I’ve never bought into the idea of specialization. Perhaps it was because my Dad was/is a jack-ass of all trades; he’s tried his hand at damn near every trade, from carpentry through mechanics, and with a detour through plumbing and electrical. He dragged me along on a number of those “adventures” and a grudgingly developed some basic skills in most of those realms. I think it’s more than that, though; I think it has deep roots in my personality.
I’ve often thought that the way people live their lives can often be seen through how we play the games we play, and I spent a lot of time playing RISK when I was younger. My favourite tactic (OK, my only tactic) was to take Australia early, and start plunking forces down in Siam. It was simple logic—sure, there’s limited return on investment, in that Australia only gives the player two forces per turn, but there’s also only one avenue of attack, so it’s incredibly defensible. Things were similar with other games I would play. Even when I was into Shadowrun (a futuristic Dungeons and Dragons style game) many of my friends would want the fastest, toughest, or smartest character possible; I just wanted the character that could do something with his situation, no matter how grim it might look. They took my guns? I’ve got magic. Suppressed my magic? I’ve got a shotgun inside my cyberarm (wow…this just turned even more nerdy, didn’t it?). I was always prepared.
I’ve tried to live my life the same way—having a baseline of skills that I can improve on at need to deal with situations as they come up. Something wrong on the car? I can usually make an educated guess, even if I don’t know how to fix it myself. Problem with the furnace? I’ll take a swing at it. The same goes with my non-trade specific interests. I wanted a website, but didn’t know HTML…so I figured it out, using my modest background in Basic and C++.
But there’s a cost to a lack of specialization in our world. You can see it right in this blog; I suspect that it’s unfocused enough that I will never carry a big readership, and I will likely never even bring in enough income from it to completely pay for my costs, let alone the time I spend putting things together. There is a niche market for Daddy blogs, there’s another for gaming, yet another for books, and I’m sure dozens more to cover my other interests—but that’s not who I am. I don’t want to give up my other interests in order to devote time to a singular interest and perhaps become more successful at it.
This is also a problem occasionally when it comes to parenting. There are times when I’m absorbed enough (usually with a book) that I’m not giving my sons 100% of my attention. It’s not like I do it all the time, and it’s not like I’m constantly absorbed with video games or my cell phone either—unless I’m using the phone for its Kindle app, because I only have the novel I’m reading electronically. In my defense, my reading is part of what keeps me sane with a 7 month old that never sleeps, and a 3 year old whose full time job is now pushing his luck, but it’s still not necessarily fair to them.
I fear that, while my baseline of skills makes me a valuable employee, it also limits me in the workplace. I have no real drive for promotion; as long as I make a decent living, I’m happy with less responsibility. I like the fact that I have time to do things like write blog posts at work or search for new and interesting things to learn about, when my actual work is taken care of…but I’m not sure my employer would entirely agree with that stance.
Perhaps that old adage is right: “jack of all trades, master of none.” I would like to think, though, that “pretty damned good at a couple of things, capable of most” is an acceptable compromise. Isn’t it? Maybe I’ll find at the end of my life that I’ve had no great successes to speak of, only a boatload of knowledge, independent, capable sons, and a life that has favoured enjoyment over status…or maybe I’ll screw it all up. From this angle, I simply can’t see that far forward…but here’s hoping.