Just a minute ago I printed a list of new business tools I’d like to research, test and partially implement into my own business. I’ve also just researched a photography course starting in the new year, and ideally I’d like to learn website coding before that. I can’t help it – welcome to the desperate world of a generalist, often also referred to as ‘Jack-of-all-trades, master of none’, a very undeserving term for someone who, in many cases, is only an impetuous learner.
As long as I can remember I have been a curious observer with a thirst of knowledge. I often juggled several careers, sometimes it came easier to me, sometimes I really had to put in the hard yards to master the challenge at hand. Anything is possible – if you have a good work ethic, a bit of a brain, a great pinch of discipline… and can manage your time.
Some people might think ‘Jack-of-all-Trades’ can’t commit and change their jobs too often, but they simply get bored by doing the same tasks day in, day out. It does not necessarily mean they don’t do their jobs well – the world is there to be conquered:
‘Diversity of intellectual playground breeds confidence instead of fear of the unknown. It also breeds empathy, openness, adaptability and is not stuck to an important sounding job title…’
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate specialists in many instances, but I also believe that a generalist can push the world forward. Generalists can be lacking focus at times, and yes, not do anything well at all, whilst so-called specialists can sometimes be world’s apart from the reality and a quality output.
My Career Under a Magnifying Lens
I’m not a genius or wunderkind, but I made sure I studied something I was passionate about and tailored it to my advantage. Being adaptable and able to wear many hats, paired with an open mind and the right work ethic, has worked fantastically well for me. It fits my personality and the path I have chosen to walk in life. I worked with extraordinary people and, funnily, I even DID my versatile jobs very well whilst enjoying ‘the pursuit of excellence unrelated to material gain’.
Maybe others could have done some of my jobs better, but I became a specialist problem-solver, who was able to make many lives much easier. What could I want more than that?
My endless curiosity (with enough street-smartness to avoid killing the cat) and can-do-attitude have given me a broad knowledge of business, and I have picked up an arsenal of skills along the way – so watch out!
And: I get bored easily and have a love of learning, which is invaluable in modern times, where software is outdated a week after launch. This does not necessarily mean that I’m not tearing out my hairs if I have just mastered something – only to realise that it has all changed again.
I’m OCD and a little bit of a control freak, I like to know how things work, what I can expect and how it is supposed to look like. At least most of the time, and by having a certain amount of control, the uncontrollable things become tame.
How to Come Out of the Closet and Become a Happy Generalist
Be great at some things and good at many others: it’s about keeping the balance. Become a valuable resource with integrity, meaning that if you are not sure you can meet the person’s requirements, don’t take on the job and leave it to the specialist.
Be transparent: if your client is happy for you to learn to swim, then that’s cool as well.
Become the super-medium that can see the bigger picture: but also understand how all the parts interrelate. Having a broad set of skills and seeing the interconnectedness of things can take you a long way.
Evaluate work collaborations: as your personality might not suit or fit every company size/industry. Static environments rarely work if you’re a generalist, even if you like the work and the people you work with, you will get bored sooner or later.
Find an industry where you don’t have to hide your personality in a corset: despite being one of those people who rarely had to wear a corset, flying solo by becoming a VA was an attractive option to choose. The spectrum of novelty in this industry is pretty much endless, not to mention the hats you have to wear as a business owner. To be fantastic at this gig, I need to know a variety of skills to create a masterpiece service. And integrity plays a big part in that.
We all know that the world does not integrate generalists very well. Luckily this is about to change. With workforces being slashed, adaptability, flexibility and versatility suddenly swimming high on the list of demands, generalists seem to finally be able to shake off their stigma and embark on a successful comeback.
I have never seen myself as a poor vagabond, but more as an open mind with a lot of skills to call my assets. I like diversity, challenges and I enjoy working and learning over a linear life. I am grateful about the opportunity and the aim of using more than only 10% of my brain (although this is a myth – Hollywood would love to believe us otherwise).
Fact is that we DO all have some brain redundancy to fill and that our mind is the most powerful tool we have…
So which camp are you going for – generalist or specialist?