| Oct 28, 2021

Master of One or Master of None – Which is Truly Better?

The old adage "jack of all trades, master of none" needs a revamp – here's why.

I am an enneagram type 5 – “the investigator.” My whole life I have delved into the depths of research of any new topic that piques my interest. I want to learn as much as I can about as many topics as I can as quickly as I can. But the problem I’ve run into is that I always find something new to be interested in – making me somewhat of a “master of none.”

Being a Master of None Often Comes in Handy

Being a jack (or jill) of all trades and a master of none gives you one of the most important skills: the ability to consume information and apply knowledge in a way that turns it into something useful. This is a learned trait and a cross-industry benefit. You develop the ability to understand complex information across disciplines, which helps you problem-solve difficult concepts in all of them. This skill is invaluable because it enables you to be a bit of a professional chameleon, easily sliding into a new context and sinking your teeth into something foreign.

This is also an irreplaceable leadership quality because it develops empathy. Being a master of none, you’ve walked at least part of a mile in all different kinds of shoes, helping you to understand some of the problems different roles face. Having a broader knowledge often means having a deeper understanding of how different parts work together – a critical ability for anyone who leads people.

In pursuit of my desire to learn about anything and everything, I studied literature in college – a subject where you can read about any topic you can imagine. But when you are regularly immersed in complex texts, it’s inevitable that you’re eventually going to come across words that you don’t know. Because I had a little experience with Latin and French, I was often able to determine the meaning of these new words I came across through root words from different languages. A bit of research and practice in different languages years prior helped me to advance in a completely different area of expertise.

Continuous learning also means continuous growth. To be a master of none, you can’t have a fixed mindset and tend to be constantly aware of how much you don’t know – which can be both incredibly motivating and incredibly overwhelming. This constant learning dynamic lends itself to developing a system that works for you when you encounter challenges – you’re able to dig deeper to find information and develop solutions. Not only are you learning about new areas of interest across disciplines, but you are training your brain to take in and comprehend new information regularly and efficiently.

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Being an Expert is Not Underrated

All this is not to say that being an expert in your chosen field is not incredibly important and impressive. There is still something to be said for relevant, specific job experience. Unless you’re looking to bounce from entry role to entry role, you need to gather some experience in your chosen field. Expertise is the thing that will lead you to real, high levels of success. Without being able to master one skill, all of your other skills will be somewhat useless.

You can then use your generalized knowledge in order to help you be even better at your one area of expertise – applying concepts from other disciplines, implementing your high skill level in the one discipline, allowing you to maximize creativity and quality.

Can You Have the Best of Both Worlds?

I’d like to think so. I finally discovered that some of my greatest passions are writing, editing, and reading. Communicating insights found in all disciplines is my chosen trade. My broad research experience prepares me well for this – and I worked to become an expert in these areas. Every day I am allowed to use all of my random knowledge and apply it through the lens and path of my expertise. In some cases, it may be better to be a master of none. In some, mastering one is essential. It truly depends on the job you’re shooting for, the career you’re pursuing, or the problem you’re trying to solve. But, despite what the original phrase says, trying to find a balance of both expertise and multi-disciplinary knowledge is not only possible but can lead you to new challenges and passions that you otherwise would have missed.

By Natalie Anderson
Executive Author

Executive Editor, Massive Alliance

Natalie is an Executive Editor at Massive Alliance with writing and editing expertise across industries. view profile

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