Review of Jordan Raynor’s Master of One

By Chris Robertson, reprinted from Made to Flourish.

I’m sure you have heard the phrase “a jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” referring to an individual with knowledge of many jobs while lacking expertise in any of them. This quote came to mind as I read Jordan Raynor’s new book, Master Of One: Find and Focus On the Work You Were Created To Do. Raynor references this quote in the introduction, mentioning it is possibly a misquote of Benjamin Franklin, “who supposedly encouraged his readers to be a ‘jack of all trades and a master of one.’”

Raynor is an author, serial entrepreneur and executive chairman of Threshold 360. Previously, he worked as CEO at a number of successful ventures, a Google fellow and in the White House under President George W. Bush. He and his wife, Kara, make their home in Tampa, Florida, with their two young daughters.

A professor I know often said we need to simplify and enlarge our impact. I believed this phrase from the beginning, but this book helps flesh out what that mindset looks like in everyday life and why it’s essential. It can be easy for us to fill our lives with tasks, presuming effectiveness, and impact for the glory of God. Raynor calls us to a different perspective, where we identify the one thing we were created to do through a series of steps, including introspection, experimentation, and input from trusted friends and mentors.

He describes the kind of work we should aim toward as masterful work for the glory of God and the good of others. This is the lens through which we should look to evaluate any work we consider pursuing.

Raynor describes three questions we should ask in the process of choosing our one thing:

  • What am I passionate about?
  • What gifts has God given me?
  • Where do I have the best opportunity to glorify God and serve others?

The bulk of the book describes a process to help us choose our “one thing.” While Raynor is quick to say there is not a “one size fits all” formula, there is an effective method of selection he has seen in his life and the lives of others. The four steps in this process are explore, choose, eliminate and master. This process flies in the face of conventional wisdom that encourages people to find vocational happiness by finding work that aligns with a preexisting passion. Raynor asserts true vocational satisfaction follows mastery, not the other way around.

“There is no end to the path of mastery. Mastery is not a destination, but a lifelong journey of continually holding our crafts in order to more effectively declare the excellencies of our creator and serve those around us, always believing that ‘better is possible,’” he writes.

Your one thing may vary during your lifetime. That is fine. We need to be about the task of doing that one thing well, for the glory of God and the good of others.

Raynor quotes Douglas Gresham, who discusses his stepfather, C.S. Lewis. “We don’t need more people writing Christian books. What we need is more Christians writing good books.” This mindset led Lewis to focus on being a master teacher of literature rather than a particular message through his books. “When he started on the work, the Holy Spirit of God took over, and that’s why they turned into books they did. But, at the onset of The Chronicles of Narnia, it wasn’t [Lewis’] intention to preach. His intention was to simply write a really good book. ”

Again, from Gresham, “for a Christian in any art form or business or any work in the world, the most important thing of all is to do the work right, and you do it well. That’s what Christianity is all about. Doing the right thing and doing it well.”

I spoke with a colleague as I worked on this review who suggested the value of being a generalist in our current cultural and economic moment. He also stated that it is a privileged position to recommend someone focus on one craft. This book and its content are relevant for many leaders, however, I’m not sure it is a fit for those in blue-collar work, for example, where working a particular job is often a necessity rather than for enjoyment. These individuals should see their work as valuable to God and an opportunity to embody different facets of God’s character for their flourishing and their organization’s. They may, however, not have the luxury of focusing on one thing.

Master of One is full of great content, including stories from leaders and entrepreneurs who experienced a change in how they approached their work, resulting in a focus on serving God and others through mastery of their craft. Raynor has also produced a notebook you can access online to help you process the book’s content.

Author’s note: I want to conclude this review by dedicating it to my mother, Lisbeth “Betsi” Robertson. Mom recently passed away after a long illness. Her love of reading and writing continues to have an influence that makes me want to master this craft. I love you, mom.

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