Just this week, I was listening to a podcast with Joe Rogan and Naval Ravinkat, an entrepreneur and the co-author of Venture Hacks. The two-hour podcast was quite interesting and covered a wide range of topics, spanning from capitalism to meditation, Ravinkat really does have some interesting insights to America’s social, political and economic structure. However, to me, the most important words that the entrepreneur spoke were within the first twenty minutes of the podcast: “specialization is for insects.”  

It turns out these weren’t Ravinkat’s original words (although he is most definitely capable of formulating such a philosophy). They are actually the words of Lazarus Long, the main character in Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, and the oldest being in the human race: four thousand years old to be exact.  

Lazarus Long is a rugged individualist placed in a time period in which societies’ expectations and preferences are entirely bounding. In this specific time, a “jack of all trades” was looked down upon, and frequently associated with the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Those who were masters in one specific skillset were associated with success and importance.  Yet, according to Long, the only way in which he found value in his long lifespan was developing new skills. He states:  

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects” 

Ironically enough, even though this novel was written decades ago, this the “Jack of all trades” still holds a negative connotation today. No one wants to be the “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  

But why?  

Becoming an expert at something is like climbing a mountain; climbing up to the top of the mountain takes time, practice, a lot of hard work, and extreme determination. Once you arrive at the top of the mountain, however, you are celebrated for your achievements, both internally and externally: there are people there to praise you and ask you how you managed such a difficult climb, and you are proud of yourself. Success feels good.  

  However, once you are at the top of the mountain, or are an expertise in your field, you are afraid to look down. This is because when you go back to the bottom of the mountain, you would have to climb the mountain again, but take an entirely different path. In other words, you would have to be unqualified again, you have to be the newbie again.  

  The benefits? 

You get the opportunity to reach the peak of the mountain again. This means you get to learn an entirely new set of skills, you gain confidence, and you begin to embody complexity.  

Now, it is important to take the words of Lazarus Long with a grain of salt; he is a fictional character after all. You do not need to go to law school where you learn in the ins and outs of the court system and then four years later start medical school and learn how to deliver a baby. Becoming a “Jack of all trades” can be as simple as learning more about the different departments in your company, to as large as opening a new business that is out of your realm of comfort.  

If you take a look at the most successful people in this world, they are not a master of one single field, rather, they have their hand in a little bit of everything. It takes humility. Do you have what it takes?