Written by: Jocelyn Kezia Sutadharma
Editor: Ghafi Reyhan
Illustration by: Pricharia Via
Would you rather be a jack of all trades or master of one? The original figure of speech, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is predominantly used as an insult for people who only have average capacity in multiple skills but lack mastery of any. A few months ago, I conducted a mini survey on my social media account asking the same exact question. The response revealed that there was no strict preference, hence several questions arose in my mind; which is inherently better? And which should we strive for in life?
Surprisingly, the question we started with has one problem: it’s a fallacy. We are making an assumption that a person can only be one or the other. It should not be a habit of ours to box ourselves into these two categories, instead, we should strive to be what’s called a T-shaped person. Normally used as a workplace jargon–originating from McKinsey & Company in the 1980s–a T-shaped person means one is a master of at least one skill, and competent in many others.
When we are described as a “T-shaped” person, we are versatile and flexible. This sets us apart from other individuals, making us greatly desired in the corporate world. Instead of being able to do only one specific thing, we can lead a project within our area of expertise, while still helping out in other projects as we can easily comprehend technical conversation and have a strong foundation in many areas of knowledge.
Beside being an important company “asset” (as what capitalism desires), being a T-shaped person also has its personal benefits. Diving into multiple skills can encourage us to strive more for personal growth as we realize that there’s only so much we can understand. Meanwhile, strengthening our mastery of the skill that we choose to specialize in creates a sense of gratification from successfully learning technical topics and exploring new realms of knowledge. Ultimately, establishing a T-shaped skill set is valuable for our career and personal growth because we can build an in-depth understanding in our specialized skill while at the same time retain a degree of familiarity in many other subjects.
However, becoming this type of person requires double the time and effort since one must be reliable, agile, and up to date, much like the ever changing landscape of the internet. Lucky for us though, in the digital age, information is accessible from almost anywhere. There is no more excuse for us to say, “I don’t have enough resources to learn from,” as it is all up to us to utilise all the materials available on the internet. Furthermore, to become a T-shaped person one must have an open mind and positive attitude towards growth reflected in a continuous effort to learn, assess, re-learn, reassess, get a mentor, do our research, and draft future plans. In short, by giving our 110% into the things we do and wish to do, becoming a T-shaped person is easily attainable.
Despite that, becoming a T-shaped person has its own potential drawbacks, one of which is making us more prone to being exploited in the field of employment. The fact that we can be tasked to do what was initially a 3-man job on our own, makes us a cost effective employee. For example, when our job description doesn’t include video editing but our resume does, we become the go-to person in our office to edit videos without extra credit or pay. Nevertheless, this situation can be avoided by having a strong sense of self worth; we must remember that we have the right to say no to assignments that are not within our job description and ask for compensation, either through the form of raise, promotion, or bonuses, when our job description includes additional tasks not previously agreed upon.
All in all, it is our generation’s fate, stemming from the actions of previous generations who either over-specialise or over-generalise, to constantly adapt, change, and evolve. What we need to understand in a world where everything is instant is that nothing comes easy, that even being ‘just’ average takes a lot of effort and time. We can’t turn back time or even fight how the system works. So, the only thing we can do to keep sanity is try not to carry a heavy heart, and instead find comfort in every step of our journey. For as long as we keep being open-minded and thirsty for knowledge, “jack of all trades” or “master of one” will be a mere fallacy.
Bodell, L. (2020, Aug. 28). Why T-Shaped Teams Are the Future of Work. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisabodell/2020/08/28/futurethink-forecasts-t-shaped-teams-are-the-future-of-work/?sh=7d3498ac5fde
Patterson, R. (2017, Nov. 7). The T-Shaped Person: Building Deep Expertise and a Wide Knowledge Base. College InfoGeek. https://collegeinfogeek.com/become-t-shaped-person/Yip, J. (2018, Mar. 24). Why T-Shaped People? Medium. https://jchyip.medium.com/why-t-shaped-people-e8706198e437