Rethinking Idioms #1: Jack of All Trades

Idioms are supposed to be popular sayings that express general truths, but I have always thought that some idioms are not very helpful. They might have the effect of demotivating us, rather than helping us. In my opinion, it is best to do away with such idioms. For this reason, I have decided to make a series of posts on ‘Rethinking Idioms’ over the next few weeks. To start off, I will be analysing the idiom:

Jack of all trades, master of none.

I understand the reasoning behind this idiom: if you learn too many things, you end up being a novice in different areas, but not an expert in any one. However, such thinking limits you: it almost encourages you not to expand on your knowledge. Today, with online courses, it is easy to learn new things ranging from graphic design and computer programming to digital marketing and even effective writing.

What is more, your knowledge about different things is reinforcing. The more you know, the easier it is for you to learn new things, because you can make links between the new information and what you already know. This is because the mind works like a scaffolding structure – the more one knows, the more one is capable of knowing (taken from The Science of Everyday Thinking).

I have experienced this practically when designing and managing my blog. I write posts using my knowledge about writing and editing, which I gained largely from writing essays and articles throughout my legal education and extra-curriculars. I use knowledge from my online course on graphic design to create supporting images for some of my posts as well as a banner for my blog.

(Related: 16 Images, 1 Cup)

Over time, I also intend to apply knowledge from online courses on SEO fundamentals and digital marketing to my blog. When I enroled in these courses, I did not intend to use them in my blog – I was just interested in learning new things. If I was focused on being a ‘Jack of one trade’ (for example, just writing), I probably would not have been interested in all of these courses, and I never would have known that they would be helpful to me in this way.

I am not saying you have to do everything by yourself – no one can. In fact, no one should, because you create better results when you collaborate with others and share ideas. But my point is that having knowledge about different areas is useful – even when it comes to collaboration. In my case as an individual blogger, I did not need to pay a professional graphic designer to create a banner for me. In another case (for example, a small business), it might be more apt to pay for a professional service.

Yet even in that case, having some knowledge about graphic design might be helpful, because it can help you better direct the professional graphic designer on what you seek to achieve. After all, it is your business, and you know more about it than a third party. This same thing goes for things like web design. If you leave it up to a third party to create whatever they like, the chances are you will get a product that does not exactly match your tastes and preferences.

At the same time, I am not arguing against specialisation. If you do not specialise in an area, you will keep trying new things but never really become an expert in one area. It is for this reason that I prefer the phrase:

Try to learn something about everything and everything about something

Thomas Henry Huxley

This is different from the ‘Jack of all trades’ idiom, which suggests that knowing something about everything is bad. When you have a wide range of knowledge, you can develop multiple streams of income. If need be, you can also effectively direct professionals on what you want, and achieve results that suit your tastes exactly. Therefore, in addition to specialising in an area, learning other things will certainly be useful to you, even in ways that you do not anticipate. After all, no knowledge gained is wasted!

So my challenge to you today is this: go out there, learn new things, and don’t completely restrict yourself to being a ‘Jack of one trade’!

More in this series:

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2 thoughts on “Rethinking Idioms #1: Jack of All Trades

  1. I loved this! I totally agree to that wonderful quote “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something”! Thanks so much for this. Can’t wait to read the other idioms you’ve written about. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

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