‘One True Calling’ Isn’t For All: 5 Talented ‘Jack of all Trades’

Posted by | February 11, 2016 | Find your mission, How to be awesome at your job

'One True Calling' Isn’t For All: 5 Talented ‘Jack of all Trades’ blog header

You’ve probably heard the saying “jack of all trades, master of none”, but do you know there’s an additional line?

Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one

The addition of seven words turns an insult into encouragement. Fingers in lots of pies? Great! Pies are really delicious. Why stick to only one flavour?

You know who’s likely to agree with my pie observation? Author, artist and entrepreneur Emilie Wapnick. “When did you learn to assign the label of ‘wrong’ or ‘abnormal’ to doing many things?” Emilie asks in her popular TEDx talk Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling. According to Emilie, we learn to label diverse paths negatively when we first start to be asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” as children. Whether our answer is “astronaut!”, “…ballet dancer?” or “definitely a super villain!”, the question itself insinuates that we must pick one career and one career only. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Emilie wants to change this perception. Her own interests zigzagged wildly, from film production to law, music and visual arts. After worrying about it for a long time, she finally accepted herself as a ‘multipotentialite’, someone who has many interests and pursuits. The terms ‘scanner’, ‘Renaissance person’ and ‘polymath’ are also used to describe this attribute.

If you’re someone with divergent or ever-changing interests, you might feel lonely, purposeless, or like there’s something wrong with you. There’s not! In our current specialist-focused culture, Emilie advocates for the gifts of multipotentiality: tremendous strengths, like synthesis of ideas, rapid learning and incredible adaptability.

Want to find out more about multipotentiality? Check out Emilie’s blog, Puttylike. Want to be inspired by five amazing multipotentialites who have rocked the world? Read on!

Al-Biruni (973-1048)

Al-Biruni is considered one of the most devastating academics of the medieval Islamic era. His scholarly pursuits included geology, physics, theology, psychology, sociology, astronomy, astrology, medicine, and more! Whew. Al-Biruni wrote at least 146 books over his lifetime, and both an asteroid and a lunar crater have been named in his honour.


2. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard was a German mystic, writer, philosopher and Benediction Abbess who experienced religious visions from the age of three. Her writings covered fields as diverse as theology, botany, medicine and poetry. Hildegard’s achievements are particularly impressive in a time and place where few women were permitted authority. She is now considered a saint by some branches of Christianity.


3. Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519)

The quintessential ‘Renaissance Man’, Leonardo was into ALOT of things. His varied interests included sculpture, mathematics, music, painting, inventing, architecture and geology, to name just a few. Given Leonardo’s genius, it can be surprising to hear how down on himself he could be. He has been quoted as saying “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”  Leonardo, give yourself a break. 

4. Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

The late Oliver Sacks was a supremely talented author and neurologist.  Called the “poet laureate of contemporary medicine” by the New York Times, Sacks is perhaps best known for Awakenings, which was made into a film starring Robin Williams, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, made up of fascinating patient case studies. But wait, there’s more! Over his lifetime, Sacks was also an enthusiastic naturalist, a record-winning weight-lifter, a motorbike lover with over 100,000 miles to his name, and a mountaineer.


5. Sherlock Holmes (1854- ?)

Okay. So Sherlock might not be a good example of a real person, but he is a great example of a multipotentialite. His brilliant mind reaches into the almost-antithetical realms of science, martial arts, and classical violin with ease. His powers of adaptability, rapid learning and idea synthesis do him in great stead as a ‘consulting detective.’ He is particularly well-known in fields of forensics, disguises, logical reasoning and various forms of combat.

Could YOU be a multipotentialite? Know any local examples? Got any multipotentialite favourites who weren’t named above? Share your thoughts with the Do Good Jobs community below.

By Liz Willoughby-Martin

Like this post? You might also enjoy Seek out work where you don’t hate everyone: 3 fresh ways to find your mission and 6 reasons you’re not a villain for leaving your ‘do good’ job

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