NON FICTION: Things I’ve Learned From Being A Jack Of All Trades

Woman sleeping on dressing room table

Photo: Nihal Demirci

This might be anecdotal, but I do think that the world is changing to accommodate generalists rather than specialists.

I might be biased though. After all, I’d jumped from hairdressing to auditing to writing. And that doesn’t even include my other odd jobs such as being an insurance salesman and a roadie.

All my life, people have told me that I lacked focus, that I’m doing myself a disservice by not hunkering down and focusing on one thing.

But as my hobbies would attest—Brazilian jiu-jitsu, rock climbing, running, calligraphy, languages, watches, fountain pens, video games, programming, music, and longboarding, among many others—I think I’m just built a certain way, and that the real disservice would be not embracing who I really am.

Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve always wondered if sticking to one thing would be better in the long run. After about a decade of collecting hobbies, I still haven’t come close to finding an answer, but here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

1. We’re great at small talk

Were it not for my introversion and social awkwardness with strangers, I feel like I’m equipped with the skills to connect with almost anyone at a surface level.

Want to talk about endurance sports? Sure. Fountain pens? I gotcha. Watches, longboarding, music? Check, check, check. Packing up and living in a different country with a girl you just met two months back? I’ve got all the bases covered.

The thing about doing a bunch of different things is that you’ll never run out of topics to discuss, because you’ll have all these firsthand and secondary experiences at the tip of your fingers. Surely, it’s a great rapport tool to have. Now if only I can actually converse without making strangers uncomfortable, that’d be great.

2. Time is finite

Nowhere do you learn this fact better than when you’re trying to improve in multiple things at once. The fact of the matter is, you can only do so much at a time, and you can only learn so much in a day. So as someone that juggles multiple hobbies, you quickly discover the things that are important to you.

You also start to take the long view, play the long game. You know that being decent in anything takes a good chunk of dedication, and sometimes, that means sacrificing your leisure time in order to eke that few more minutes that you can dedicate to craft. Either way, you begin to see the value of time, both during rest and work.

3. Lessons are interchangeable

Whenever you pick up a new hobby, say, like running, you’d never think there’d be lessons there that you could apply to your other unrelated hobbies, such as learning a new language.

But that’s exactly what I get every time I pick up a new hobby. I learn a universal truth about myself, regardless of whatever it is I’m doing. I begin to see how I operate. Oftentimes, these truths can be applied to everything else as well.

For instance, I’ve noticed I always dread the few minutes before my run, when my mind’s telling me to do anything but. You could stay in bed, or veg out to Netflix, it would say. Why are you even doing this? What are you planning to achieve anyway? It’s not like you’ll ever be Usain Bolt or Courtney Dauwalter.

I’ve always listened to my Scumbag Brain™’s arguments, but after picking up various activities that require some modicum of effort, I’ve realised that that voice isn’t worth listening to, and that I’ve never returned from a run—or a Chinese lesson, or a writing session—feeling like I’ve wasted my time.

Sometimes, the best lessons you get from your hobbies aren’t related to the particular thing at all.

4. Some things just aren’t you, and that’s okay

Maybe being a Renaissance person has always been your dream. Maybe you enjoy learning, and you want to study all the things in the world. But not physics, because that’s just plain boring. You also don’t understand automobiles, and you can never wrap your head around cooking. That’s perfectly fine.

In fact, it’s by doing a variety of things that you discover what you’re good at (and what you’re not). I myself signed up for vocal classes once, and it took those three months for me to realise that singing really wasn’t for me, no matter how much I enjoy belting out a verse to my guitar, especially when I’m tipsy.

You learn to make peace with some things being forever out of your domain, and you leave those things to people who have a better inclination towards said activities. Because as a jack of all trades, you probably have enough on your plate already.

5. You don’t have to like it

Yes, the idea of playing the guitar sounded cool when you watched that cover band on YouTube, but you quickly realise that being decent at it takes more than knowing just a few chords.

You need to learn the scales, music theory, the fretboard, tuning, picking and strumming styles… it never ends. And you realise that some songs look easy because the musicians themselves had spent years practising to make it look that way.

The good thing about this is that you’ll know that something is for you when you’re willing to suffer through the mundane parts.

It’s like facing the blank page. Running when you’re sore. Learning to use the manual mode on your DSLR. Every hobby involve things that you hate doing, things that differentiate the casuals from the professionals.

And you know not to let your emotions be a gauge for your progress, because you know anything worthwhile involves a good amount of suck.

You’re not restless, you just like new experiences

Maybe it is true that people like you—or us—know just a little bit of everything, but contrary to what other people think, that’s actually a strength and not a weakness.

So embrace your curiosity and learn to juggle while you teach yourself to code, and you might very well find that you won’t only learn a new skill, but something about yourself that would surprise you as well.


Are you a specialist or a generalist? Do you enjoy it? Why or why not? I’d love to hear a different perspective.

50 thoughts on “NON FICTION: Things I’ve Learned From Being A Jack Of All Trades

  1. Such a great post as always Stuart. I think you’ve covered all the bases here. I’m also a “Jack of all Trades”…is there a ‘lady’ equivalent? hmmm…. I love to explore, dabble, babble, and learn. You’re so right though when you say you don’t have to like everything. Giving yourself permission to move on or even fail at times is not only healthy but necessary. Stay safe. Keep Writing.

    • I believe the lady equivalent should be Jill Of All Trades, but I’m plucking that one out of thin air, lol.

      I think it’s how we’re evolving. Turning into a generalist really is inevitable, especially with all the resources we have at our fingertips today.

      Always a pleasure to have you around, Faye. Thanks for visiting!

      • A Jill…I like that. The thing is if we become generalists then we’re not experts….I like to think of myself as an expert who dabbles in a bit of everything. lol.

  2. Great post. I have to put myself in the generalist category… Hairdresser, musician, artist, poet, songwriter, singer, photographer, landscaper, gardener, and farmer. But, I’m working to be a specialist in one field…writing. :) Have a great week, Stuart.

    • You were a hairdresser too?! High five!

      Yes, I think ‘master of none’ is a misnomer. You can have multiple hobbies and still specialise in something. That’s the path I’m seeking too. Here’s to scaling the writing mountain together!

    • I think specialists are a rare breed these days. Who knows, that could be the exact reason for the resurgence of highly-trained specialists. Right now, I think it’s the generalist’s world though. Thanks for stopping by, Nicholas!

      • It probably depends on the field. Fields like medicine, law, and engineering, for example, have high demand for specialists. The more specialized you are, the better paid you are. Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of what a good researcher should be, as your excellent post illustrates!

  3. I really related to this post! I’ve been more of a specialist person for most of my life, but recently I’ve been trying to juggle lots different hobbies like self-studying, blogging, writing, etc. It can be tiring at times but I think it’s more fulfilling this way :) so long as you don’t overstretch yourself too far. Great post Stuart, thanks for letting me ruminate 👍🏼

    • Glad to know that we’re not as alone as we all thought we were :)

      Yeah, it can be challenging figuring out when you’re stretching yourself too thin, but I think following our gut is a great way to go about it. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I can relate so much to this! I am not only socially awkward but I have trouble “sticking” with a hobby. The only consistent hobbies in my life are reading and writing. Even those I take breaks on at times. It is nice to read about someone else who enjoys a lot of different things.

    Wonderful blog! Keep it up!

    • Haha, socially-awkward gang unite! One of the best feelings is having people relate to my stories, because that makes me feel less alone too. I appreciate this comment. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. As someone who gets bored a lot and feels stifled easily, it was nice to read that I’m not alone on this.

    I did always feel like I lacked focus or an ability to excel at one thing. I never thought that being a generalist might come with its own benefits.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Oh yes, the world really does make it known that it favours specialists and extroverts. But I’m glad that I’m seeing a possible change during my lifetime. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. As a fellow generalist and introvert, I can totally relate – and I’ve literally just written a blog post that talks about accepting that some things I’ve tried but they aren’t for me! The beauty of being a generalist – everything you try teaches you something :)

  7. I have too many hobbies–and I often switch my focus between them. It’s a real struggle, lol. But I also think there’s a lot of value in having diverse interests (interdisciplinary studies and whatnot).

    • Sometimes I almost feel guilty for having as many interests as I do, and not really having the time to do each of them justice, but the wisdom gleaned from one discipline can totally be used in others so I guess no time is wasted as long as you’re improving yourself.

      High five to you, fellow hobby collector, and I really appreciate you stopping by!

  8. This is such a great post and puts down perfectly how I’ve been feeling about dabbling in a lot of different thigns but never really settling into doing one thing. I remember at school the teachers bugging us to come up with a career we were supposed to stick with once we’d decided it, but how do some people know what they want to do their whole lives at the age of 14! I’m certainly a generalist although I believe I’m a specialist in a few specific areas too. Can you be both? :)

    • You certainly can! I believe that ‘master of none’ is a misnomer, and that generalists can definitely have a field that they specialise in. Having to choose your career at 14 is a lil extreme indeed. Thanks for stopping by and dropping this wonderful comment!

  9. This could have been about me. This puts a refreshing spin on a character trait I have often admonished myself for having. Thank you for the new perspective; it is important to look at the bright side often.

    • Indeed it is. It’s a trait that most people have been told is wishy-washy, undecided, and shows a lack of commitment. But what if someone is just naturally inclined to like learning? Thanks for stopping by Valerie!

  10. I learned a lot from this post. You educate me, for which I would like to thank you. This is an awesome post and I would love very much to reblog this post and link it back to you.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this post! I relate to a lot of what you said. I too love trying a bunch of different things, though I also have a couple of interests that I usually stick to as well.

  12. This is a fantastic post! I always found myself wondering why I couldn’t focus on one thing to study and work toward. But I’m finding now, especially in a world that’s ever changing, having the ability to adapt and learn new skills is everything. And like you said, so many skills from one hobby or practice are transferrable to another if you understand how to apply them.

    • Oh yes. I believe that no time is truly wasted, even on the pursuits you’ve left behind. Something always sticks, and always leaves you changed, most times for the better.

      There’s nothing wrong with us generalists. We just love learning new things, is what I say :p

      Thanks for stopping by and dropping this thoughtful comment!

  13. This was a great read; I relate to it on so many levels. I’ve always been the jack of all trades type and it used to bother me, but I see it as a strength now!

    • Yes. I think the previous decade or two have been pretty unfriendly to generalists, but the growth of the digital world has rendered that all moot. Now it’s better to be flexible so you can adapt to the fast-paced world. Thanks for visiting!

  14. Great Post. 😊 I’m a generalist too. A serial job hopper I used to call it! Life’s too short to put yourself in one box and there was and is too many things I want to try career wise and study wise. As well as the nature of some employment being temporary.

    I’ve a couple of University degrees and have tried quite a few careers. There are still different things I want to do in the future. I think nowadays though the nature of work has changed so much that it’s becoming more normal to be this way. Good to have several strings to your bow. 💕 You have to be versatile in the modern world.

    • Totally agree with you there. I’m not saying that this is the case for everyone, but a lot of my friends who went the traditional route of focusing on one subject and pursuing it your entire life got laid off during the pandemic, and they’re beginning to realise how stability can just be an illusion sometimes.

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving such a wonderful comment!

  15. I can totally relate. In fact, I wrote a post with the “Jack of all trades” phrase in the title a little while back. Since the pandemic I’ve taken on hydroponic gardening and watercolor painting…like I needed more hobbies!

    Your point about guitar playing is well taken. I did suffer through some of the boring parts of learning guitar back in middle school (mainly thanks to Guitar World magazine), enough to get by to my satisfaction. Now that I’m older and have a lot less free time, I notice I don’t have as much patience to learn new skills. A few years back I tried learning piano on my own…in the end I decided that sometimes you just gotta let it go.

    • Yeah, some things just don’t stick no matter what you try, but you could actually surprise yourself with the things that actually do.

      Like I never knew that learning to read Chinese would be a thing, but now I’ve memorised over 800 characters (halfway to standard literacy) and am still going.

      I guess our strengths is that we get to discover what makes us tick, no matter what phase we are in life.

      Thanks for dropping your interesting insights!

  16. Pingback: 20 Questions with…Stuart Danker – Write, Read, Repeat

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