Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: ‘Jack of all trades’—Jibe or Jest?  

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Jolene Yee (23S03A) and Faith Wan (23S02B)
Cover image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.

I have a lot of interests but I’m not that good at anything… someone made an offhand comment saying I’m a jack of all trades but master of none and that kind of stung a little – any advice? 

Interested Isaac

Dear Interested Isaac,

While they might not have meant for it to come off as a jab, it certainly would have hurt at the moment when you heard those words. 

It’s easy to get jaded in the cycle of trying something new, struggling against the steep learning curve before ultimately giving up. Especially in school, where no matter which way you turn, there are people wildly good at what they do—be it Olympiad medallists, music diploma holders or scholarship recipients. It’s only natural then to feel a little lost: a little unsteady on our feet.  

What’s more, most, if not all of us, are still in the “experimentation” stage of life, busy dabbling in different hobbies and discovering our interests. We are all works in progress in the midst of honing our craft and sharpening our skills. Plenty of well-known individuals, including cookbook author Julia Childs, comic artist Stan Lee, and fashion designer Vera Wang only discovered their passions later in life. 

Such factors all contribute to an increased susceptibility to feelings of inadequacy, the underlying culprit that often causes us to be highly sensitive to feedback, whether well-intentioned or wicked. 

The Full Phrase (With Context!)

The phrase “jack of all trades” has turned into somewhat of an insult, usually implying “so, you’re not really good at anything, huh?” along with it. However, while “a jack of all trades is a master of none” is the catchphrase familiar to many, the full phrase is perhaps less well-known. 

According to this Forbes article, the full version was originally supposed to be “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” As it turns out, this was used to describe William Shakespeare, who would often spend time in the theatre helping out with whatever he could, whether as a stagehand, director, or even actor. Evidently, this phrase in full was meant to be a compliment, much unlike its truncated form. 

Shifting Perspective

Going back to your concern, you mention having many “interests”, but would you consider them to be your “passions”? For any of your interests, do you feel the burning desire to push yourself out of your comfort zone to improve?

While we’re definitely not saying you’re not “good” at any of your interests or you’re not trying hard enough, it’s undoubtedly tough giving your 100% to something you’re just… not that passionate about. 

It might be a good time to ask yourself if there’s anything holding you back from turning those casual interests into hobbies you regularly engage in. Could it be the stress of having to commit your time and energy to something that might not even work out? Or perhaps, it’s the “fear of failure” monster rearing its head again, creating inertia and standing in the way of you and your goals.

All-rounder Advantages

Clichéd as it sounds, it all boils down to perspective. The pessimist in you could be unnerved by the label of “a jack of all trades”, but upon taking a sanguine view of things, you might begin to appreciate your versatility as a forte rather than a flaw. 

In the rapidly changing workplace today, employers increasingly value multi-hyphenates for their ability to seamlessly transition between roles and specialisations. They are prized for their broad skill sets, and with that, the ability to learn and pick up relevant skills quickly. 

Of course, these all-rounder advantages are not limited to just professional settings. On a daily basis, your versatility puts you in good stead when it comes to conflict resolution and problem-solving. Believe it or not, it is a widely coveted life skill

Moreover, with your varied interests, even if you’re not “exceptional” at any of them, they may very well pave the way and lay the foundation for “accidental” opportunities in the future. For example, it could open up fortuitous career changes and serendipitous encounters that lead you closer to your “true calling” in life. This is the case for Ms Suriaatmadja, who switched careers during the pandemic after discovering her passion lay in healthcare. 

So, what now? 

The road ahead is an endless journey of self-discovery. As you go through rounds of trial-and-error and dip your toes in various fields, your future aspirations might start crystallising into something more concrete and compelling.

Continue building your repertoire of skills so that when opportunities knock, you can seize them promptly and confidently. Don’t let the critical voices of others or yourself hold you back from seeking improvement and striving for excellence. 

At the end of the day, regardless of who you are or where you are now, we’d like to assure you that it is perfectly fine to be conventionally “bad” at something. You don’t have to be creating Picasso-level artworks, writing a Booker prize-worthy novel, or coding a swanky computer game from scratch. While it may be hard to internalise, you don’t have to possess exceptional skill at something for it to be worthy of being called a hobby. You don’t have to validate your interests to anyone, and if you’re enjoying yourself, where’s the harm in that? 

Hence, the Aunts and Uncles here wish you all the best in making peace with your interests, and encourage you to go further in your journey of self-discovery!


Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Tuesday from 2.30 – 4.30 p.m, Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m., Thursday 2.30 – 4.30 p.m. and Friday 1.30 – 4.30 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at or fill in our request form at our website!

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