Jack of all Trades, Master of Many: Debunking the Specialist Myth

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This is a story about an SLP who works in the school systems. She looked up to her professors in grad school and wanted to be just like them. She thought she wanted to specialize and work in the medical settings.

But after her post graduate interviews, she got two offers from school systems. And none from medical settings-so schools it was.

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“Now what?” she thought.  She wanted to focus on a niche, so she could be an expert. She wanted to be just like her role models who were really good at what they did because they had a lazer-sharp focus on one specific type of client.

How could she possibly do that in the school systems? How could she be effective when she was spread so thin, needing to address so many different types of clients?

“It’s okay,” she thought. “I’ll just stay in this position for a year or two, and then move on. Then I can pick a niche.”

But that’s not what happened. She found herself in the same position over 10 years later. She felt constantly scattered, convinced that it was impossible to be really good when you have to focus on more than one type of client. She felt purposeless, confused, and often wondered if she was doing the “right” thing for her students.

If you haven’t guessed, “that SLP” is me.

Over and over again, the idea was pounded in to my head by my mentors: Pick your focus. Find your niche, and stick with it. Label yourself, decide what you are. Are you a fluency specialist? An AAC expert? A linguist? Are you one of those “oral-motor” people? You have to choose! You can’t possibly be good at all those things!

So I adopted the “Jack of all trades, master of none” mindset, and convinced myself that I was doomed to fall in to this category forever. I was going to be stuck limping along, feeling insecure about my clinical judgement because I’m in a position that requires me to cover so many different cases.

But then I watched a TEDx talk by Emilie Wapnick that changed everything for me and made me realize I ended up doing exactly what I was meant to do. Emilie added a new word to my vocabulary: Multipotentialite.

multipotentialite

A multipotentialite is a term that refers to someone who excels in two or more different fields (Fisher, 2010). You can check out Emilie’s blog here.

I think this applies to many of us, because we have so many different skills within our scope of practice it’s almost like being in multiple “fields”. We go from fluency students, to voice clients, to students with limited verbal abilities, to students with a language based learning disabilities, to student with a social pragmatic disorders…

These cases ALL require very different skill sets.  Some of us cover this span on a daily basis…not just because we want to, because we HAVE to.

There are some side effects to being a multipotentialite.

Overscheduling. Sound familiar?

High stress levels. Um…yeah…sounds like a day in the life.

Confusion. How many of us wonder daily if we are competent and doing “evidence-based” techniques…or if we’re just winging it?

Feelings of purposelessness. Is what I’m doing actually helping these kids? Am I really making a difference?

Failing to complete projects. Let’s sign up for this seminar or buy this new product/app…and we’re going to change everything and meet all of our therapy goals for next year and come in to work an hour early every day and have weekly meetings about all of our students and keep that happy smile on our faces all year long…oops…we fell off the wagon again.

If you fall in to this multipotentialite category you’re among friends, and it’s time to clear the air about what this actually means.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be specialized in one area to be really good at what you do. “Diverse skill-set” does not mean “less-skilled.” So why do we believe otherwise?

Probably because someone came up with the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” it stuck-and many of us believe it to be true. I’m telling you that you don’t have to accept this philosophy.

There isn’t something wrong with you because you enjoy having a diverse caseload. Maybe you ended up in this setting by choice, or maybe you ended up in the “mulitpotentialite” lifestyle because that’s where you were offered a position. Regardless, don’t feel that you aren’t as skilled as a “specialist” because you work with tons of different cases.

I challenge you to adopt a new phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of many.”

I’m not saying that being a specialist is a bad thing. SLPs who are in a specific niche do exceptional work, and are necessary to the field-but that isn’t how all of us are wired.

The thing is, some of us are meant to be experts in multiple areas.  If this is you, the world needs you.

Let me say that again; We need you! Your students need you! To be without would be a travesty.

Why?

Despite the prestige associated with being a specialist and the pressure to do so, embracing your “multipotential” can lead to phenomenal results. Being able to modify techniques to fit multiple types of client and demonstrating flexibility requires creativity and problem-solving skills.

The ability to move quickly from one thing to the next is a gift. You’re used to feeling uncomfortable, which means you’re likely to take risks and innovate…which can result in life-changing ideas.  Every existing therapy technique in the “books” originated from a clinician in your shoes, and you’re in the position to follow in their footsteps.

 areyoumulti

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DrKaren

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