One of my favorite words has been JOAT, jack of all trades. Jacks of all trades don’t get much credit in these bewildering times. Instead, we shoot the breeze about specialists who can’t cut their way out of a brown paper bag because it wasn’t exactly the type they studied in school. Our schools tend to go through waves of overproduction of specialists. Lawyers, business majors, and computer experts of various stripes are produced to excess with the loud declaration that they can get jobs! Then, the inevitable chest pounding starts, a loud brouhaha that they don’t have the skills to become a GS4 clerk typist for the government: someone forgot that underlying educational skills in language, social science, or grammar might have better prepared them for a more competitive job market.
My father and I’ll bet yours, too, maintained that education was necessary to get ahead in life, but it was essential to have a trade to back the education up. So by the time I had the opportunity to go to college after a wonderfully misspent youth, I had a fair start on being a JOAT. I returned to one of those trades, working as a surgical technician, after leaving graduate school because there were few jobs in anthropology. Luckily, I found myself employed in a trade I learned some twenty years prior.
My father maintained that if someone offered to teach you some practical skill, you should grasp the opportunity because you never knew when basic knowledge would come in handy. It’s why I make a living as a videographer and television station manager today. I was offered the opportunity to learn video production, and I took it. I used the new skills to create videos of what I studied as a field ethnographer. Years later, one of my short documentaries opened the door to other employment.
It’s been said that nowadays, you shouldn’t expect to retire from your initial career, that over a work-life, you will open several chapters and not stay where you started. Being intoxicated with the joy of completing your training or education in a specialty area is terrific. It can, however, be short-lived when you are declared no longer the GOAT (greatest of all time) within a decade. Your skills are dated. You are headed towards middle age and age discrimination. Sadly, you are not promotable.
Interestingly, GOAT has been termed one of the most overused words of the year. But maybe it would be better to describe the Greatest of all time (GOAT) phenomena as ephemeral – not lasting long, here today, gone tomorrow.
I’d rather be a JOAT and be capable of moving on to new things, not trapped in one.