Being a Jack-of-all-trades, or a hedgehog?

Recently I have been thoughtful over what ingredients are necessary on the road to success. Now I don’t mean the actual skills you need in a job such as creativity, good time-management and organisation (though these tend to be of use). I have been thinking more in terms of which path to follow in order to achieve your goals, and for me, two options seem to arise. The first method is to be skilled at as many things as possible, shall we say a Jack-of-all-trades. For example, the creative individual who can turn their hand to a range of specialities, from Event Planning, to Budget Management, to promotion of Social Media, speaking a different language, and who also gigs in their spare time as a stand-up comedian. This flexibility and broad range of experience to me seems invaluable to employers, especially at the awkward moment when at the fundraiser no one knows how to work the microphone and amp. Though commendable to have many strengths under ones belt, is it actually the case when looking to forge a career that this broad spectrum of skill actually matters? As the phrase goes ‘Jack-of-all-trades, yet master of none’, we understand that those who flitter from role to role may have many skills, yet not one polished and defined strength. Jim Collins, who researches what makes businesses work, speaks of The Hedgehog Concept, a story in which a fox attempts to eat a hedgehog by finding lots of new ways to bring forth its demise. While the hedgehog simply repeats his one trick, rolling up into a ball, successfully beating the fox each time. If like the hedgehog, we can find one thing that we are good at, passionate about, and enables us to live (in this sense financially, not so much a life or death matter as it is with our little friend), then theoretically we should succeed. When beginning to apply for jobs you often see specifications such as, you must have a Journalism Degree, or a certain number of years experience in project management. This is fine for people who decided way back when they were fifteen what they wanted to be, and have stuck to their guns ever since. However, for the more indecisive collection of us, it is hard to excel in just one area when the majority of our academic and professional life, has been geared towards exploring different avenues, trying to find the right vocation. Something those lucky hedgehogs discovered back when they were only little hoglets. In my case I found what I was passionate about a long time ago – theatre, but what within the theatre? Over the years I have dabbled with directing, acting, dancing, set design, devising and writing but still not settled on one discipline to focus on. I feel like it is important and healthy to give yourself the space to explore options, even if at times you feel a bit lost doing it. So, that when you do devote your efforts to one thing you have a pull towards, whether it is for the reason of passion, talent or indeed financial gain, you are satisfied that you gave yourself the chance to look. Maybe initially it is not clear to you what career you want, but by investigating different paths you realise what you do not want. Though the path to success may be more winding on this route, in the long term I believe (and hope) it to be more beneficial and fulfilling.

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One thought on “Being a Jack-of-all-trades, or a hedgehog?

  1. Good assessment Steph. When I worked in the civil service views on ‘specialists v generalists’ changed frequently. For some periods the assumption was that you could not advance (ie get promoted!) unless you had worked in a range of jobs (Policy, Operational Management, HR etc). When Tony Blair came to power he declared “the days of the gifted amateur in the civil service are over”. This led to the concept of ‘career anchors’ (Policy, Operational Management, HR etc). Under this theology your civil service career would be ‘anchored’ in one of these areas – but you were allowed to broaden your experience by moving into other ares – temporarily! As in your world, there are pros and cons of both ‘specialist’ and ‘generalist’ approaches!

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