compared with England where I am now, it sucks so bad and there is nothing to do. In England, I can easily get any simple house job that I want, cleaning, housekeeping, gardening, carwashing, babysitting, dogwalking… little gigs of any kind really, you just need two hands, to be responsible and a bit handy and maybe a car to some. In CR, noone would let you walk their dogs or watch over their kids unless they totally know you, have hundreds of references and you have five years of practise and a university certificate :D

    I’m so glad I live in a world where I can move somewhere else when homeland is not working out.

  25. Cynthia says:

    In Spanish, at least in Mexico, we use the word “todólogo” – could be translated as “everythingologist”. It’s someone who knows about everything and has done all kinds of jobs. There’s also the phrase “mil usos” (“thousand uses”), but it’s more for technical and restoration services: someone who is a plumber, carpenter, electrician, driver, plasterer, builder, and can do everything and anything. While todólogo is more stereotyped as a middle-class know-it-all who just likes the recognition, mil usos is more a matter of survival and doing several jobs to make ends meet. However, they are seen as something common and even a source of respect. My grandpa used to be a mil usos/todólogo (plumber, carpenter, electrician) and ended up working at the largest steel corporation of its time AND co-founding their union. He even got to meet a US president and go to all the important meetings! So much for being a “jack of all trades”!

    As it’s culturally more accepted in Mexico, I’m fine (and even get several compliments) with being a todóloga and involved in several skills and industries. Unfortunately, I live in Britain now and it’s not really seen as good as. I get stares of confusion and questions about “my area of expertise” (what?), hear a lot about “niches” and focusing as much as you can.

    Maybe here it’s OK if you are as specific as “a biologist expert in shrubberies from the front left window of one single house in Halifax, England” or something like that – and you are even encouraged to be as specific as possible whether you’re writing a Master’s dissertation or being a contestant on Mastermind -, as you may be able to get a decent income or be seen as a figure of authority. But in Mexico, if you just know about one thing and one thing only, you may likely starve to death.

    Thanks for this article, Emilie. Will remember it next time someone asks me “but WHAT do you DO?”

  26. Kevin says:

    Tim Ferriss just wrote a similar article advocating being a jack of all trades. He has been the master of this since the 4HWW and brings some great perspective to it.

  27. Vanessa says:

    I choose to view it as a positive and not a negative. I do think it’s used to keep people “in their place”. I will choose what I am interested in, no one else.

  28. Slam dunk! The master minds from the Renaissance era didn’t seem to have a hard time earning respect for knowing a multiplicity of trades.

  29. Not Jack says:

    To answer your question: “With a passion.” Society pushes and pushes, (and rewards) specialization and look at the mass of mediocrity and incompetence that surrounds us!

    I realized 15-20 years ago that no matter one’s competence or skill, if you stick around in a specific field for ~20 years, you will be viewed or considered an ‘expert’ in that field by the majority of society.

    How’s that for a endorsement of continuing education programs?

    I’m educated and an educator; I can honestly call myself an Exercise Physiologist with a Master’s in the field, never satisfied with ‘enough’ combined with enough hours to gain certification with a MSW, (Masters in Social Work), plus extensive undergrad and grad course work in math and statistics, (neither of the schools I attended had ‘minors’).

    Along with the sciences, my undergrad course work qualified me to teach K-12 and I have several years of University level teaching spread over a number of years.

    I had two major and successful, (+ one minor and unsuccessful), ‘careers’ in my life, both coincidentally lasting 13-14 years. The first was Sports Medicine, (working with collegiate & Olympic athletes & pro football and pro baseball teams – gaining a World Series ring with my name on it in the process). I left the field because it’s a young person’s prof & VERY difficult to make a decent living.

    The second ‘career’ was as an Independent computer system builder/integrator & network administrator, which I left due changes in the industry, (computers became ‘toasters’, to be used and thrown away), and the fallout from a disabling brain injury. (My proudest accomplishment was building Windows 95 systems that DIDN’T crash incessantly).

    The minor/unsuccessful career was as extreme sport athlete in competitive free-style skiing, big-wave surfing and hand gliding. (I was just 10-20 years too early to make a living.)

    I’ve had a number of ‘vocations’ and rose about as high as you can in many of them:

    -auto mechanic, (independent shops and dealerships), auto shop owner and shops building race cars, antique restorations & designing/building street rods.

    -carpenter/builder/contractor; worked as part of new construction crews, have been responsible for BUILDING commercial & residential structures, recording studios & pioneered ‘circa-era’ remodeling, (adding on or renovating homes in their original style, but with ‘modern’ function). I am accomplished in every phase/aspect/material used in the building trades and competent in the one’s requiring licenses, (electrical/plumbing/etc – I would never dream of doing such work without a license, [snark implied]).

    -I designed and implemented databases in the DOS days.

    -I have designed and published national award winning professional newsletters.

    -I am an accomplished writer, have co-authored published scientific articles in my field and actively write in numerous fields/areas/specialties on the Internet. I once thought I wanted to be an ‘author’ writing the great American novel; fortunately, I outgrew that or I had children to feed and cloth, one or the other.


    As I approach 62 in September, I work harder and more hours than my entire life and love it:

    I’m in the midst of a programmed learning electrical engineering course, (board level electronics).

    I have one product I designed, manufacture & market which I have backlogged orders for and three products ‘in the works’, one specifically for the largest manufacturer of their product in the country and two designs/products I’m looking for partners/developers/buyers for, (got an money to invest?)

    Oh, I’ve also been working the past 7 years on an computer automation program/suite/app/doohicky that would bring computers closer to what was promised me as a child: computers would DO the work for us, not just be complex pencils and slide rules. (Looking for talented young partners to bring this to fruition. Any interest?)


    I positively bristle when meet someone and explain to/tell them about my life and the response is ‘Oh, a jack of all trades’. I’m still searching for the appropriately polite, yet blistering response. (I like some on this page and my tailor one to my tastes. One positive thing about aging is ‘cranky’ comes with the territory and isn’t quite as negatively perceived as when I was 30.)

    A commenter above said ‘since they matured the phrase doesn’t bother as much’. To the rest of my ‘nation within a nation’, (to quote my new fav author), don’t count on getting older making you resistant to narrow minded cogs in the machine.

    More and more, I find myself describing myself as a functional design artist who works in everything from cloth to stone.

    The approach I’m heading closer and closer to, though, is to out live ’em all, have more fun than any of ’em & not give a #$^@ what anyone thinks.

  30. Coming back to this post after awhile I feel even more OK with the term. I think as I accept that I *am* a generalist, ie would rather know a lot about a lot of things than a lot more about one thing, the phrase doesn’t land the same way. Even the “Master of none” part. It’s true. I am not going to be as masterful at any of the things I’ve studied as someone who has studied it exclusively for 40 years. I’m just not–and that’s perfectly OK! I’m not any less of a valid person. They are also not going to have the breadth of knowledge and experience that I have–and that’s ok too. They are both valid choices in work paths. If I validate that and can let go of the assumption that there is judgment in the term, and just look at it objectively, then yes, spreading your energy over many fields produces a different result than spending it all in one. I personally enjoy that result, and I think it leads to a different kind of Mastery–one of flexibility, integration, and seeing the big picture. But the distinction is valid, and if there wasn’t a perception that they were pitted against each other, I think we could all just appreciate our differences. I really admire some specialists I know, and occasionally have even felt grief that I won’t reach that level of skill because I’m just not wired to do the same thing for years. And that’s OK. It’s OK to acknowledge that going down one path means you aren’t going down another. They are all good choices if they are made from integrity.

  31. kate-of-all-craft says:

    “We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line.”
    —José Ortega y Gasset (on specialists)

    Incidentally, what was wrong with polymath that we need a new term?

      • kate-of-all-craft says:

        Thank you for taking the time to respond to my brief comment on a 2-year-old post. I stumbled onto this page quite by accident and much of what you wrote reminded me of Ortega putting to words his fears that, with the increase of mechanization and the concomitant (at the time of writing) increase in the applicable uses of specialization, the world would end up looking very much the way you described. I hope sometime you’ll take a look at a longer excerpt or read “La rebelión de las masas” (although it’s hard not to feel as if you’re already familiar).

        I did not answer directly answer the question posed but, as I hope my handle implied, I have never had a problem with being called a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’. Quite to the contrary I made up my own version with my middle name years ago. I seem to have had a somewhat unique experience with all this as, likely do to poor health (and maybe the expectation that I would never be in a position to have a career), this quality was always highly praised and encouraged while I essentially homeschooled myself. I suppose it WAS lack of a specific area of focus that, along with health, derailed any traditional higher educational aspirations. It certainly wasn’t an issue with autodidacticism, because despite University being something of a failure, I’ve never stopped. I do understand the sentiment, however, the thing that sets my teeth a-grindin’ is when (again, I believe without intending insult) my studies are referred to as ‘amateur’ research. Just because it’s done in bed and at no point required putting on a bra (honestly, just wearing pants is rare enough as it is) and pulling an all-nighter could just as well occur while the sun was up with reprogramming the iv pump substituting for espressos – none of that, in any way diminishes the scholarly nature and academic rigor involved. Neither does it matter whether it’s about Irish linguistics, Buddhist cosmology, internet copyright law, neuropsychopharmacology, folkloristics, feminist/queer theory, or building the magnetic induction coils that are in my walls and ceiling and provide the area around my bed with wireless electricity (and figuring out why it isn’t the entire room like the math predicted), nor classical violin anymore than bluegrass banjo (actually my fingers have gone to numb for the banjo, but that’s besides the point)… wow, fortunately several fields of psychology and even more meditation disciplines are among those unmentioned, this isn’t usually something I discuss and I think I just hit some deep-seated resentment I didn’t realize was there.
        Thank you for inadvertently helping me find that, need to address that.

        Thank you for linking to that other article as well, it was exactly what I was curious about. I only hope you didn’t didn’t take my poorly worded question to be the criticism you mention in the article. I was sincerely just asking about what distinction you made between the two… (the reason it IS worded like that is because it had originally been followed by the parenthetical “other than the utter pretentiousness typically associated with it” which I literally took out moments before submitting it because I didn’t want to unintentionally offend anyone. Now I’m concerned that’s exactly what I did anyway. I even had to clock back and forth several times checking the dates to reassure myself that you didn’t write it in direct response to my question.
        Believe me, I know all too well about identity and people trying to tell you how you can or can’t identify, that section hit me very hard… as a woman, as an immigrant (even though I have no memories of Ireland), as a lesbian, as someone with an invisible disability (when all the tubes are pulled out and I have pants on, that is ;p), and who is now completely unsure if asexuality explains so much about my life or if it’s just a result of a chronic illness like everyone I try to discuss it with tells me. Everyone always wants to know how to label you but then doesn’t accept the way you end up choosing to. I would never intentionally do that and I’m gutted at the thought that I might have done so.

  32. Pip says:

    Jack of All Trades, Master Learner ;-)

  33. AJ says:

    I’m a woman from the north of England, brought up with a wonderful group of older women relatives and neighbours, my elders used to say he/she can “turn their hand to anything” in our community these people were valued, useful and always remembered and thanked. They got to do all the things the “specialists” could not. The downside sometimes – theybwere always busy!
    On of my many strings in my bow is a degree in animal science, I learned early on that specialist feeders are vulnerable to change and therefore soon suffer and die out when it happens, multipitentialite types (so called opportunists) which can feed on many things live longer and have more potential to survive! Do you see where I’m at with this?
    DIVERSITY is a good thing, embrace it. And who cares if we dont always finish everything first time, we are no conformists, most people secretly envy us, and we make great conversation too!

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