Jack of all trades, king of none. I hate that saying because I used to believe it, and it was a curse on my self-perception for years. I seriously thought, that because I love writing, making music, taking pictures and pretty much anything else that involves creative thinking, and am completely incapable of limiting myself to one, that I was doomed to fail in all of them. Now, I declare war on this antiquated saying and way of thinking.
The saying implies that you have to specialize in something, or you will never find your full potential. It’s the hidden threat and slight air of superiority that appeals to my never-sleeping inner rebel. Who says you have to even think in terms of kings and jacks? I think that’s too limited, to be honest. If you really want to go with the playing card metaphor, why not go for being an ace? Or a joker? Or how about a whole hand – like a royal flush?
Being creative, no matter your field, is all about breaking down barriers, mixing up elements of the world around us and creating something new from it. If you’re good, you can capture people’s imagination with the result of your work. If you’re lucky, you might even invent something completely new. Leonardo da Vinci is arguably one of the greatest artists in history. He was also a noted inventor and scientist. No single card could possibly represent his work, and why should you and I be any different?
You might simply compare the Jack of All Trades label to that of finding a niche. A niche is a specialty. Mine, in the case of photography, is a certain type of portrait. It’s easier to get commercial success if you have a niche, that is no secret, but does that mean that you should limit yourself to that niche only and become its king? I think not. I think that if you do limit yourself like that, you will either burn out or become a one-trick pony. Like a band pumping out albums that all sound the same, even if they’re well played, written and produced. I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples. Instead, I suggest we all have many niches; maybe even one for everything we love to do.
In the age of social media and self-branding, if I was forced to choose, I’d rather be a jack of all trades than a king of one. Just like the saying implies that the jack will never be as good at that one thing as the king is, the reverse is also true: The king has a limited perspective and is bound to become more narrow-minded. However, I argue that the entire metaphor is outdated, and suggest that we outright kill the jack as well as his king. If you, like me, find that you are a set of jack, queen, king and ace on some days, and a mismatched five, two, eight and seven on others; invent your own game where all the cards are equally important. Solitaire, anyone?
I constantly look for ways to make a buck off of combining my many passions. Every time I succeed, I have discovered something uniquely mine and very fulfilling, and why shouldn’t we all do this as many times in our lives as possible? Trying to become a ‘king’ of only one field might build a better retirement fund, but I’d rather work hard till I drop than be a retiree who never explored life’s possibilities. The way I look at it, jacks and kings are all fine, but if life is a deck of cards, then it has 50 more facets, none of which should be easily discarded.
Death to the jack and his king cohort, the world will be a better place to create in without them.