Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

These days, the term “Jack of all trades” is rarely thrown around. Most people I went to school with had hardly even heard of the term.

To those unfamiliar with it, a Jack of All Trades is said to be a man with knowledge in many trades, and yet has no specialization in any of them.

The phrase originated in Robert Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit in 1592 and was used to dismiss the accomplishments of William Shakespeare. Though this is the first known appearance of the phrase, a similar phrase “Johnny do-it-all” has origins from late Latin.

While the phrase we use today is “Jack of all trades, master of none”, the later part of the phrase was added sometime after 1700, where it became a derogatory comment. During this time, young men were encouraged to learn a specific trade, and it is thought that the addition of the “master of none” was to express how learning multiple trades would never lead a man to success.

Although a jack of all trades has been looked down upon for years, is it truly something that should be looked down upon? Is learning many things, but not necessarily having a specialization a bad thing? The conclusion that I come to is that it is not a bad thing.

Throughout schooling (pre-university) it was widely encouraged by the schools to learn all subjects equally, and to have a greater understanding in all of them. Although it was always stressed that everyone would “specialize” in a certain subject, it was important that all students took the same classes to develop useful skills for the future. To me, this emphasizes the idea of a jack of all trades. Yes, the education received at this point is to be far from considered knowledgeable in the subject, but it echoes the idea of a jack of all trades: knowing a little bit of everything. We are all jacks of all trades through basic schooling, however, it does not go far enough. We may have knowledge in school subjects, but that does not give us knowledge in everything. Far from knowledge in everything, in fact.

However, many people have naturally developed a curiosity of wanting to know more. This curiosity causes them to read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos, on subjects they do not have extensive knowledge in and may not even understand fully, all for gaining more knowledge. Much of the people have no intention of ever even using the knowledge they have on a subject, but rather just enjoying the process of learning.

And here we find ourselves at the true purpose of a Jack of All Trades: the process of learning.

A real Jack of All Trades may have specialization in something, but they continue to pursue knowledge because they find enjoyment in the process of learning.

This is no different than a Jack of All Trades would have been in the earliest mention of it, yet, it is seen as a negative phrase because of the addition of Master of None. The addition of this part of the phrase has all but ruined the exceptional meaning behind the phrase; a true shame.

My challenge to all those who read this is to encourage the use of Jack of All Trades once more, omitting the negative portion of the phrase, and encouraging all people to continue to pursue knowledge.

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