Jack of all trades, master of none?

This is where I’m at. At least that’s what it feels like at the moment. I’m sure I’m not the first or the last person in the nonprofit sector to have found themselves here. Working at a nonprofit, especially in this economy, you will inevitably have to wear several different hats. You will go from working on a grant to copy tech to program coordinator faster than you can say “That’s not in my job description” (Side note: I’m not a fan of that phrase ). I certainly don’t think that being a jack of all trades is a bad thing. You will definitely gain a lot of knowledge about the organization, learn about different departments, gain invaluable experience, and get a much better understanding of how organizations work. This is especially valuable for those aspiring to be ED’s.

While being a jack of all trades has benefits and can probably be found in the fine print of many nonprofit job descriptions, I have found that it has also left me a bit bleary eyed and in need of some focus. So, what do we do if we kinda like being a jack of all trades, but want to become a master of at least one? Here are three ideas that I will be working on applying in my own life:

  1. Prioritize. A nice conversation with my sister helped bring some perspective here. I’ve noticed that the one area I’d like to grow in right now is also the one that is regularly put in the back burner in order to take care of more urgent items. While it is necessary to take care of the urgent, we should be sure to make time to work on those projects that will allow us to focus on the skill sets we’d like to develop. I know time is invaluable and there’s not much to spare, but how else will we begin to grow if we don’t make it a priority?
  2. Volunteer. If you know what skill you’d like to sharpen or become a master of, find a volunteer opportunity that will allow you to grow in that area.
  3. Take classes. Find classes that will help you gain the skills you need in the area you’d like to master. Knowledge is power!

What are your thoughts? Are you a jack of all trades? Are you a master of one (or more)? Share your thoughts below!

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3 thoughts on “Jack of all trades, master of none?

  1. This is soo true. There are some people who have more of an inherent nature to be aware of everything that needs to get done – I am that way, and it sounds like you are. It’s a blessing and a curse… because while we are workers with some of the best follow through and great project management, it also can mean we are taking on more than we are “supposed to” be responsible for. I absolutely agree with point number 1, and think it’s what one should revolve all work around. It’s about making the focus be what you’re passionate about (and what your responsibility really is) and learning to let go of the other things that might not happen. Because even the Jack (or Jane) of all trades needs an expertise in the long run!

    • Thanks for your input – valued as always! This really hit me the other day when I noticed I’ve learned a little bit of everything, but haven’t really become a master of one particular thing. However, after thinking about it and talking it over I began to see the positive sides to it and realized it’s a really good foundation to have. Have you been able to become a master at something while being a Jane of all trades? Or are you working on becoming a master at something? If so, I’d love to hear how you balance the two!

      • I’m happy you’ve found the good in knowing a little about everything – in the long run, it will most likely get you far. I personally have found a bit of a niche with being an expert in some technological functions of nonprofits… I have managed databases, maintained the website, etc. It’s even gone so far that program staff have asked me to do an Outlook training for them (we can definitely say “not in my job description” for that one!). Although it isn’t necessarily my responsibility, it made me feel great knowing my expertise and knowledge was respected by management staff. So, I guess that’s how I have reached a balance – by finding one aspect of the organization’s operations that is lagging and learning as much as I can about it.

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