[as yet untitled]
A blog type thing
The Jack. The fourth-highest (sometimes third-highest depending on the game) card in the deck. I think most of us would be more than content to be the third best at something. So why the hell is the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” used so pejoratively? Because, in true human fashion, we tend to bastardize the hell out of the original intent of pieces of wisdom.
See, my girlfriend has this uncanny reserve of knowledge that includes the original, non-truncated versions of aphorisms many of us aspire to heed, and the funny thing is, were we to know what these originally said, we would realize we are doing the polar opposite of what the saying is telling us to do. Remember “blood is thicker than water?” Yeah, the whole thing is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” To me that sounds like the status of “family” is, in many ways, earned, not assumed, and that the happenstance of birth in no way inherently entitles relatives to your reverence. You know, exactly not what most of us have come to assume it means.
You know what “Jack of all trades, master of none” really says? A jack of all trades and master of none is better by far than a master of one.
There is an argument to be made that society as it is structured now is more geared toward total specialization. After all, there are more people now and thus it is increasingly practical to rely on others to do what we can’t while we simply focus on doing the absolute best we can on the one or two things we dedicate our lives to. But you know what? Even if we accept that, I maintain that the third position in the deck is not only perfectly adequate, but often vastly preferable.
Consider what would happen if I, a voice actor, was an absolute virtuoso of the accent, the character study, the whatever-else-I-don’t-know-there-is-to-master-because-I’m-a-Jack-damn-it. But I knew nothing about audio engineering. I knew nothing about business. Nothing about branding. Nothing about salesmanship. Nothing about relationship building. Nothing about anything else. Yes, this is an extreme example. But the point stands. There are things that we can never guess would be relevant to our lives as professionals in any field that we absolutely have to know about.
How would I know the post-production expert I hire is doing a good job if I wasn’t able to properly judge audio quality? How would I know how to fix whatever problems there were with my final product if I didn’t know how to work a DAW? Or even what a DAW was (look it up if you don’t; be a Jack)? How would I drum up new business if I couldn’t sell myself? Or make a real human connection? How would I be able to run that business sustainably and legally above board if I didn’t know at least a little about tax policy and money management? What if I’ve got a friend who can’t afford to hire an engineer quite yet but has an amazing idea for a project and needs someone at least competent to ensure it’s presented in the best manner possible? Great! I can step in, help out, and do a favor, thereby generating good will and building a valuable relationship. And probably not once have employed my principal skill of voice acting.
What about skills that stereotypically rankle creatives? Like math? I love math. How the hell does that help me act? Well, it makes me quite desirable for narrating projects that feature it heavily, doesn’t it? It drastically cuts back on the amount of research I have to do for such projects, allowing me to make more money because I can not only get it done faster, but better than most despite the speed with which I’m able to do it.
What about my card magic hobby? I’m not virtuoso, but I can present a mean illusion or two. Sure it would be weird of me to break out a deck of cards in the booth. What purpose would that serve? None in that case, but: Ever come across a competent magician at a party? Especially when slightly buzzed? It’s a fun time, right? I’ve made amazing connections and friendships, both fleeting and lasting because of magic. My business is all about connections and friendships. Parties are a nice way to make them, especially those involving people in similar fields to you. Or dissimilar fields. What if I meet a math teacher who’s written a book and wants an audiobook made? Who better to narrate such a book than a narrator that knows about math?
What about writers like Andy Weir? You can’t argue that his knowledge of engineering made The Martian any worse. We appreciate Mark Watney’s genius because, but for a few stretches, most of what he does can actually be done. Many great science fiction writers come from STEM backgrounds. Not something typically associated with artistry (though it absolutely should be). Their books are revered for their accuracy and plausibility. Their books have inspired actual technology that we actually use.
But here’s what is hard to accept: Every skill you learn that isn’t your primary skill necessarily comes at the cost of time spent mastering your core professional skill set. That’s math. You can’t argue with math. But you also can’t let that fact deter you from pursuing the development of skills that make you happy and skills that develop you as a person. As an actor, I can say that the single most valuable thing I can do for myself is become a well-developed person. And I think that’s true of any profession. My acting and writing abilities come in handy whenever I tutor math, for example, because they help me present the material in a way that is memorable and fun rather than stifling. One of the best math teachers I ever had, the man that awakened my love of the subject, had a pretty extensive theater background, and it absolutely showed, and made his class so much better.
Yes, there are those annoying people we all revere that accidentally had the “god mode” cheat switched on at birth and can just be a “master of whatever they choose (if such a person is reading this: You’re not annoying; that’s just insecurity talking),” but I’m not one of them, and neither are most of us. And there is no shame in never quite being an ace, queen, or king, because you never really know what skills are going to improve your performance in your chosen profession in new and unexpected ways.
So if you’re a jack of all trades and master of none, just remember that, a lot of the time, you can be better by far than a master of one.