Better to be a Jack of All Trades or A Master of One?

I’m definitely neither, but lean towards the former. And as I get older, but not richer, I leave what I’ve come to realize that it’s often better and sometimes cheaper to leave it to the Masters to do the job right.

Several years ago, the drain under my bathroom sink corroded through and the drainpipe went through the vanity my Dad built into the wall. I’d replaced the drain before, but this time it was completely corroded everywhere. I pictured myself fighting with the nut against the wall and breaking the pipe in the wall. I called a plumber.

At my old house shortly before we sold it, the PVC drain pipe outside my house cracked and my sister asked me if I could fix it. I told her no even though I helped my Dad lay it decades before and could probably repair/replace it. She said, “Well Dad could do it.”.and I replied, “I’m not Dad.” and walked away. I caulked it up to being the new owner’s problem. Not mine.

I’m a bit of a JOT but mostly for DIY stuff and even so I no longer trust myself to sweat a pipe that carries pressure and can’t work on car engines anymore. Drains are easy (most of the time), electrical I very good at, pretty good at carpentry. Can build and fix computers, solder electronics, and I am almost a Master of Programming a nearly dead language.

I am terrible at doing vertical grout.

BTW, the full quote is

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

This is the story of my life. Able to do many things better than the average bear, but nothing as well as a true pro.

I’m happy with it since it is a very helpful ability to have in my chosen profession, but a side effect is that it causes me to accumulate all kinds of crazy hobbies without every getting awesome at any of them.

And it is kind of depressing to look at truly talented folks expressing their mastery of a specific art and realizing I’ll never get there.

This turns on the distinction between a specialist or a generalist.

A specialist learns more and more about less and less until, eventually, he knows everything about nothing.

A generalist learns less and less about more and more until, eventually, he knows nothing about everything.

Either career path takes an investment of years of learning, preparation, and experience, so choose your path wisely.

In a working society where you can freely and fairly exchange goods and services it is better to be a specialist (Master of One). You get better and faster at what you do, get paid better and can buy more goods and services from others than you would be able to make on your own.
In a dysfunctional society where you cannot enforce contracts or where the justice system is rigged or where corruption is rampant, the more you can do by yourself, the less you depend on others, the better.
So: what kind of society do you reckon you live in? In mine it is better for me to be a Master of One.

But not everyone can be the Master of One and not all skills you can master are all that lucrative, so being handy is pretty damn handy and saves a lot of money if you own a home.

I’ve built tables for $80 that would have cost $600. I’ve done electrical repairs and additions that would have cost thousands. Each computer I built of repaired save several hundred each time, that number is really high. My auto repairs saved a lot in the past.

Chopping up trees that came down myself has saved thousands. Cooking is much cheaper than take-out, delivery or eating out. So thankfully we have 3 that can cook in the house and I’m the least of them. Mowing my own lawn saves $2000 a year, repairing my piece of crap tractor saves spending another $2000 for a new tractor. All these things and more really add up.

Then there’s removing wallpaper and patching the sheetrock as needed and painting the walls yourself. Reshaping a front door chewed on by a groundhog. Reshaping and staining molding my cat scratched up. It just keeps adding up.

I for one am master of one :slight_smile: - I strongly believe in division of labor. In my opinion, by specializing in one lucrative activity one can enjoy both a decent living standard and the comfort of not having to engage in any DIY projects.

My father managed to do both - he was not only a high ranking military officer but also a natural handyman, who could do a lot of building or repairing around the house. My brother has inherited this status.

As a mathematician I was a real specialist. I could do simple house repairs, but as I got older I was more and more inclined to leave it to specialists. The one thing I was really good at was woodworking. Since I moved to a condo, I lost my woodshop and, now that we need a bookcase, I will have to buy one.

As a family medicine physician, I’m definitely a Jack of All Trades sort of guy. During my early career, my practice included ob/gyn, neonatology, pediatrics, minor surgeries, simple non-operative orthopedics, basic internal medicine, emergency medicine, geriatrics, and treatment of straightforward anxiety and depression. I’ve dropped the ER work, ob/gyn and neonatology/peds, and my minor surgery now consists mainly of skin biopsies, abscess drainage, and basic wound repair. But it’s still pretty general.

As a regular guy, I must admit I’m not inclined towards much home repair or plumbing or electrical stuff. I leave that for those who make their living at it.

We’ll soon be moving to a new smaller house with a lot less yard. But against expectation, we have a large, clean high ceiling basement and I will be able to keep my full wood shop. I’m very happy I should have another 10-15 years of being Mr. Fixit.

I consider myself to be sufficient at most everything, master of none. I can build things, I can fix cars, I’m a pretty decent cook. Now that I’m retired, I will have more time to work on my skills, taking them from somewhat average to a bit better than average.

I certainly fit into the Jack of All Trades category. But as others have said, there are times when hiring an expect is the way to go. As Clint Eastwood said in Sudden Impact: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”