There is an old saying, "jack of all trades, master of none." At one time, that meant a person could do a number of things fairly well but was not an expert at any one of those things.
Over time, though, I think a slight negative connotation crept into the subtext of that old phrase, an implication that such a person perhaps wasn't worth as much to society as someone who possessed expertise is a specific field, such as medicine or science.
I have been recalling that phrase, one I often used to describe myself and my abilities, over the last several days as I prepare for the very real possibility of having to find a new job. The company I worked for sold my division, and the new owners are busy reorganizing the division and redefining how things are done, both of which are good for the company but not necessarily as good for all of its employees.
As a result, some of the jobs in my division are being eliminated, while others are being moved to a different state. That means some good people will find themselves on the outside looking in.
In my current position, being something of a generalist, a "jack of all trades," if you will, is a good thing. Being able to do a number of things reasonably well makes you a bit more valued.
However, in looking at some recent job openings, I am increasingly convinced that we live in a specialized world. Most, if not all of the opening require a specific skill or combination of skills, even for lower-paying or entry-level positions. Other qualities that might ensure an ability to do the job well (critical thinking skills, ability to work independently or as part of a team, etc.) are ignored if the applicant does not possess the specific expertise sought.
While specific expertise is quite useful in, say, a physician or a lawyer, it seems less necessary in areas such as sales or general labor. Yet I see more and more calls for specific skills, no matter how low paying the position.
I have worked for any length of time in only two areas in my life: broadcast journalism and data entry/pricing. I have been out of journalism for 20 years and likely could not go back even if I wanted to. I have worked for my current employer for almost eight years, spending time in Accounts Payable and in a division office working with beer and wine distributors and entering pricing.
I believe I have other skills that seldom get a chance to be used: critical thinking, analytical skills, writing skills, and more. Yet these skills may remain untapped as long as the positions where such things might be put to use require specific expertise I do not possess.
Generally speaking, there should be places in the working world for people who possess broad knowledge and abilities, people who do not conveniently fit into a specific niche, the square pegs who do not fit the round holes. Specifically speaking, there should be a place for me. Now I just need to find it.