For years I was haunted by the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” It was worrisome to think that I was not a specialist at any specific area of my career because specialists are the foundation of the industry I am a part of. At our ad agency we have creative directors who build out campaign themes, ideas and art; copywriters who are brilliant wordsmiths; web developers who are masters of HTML, CSS and Java. The list could go on and on.
My problem was that I had a foundation of knowledge in a lot of these areas, but I knew I couldn’t keep up with my rock star co-workers if I tried to do all that they did. I could speak the languages of each talent, and I had taught myself quite a bit about each discipline, but I wasn’t a master at any of them. I felt like a jack-of-all-these-trades.
I thought this was detrimental to my future because I figured the best opportunities would go to the most talented specialist. Then, after a lot of reflection I realized: I’m not a jack-of-all-trades, I am a specialist of adaption and quick learning. I like to think of it like a Swiss Army Knife of skills. When you have a diverse set of tools, they can be used individually or all together to accomplish a larger goal.
Now, I have played a vital role almost every department of my agency to help them accomplish a goal. What I learned was that the world needs both the highly specialized tools and the utility tools. Each time I work with one of the experts in other disciplines I learn a little more and grow my knowledge.
Through much trial and error, and some frustration I mastered my own process of quick and efficient self-learning. The toughest part of playing a cross-discipline kind of role is executing the many skills well enough to satisfy expectations of people counting on you. When the person counting on you is a director or a client, the pressure is high and self-doubt in your skill set is real.
There have been a few things that have helped me with this undefined role that may be useful to others, especially if you are just getting started in your career.
Find what helps you get focused and stay focused. Whether it’s music or finding a quiet place, you must be completely immersed in your current task. When you are constantly changing from one discipline to another it is easy to get distracted resulting in sub-par effort.
The multi-discipline role can get frustrating, and if so you are going to want to give up, but don’t. When I got frustrated, I would get up and walk away from what I was having trouble with. Sometimes I’d completely switch tasks, depending on urgency. Giving yourself refocus breaks allows you to clear your head and it also allows the problem to marinate when you’re not actively thinking about it.
Most of the time you will need a couple of attempts to succeed at a new task. It’s okay to fail on the first try. So, if you mess up on a task because you haven’t had enough experience, you should take responsibility for your mistake and be ready to explain how you will fix it and what you’ve learned. This reassures others that you have a plan to resolve the problem and that you are proactively working towards a solution.
Use the experts around you as resources. Ask them for their thoughts and opinions on the concepts you don’t fully understand. There is no reason why you should think you need to problem-solve all alone.
Stay confident in yourself. Whether it’s explaining how you solved a problem, accomplished the task, or why you did something the way you did; remain confident in yourself and your ideas. If you are wrong don’t take personally. If your idea is overruled, let it go and figure out why. Use that experience as an opportunity to learn for the future.
Lastly, seek out work environments that encourage people with the adaption/quick-learning talent. Otherwise you’re the square peg in an organization of round holes, and the fears of being labeled a jack-of-all-trades will come true.
The leaders at Amusement Park encourage multi-talented people to work across disciplines when necessary or when it adds value. Our roles are allowed to be fluid and we’re encouraged to work with people from all areas of the agency. When copywriters take on the role of creative directors, or a strategic planner joins the social media team, we produce campaign ideas of creative integration. In this environment a jack-of-all-trades who adapts and learns can flourish.