Week 25: Jack of all trades… often better than a master of one

I was a curious child growing up. I would have my nose in a book about dinosaurs or mummies one moment, and about space in the next. My favourite books were Enid Blyton’s The Adventure Series, but also Harry Potter and, as I grew older, any Jodi Picoult books I could get my hands on.

For extracurricular activities at school, I remember doing gymnastics at one point, then taekwondo, then modern dance. I was classically trained in piano, but I also self-learned the guitar and ukulele. I also sang and acted in musicals on stage, but off-stage I dabbled in sound and lighting, song-writing, and also directed a musical.

Photo by Lucas George Wendt on Unsplash

Is this what they call… a generalist?

Starting out in my career, I had thought I would go down that Data Scientist path, but soon realised it did little to satisfy my curiosity of the world; especially when I spent most of my time debugging code (maybe I’m just bad at it). I slowly moved on to visualisation roles and honed some expertise in that area (with help from my studies in psychology in uni, of course. Then again, psychology was my elective and not what I majored in… Seeing a pattern here?)

Over time, I’ve slowly learnt that, instead of burying my head deep in a domain or sector, I preferred speaking to different people of different background and industries, understanding what they did, and utilising that knowledge I had to pull together and translate between teams to solve problems.

Is this what they call… a generalist?

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

The downside to being a generalist, though, is that one often succumbs to the wraths of feeling like an impostor. Because you’ve spent time dabbling in and learning about different things, you might be the person in the room with the broadest knowledge of the world. But because you haven’t spent as much time as others examining those things, you’re also likely the person in the room with the least depth of knowledge in anything. On bad days you may also feel easily replaceable and question your skills and worth.

But then again, on most days, it is a very humbling and rewarding experience, knowing that there’s so much more out there that you don’t know (yes, more knowledge to absorb!) and knowing that you can help others understand across domains by using the languages they speak.

I’ve only found out this week that the “Jack of all trades” phrase was not initially meant as a derogatory remark. In fact, it was used complementarily to describe William Shakespeare as he hung around in theatres, helping out with the stage, the set, the costumes, and as he tried directing. And it was a timely reminder of the value that generalists can bring to the table; that when put into the right places and given the right environment to grow in, we can all shine.

I packed up 8 years of my life in Melbourne in December 2021 to move to Singapore to be closer to home and also to explore the world outside of what I already knew. This is a year-long series of weekly reflections on #myvoyagehome. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Week 24: Cut yourself some slack, you’re only human



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