September 12, 2021

Jack of All Trades, Exhaustion for One

It just keeps piling on… (Credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash)

When I was heading to grad school for the first time, I was told I had to figure out a concentration and the topic that would eventually become my dissertation. According to academia, you have to show you’re an expert at one subject in order to prove you are the go-to person for this thing. That’s also how I was told my working life should be: to have too many interests is to show a lack of focus. And I am a person with a lot of interests.

Flash forward, I now work in an industry that requires you to be an expert in multiple areas all at once. That’s how you become the go-to person, the jack-of-all-trades.

You’re a great writer. We’d love to have you on our staff. Do you know how to edit video? Are you good at social media? Can you make viral content? Do you have all the major platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,TikTok? 

Oh! Can you do podcasts? Hosting? Producing? Can you cut tape? Can you manage multiple social media accounts at once? 

Back to writing— can you turn in clean copy so you don’t need much editing? Can you also write a weekly newsletter? Can you post multiple times a day… while working on video and podcasts and newsletters and managing all social for all your projects plus promoting on your personal accounts? 

You can? Great! We’ll start you in the lowest salary range, that’s anywhere from $5000-10,000 less than the man who started at the same time with less skills as you, and you probably should avoid union talk because we’re family here… until we need to pivot to the next big thing and have to do lay-offs. Welcome to the team!

I’m poking fun at the media industry’s expectations for writers to be able to do so much more than write, but it’s become common that employers are expecting new employees to carry more responsibilities. LinkedIn recently pointed out that at least 35% of entry-level jobs require 3 years of experience. The number increases to 60% for tech jobs. The Washington Post was recently called to the carpet on Twitter for expecting intern applicants in college to have major newsroom experience already. They updated their requirements after the backlash. 

Employers expect you to be able to start a new job as an expert in multiple areas already so they don’t have to take the time to train you but contradictorily they don’t want to pay you for the experience you have. Companies work under the idea of “spend the least to make the most” but they don’t seem to realize that you also get what you pay for. When you tell your staff to do more with less, which means overworking your employees, it causes them to build resentment and stress so they begin looking for a job that will appreciate all that they do with proper compensation. 

As a freelancer with multiple skillsets outside of writing, I have to figure out the best rate to reflect my worth. But I must be honest. Sometimes I still underbid myself in order to keep work flowing to me. 

When I started freelancing full time, I realized very quickly how often I’d have to advertise how I can do more in order to have a reasonable chance at certain gigs. But it’s not healthy for companies or their employees to expect everyone to be an expert at all things. You start to feel like you’re carrying a house of cards and the slightest fumble will send you and your job into disarray. That’s no way to live. It stresses out the mind, body, and spirit, and it wears you down. 

I don’t have any foolproof advice on how to conquer the expectation to be an immediate expert in all things. But just as more of us are learning to walk away from jobs that don’t value us, I think we have to learn what we can carry well and do those things to the best of our abilities. Maybe you’re a great writer who sucks at social media. Let your boss know that and express that they should hire someone who’s good at managing multiple accounts across platforms so you can focus on quality writing. When your attention is divided, your work can suffer. 

Be honest about your capabilities and what you can handle. You are not incompetent if you can’t juggle all that’s expected of you. You were overburdened in the first place.