Have you ever felt inferior for being a jack of all trades? After all, the phrase goes: “Jack of all trades and master of none.”
As a self-confessed jack of all trades myself, I have spent a good part of my work life berating myself for pursuing new interests at the expense of the old, and feeling like a scatter-brained, lightweight fraud!
Life is a complex tapestry, and it is not always easy to recognise the many threads that are woven into our own particular life experience. It is only recently, with the hindsight of age and a greater understanding of cycles (and a little self-compassion!), that I have come to embrace my versatility and value it for the worthy quality it is.
Stepping back to observe and reflect, I now understand how my various pursuits, studies and occupations fit together into one whole body of work in which each part nourishes and complements the others.
The qualities that define us as jack of all trades are actually advantages that empower us to succeed in the modern world.
7 qualities to celebrate in the jack of all trades:
The jack of all trades chooses her own path according to her interests, refusing to conform to the status quo and the perceived wisdom of the past that entices us to settle for security and the dull, safe option, at the expense of cultivating our unique gifts and talents that the world so sorely needs.
Throwing off the crippling fetters and thought-forms of the past is no easy business. It requires courage and the confidence of our convictions. This may have meant disappointing well-meaning parents who only wanted the best for us, so we could make our own way according to our inner promptings and the interests that fire us up.
We each have our own path, and as we consciously choose to tread it we open the way and set an example for others to do so as well.
3. Life-long learner
The jack of all trades possesses enormous enthusiasm and curiosity that lead her onwards to pursue new interests, to exercise her mind, and to add new skills and talents to her ever-growing repertoire.
Sometimes we are developing skills that embellish our current skillset, and other times we are taking a step into entirely new territory. But we are always learning, growing and developing our qualities. No stagnation here!
Like the airplane in flight that is always minutely adjusting its course to reach its destination, we are engaged in a continual process of course correction, listening to the inner voice that guides us to discover the next area of development, the next step on the path.
The Ageless Wisdom teaches that all of existence moves in cycles, from the great cycles of the life embodying a solar system, to our own individual cycles of incarnation in the life of the soul. Within each life-time we experience cycles of ebb and flow, of intense learning, interludes of assimilation, and then activity as we bring what we have learned into outer expression.
In my own life I have become aware of 10 year cycles in which major changes have taken place, such as moving to Europe and running a vegetarian guesthouse in the 1990s, followed by a 10 year cycle of further studies and the intense assimilation of information in various fields of natural health in the 2000s. During this decade I changed my work activities every few years, as my fast learning process meant that I was moving on in my interests before I had finished the training I was in.
By the time I had completed my naturopathy exams, I was already knee-deep in hypnotherapy and guided meditation. I was studying mindfulness and the Ageless Wisdom, and my focus had shifted from physical well-being to a top-down approach that encompassed a larger vision: overall well-being through mastery of the mind and emotions.
It was at this time that I felt most keenly that being a jack of all trades was a negative thing. But really it was an expression of a massive improvement in my own state of well-being. I had freed myself of my addictions, I was sorting myself out, and rapid shifts were happening as I floundered around, experimented with various ideas, and adapted them to my life and circumstances.
In another cycle starting in 2010, I began to make sense of it all. I could appreciate how the various threads tied together to equip me to do what I do today. I was offered a job that called on all of my studies, personal and professional. Now all of those threads form a part of my work, but it took some time to reveal itself as a coherent whole encompassing many parts.
And this is where the next advantage to being a jack of all trades comes in. It’s not an easy one to embrace, as it goes against a pervasive belief in society that we must persist at all costs, that “quitting” is for losers. But the jack of all trades…
5. Knows when to let go
At the time it felt shameful, moving from one area of interest to the next. Afterall, my mother had taught me the value of “stick-to-it-iveness”.
There is a principle in the Ageless Wisdom that what is received vertically must be expressed horizontally. This means that as we grow and develop we must express these inner changes in outer reality.
For what’s the good in learning new things and improving our well-being if we don’t share them with world and bring them into practical expression in daily life?
If we want to do this we have to accept that forward progression often means letting go. This can be the release of old ideas, habits, relationships and occupations that no longer serve us.
Sometimes we have to experience things in order to learn that they do not fulfil us, or that they’re not what we thought they would be.
The Tibetan explains* that we learn to work and serve and tread our individual path, through trial and error, describing this as a gradual eliminating and perfecting process by which we develop and unfold humility, inner integrity, and obedience to the promptings of the soul. We learn, through our efforts, to trust ourselves and our path, and also to be worthy of trust from others.
But our efforts are not wasted, as they always serve us in another manner.
For example, when I was seeing clients in hypnotherapy, I was mainly helping people who wanted to quit smoking. This was fine at first, but ultimately I found it uninspiring. But all of my knowledge and training was useful to me as I poured it into my next area of discovery, guided meditation. Hypnotherapy was a stepping stone on my path.
Ability to recognise, withdraw and move on from a project that no longer challenges us, or is not working, comes from our inner knowing and a different kind of steadfastness that requires us to be true to ourselves and our path in life.
It is the nature of life, particularly for those who are consciously treading the spiritual path, that we are always growing, learning and evolving. As we take one step, the next is revealed.
Traditionally, the jack of all trades can turn their hand to many kinds of work. When we experiment and change careers we develop new skills that build on those we have cultivated before, adding new facets to the talents we already use.
This serves us not only personally in our growth as human beings, but allows us to contribute more to the world through our enhanced capabilities and a wider sphere of influence.
When considering new options, listen to your inner voice and ask:
- Does the option nourish your life and take you in the direction you want to go.
- Does it conform to your values?
- Does it fill you with dread or enthusiasm?
- Is it useful and forward leaning?
- Does it expand your field of activity, and push you out of your comfort zone?
- Is it based on your own inner yearning, or past conditioning and the wishes of others (parents, society, spouse)?
7. In alignment with the modern world
The world has changed enormously since the technological revolution. Gone are the days of previous generations who had one linear career trajectory, perhaps working in the same firm for 30 years until retirement.
Happily, the jack of all trades is ahead of the game in today’s rapidly changing and fast paced world.
The previously discussed advantages of being a free-thinker, courageous, a life-long learner, adaptable and versatile equip us to rapidly respond to the world’s ever-changing needs and circumstances.
Our ability to embrace change fosters resilience. In the face of disappointment or failure we can bounce back without wallowing in discouragement, an activity that serves neither man nor beast!
We are open and alert to new opportunities and ideas, all the while staying true to our own vision of life. This openness is the key to fulfilling our higher potential.
Some tips for the road:
- Sometimes we need to hit rock-bottom and begin a healing process before we are ready to embrace new ideas and opportunities. This was true for me. But once I was on an upward spiral new opportunities appeared that made sense of all that had gone before.
- Fear is natural when we are facing the untested and unknown. Get used to moving forward out of your comfort zone and doing it scared!
- Learn to pay attention to “karmic slaps in the face” to guide you on your way. I find that these days I quickly get one when I am acting selfishly or embarking on something that doesn’t serve the greater good. Usually you can relate it to a recent behaviour or a specific course of action you are considering.
- Look for the meaning behind events and circumstances that have caused you to change your path, and seek to understand their significance in your life as a whole, and how they fit into the greater scheme of things.
A life well-lived
Expansion is the nature of a life well-lived, and the jack of all trades is open to reinventing herself, as each new stage is integrated into the whole work of a lifetime.
Discussing reinvention, Steven Pressfield says in his fabulous book on creativity, The War of Art:
“The professional does not permit himself to become hidebound within one incarnation, however comfortable or successful. Like a transmigrating soul, he shucks his outworn body and dons a new one. He continues his journey.”
So, fellow jack of all trades, cast off your world-imposed inferiority complex and take heart in the qualities that equip you to negotiate and thrive in today’s fast-paced world. From now on let’s consider ourselves as versatile and multi-talented workers in alignment with our times.
And if you’re not a jack of all trades, fret ye not. Everyone has a different life trajectory and path to tread. Some of us are specialists, with a tighter, more specific focus and field of activity within which we learn and grow and give to the world.
Either way, the important thing is to bring your unique gifts, talents and skills into practical daily expression.
And don’t forget to make use of the benefit of hindsight: reflect back on your life, see how all the pieces fit together, and then consider the next step ahead.
I know what mine is. What is yours?
1. Alice Bailey, A Treatise on White Magic, p. 514
* The Externalisation of the Hierarchy (p. 332)