“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”- Robert A. Heinlein
People of this generation are feeling a very pressing and tangible need to diversify and specialise (at the same time, mind you) both our skill-set and mentality. I think this is an effect of the democratization of information and development of a knowledge-based society. Gone are the days where knowing how to fix shoes will ensure townspeople flocking to your doorstep. We live in an era where if you’re not online, you’re (literally) virtually non-existent. It’s quite an exciting time to be alive, albeit very pressuring and demanding. It opens up so many new opportunities for us to grow our talent, indulge in our dispositions and whittle away our disinterests. However, it can also be a double-edged sword. Ever been to a job interview where your prospective employer expects you to be trilingual, well-informed about the corporate world and have a background in human resources (all before you’ve graduated university)? Yep. If you haven’t, you (probably) will.
This has gotten me thinking about the demand for specialization (not just in a particular career such as medicine), but in our vocation in general. Is there still value to have expertise in a certain field or can you pull off being a jack of all trades yet master of none? Of course, one needs to have certain traits in order to qualify in certain fields. For example, you can’t expect to work as a lawyer without formal qualifications. However, will mere qualifications guarantee you anything? Or are you implicitly expected to also have a knack for dealing with people across all social hierarchies and a passion for corporate social responsibility (CSR)? This is probably why so many undergraduates across all fields are getting antsy. A demanding world is calling for us to up the ante, or risk missing out on opportunities.
It’s not limited to vocational purposes- the world is calling us to put on multiple hats; one of a father, a son, a provider, a marketplace worker, the list goes on. You will not find anyone with merely a single hat to their head, a solitary title to their name. In the intensifying rat-race, what encourages me is the capacity that we have been given to carry out all of these duties (obligatory or not). We have a responsibility and a chance to explore our passions and develop ourselves. Even if we have limited opportunities, we still live, move and exist. We have the choice of being a Jack or Jill of all trades, or a maestro in one. We can choose if we want to master a certain form of self-development (to be a great father), or spread our given resources and talent evenly (sacrifice some family time for overtime pay). Of course, the world expects us to develop holistically, however, we do have a choice. Whatever we choose, we bear the costs.
Therefore, in the myriad of possibilities, and the world supposedly being our oyster (whether it is is up for debate), our fundamental purpose proves to be imperative. What are we doing these things for? Whether we specialise or put our finger into every pie, why does it matter, if at all? This verse is beautiful for us believers in Christ:
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – 1 Cor 10:31
Whatever you do, do it for someone you love, to the glory of the God who created you. Whether you’re good in one thing (Lionel Messi) or multiple things (Steve Jobs, Leonardo Da Vinci), the purpose behind it is what I believe to be quite essential to the action. I think it should be streamlined and distilled into something personally meaningful. The driving force behind what we do everyday is what will sustain us and inform our decision-making to be consistent, maybe not entirely, but at least following a traceable trajectory.
So, have I not answered my own question, as to whether it’s better to be a Jack of all trades or a master of one? I don’t think we’re created to merely do a particular action really well. We’re expected to do so many other things, too. Maybe I’ve been asking the wrong question all this while. Maybe it should be why we bother to be a Jack of all trades or a master of one in the first place. Maybe our motivation is the bigger question. It is when we answer that that we are informed of why we do, regardless of what we do and how much we do.