I fancy myself to be somewhat of a Jack of All Trades (or a Jane). I love to go out and learn new things. Being able to do as much as I can for myself not only saves me money, but empowers me as a woman. It makes me feel strong.
Last weekend I came back from a bootblacking class in my freshly cleaned and conditioned leather. I had done it myself in a workshop run by my friend K. My Valkyrie was so excited by how shiny and new it looked, having seen it before I left. So excited, that I asked her if she would like to learn how to do it herself.
I’ll never forget how she jumped up and down and screamed “Yes,” at me. She wanted to learn a life skill. Even if it may not be particularly useful to her every day. And this is something I encourage. She may never need to know how to bootblack, but at least one day, if she has leather of her own, she can say that she can do it herself.
There are plenty of skills that fall into this category. Sewing is always useful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made my own dress in a style I like, for way cheaper than I could have bought it. (And sometimes I’ve made a better quality dress than what I was looking at.) Or ironing. I can’t say that I know too many people that iron, but its still a useful skill.
And there are more than even I want to learn. I want to learn to consistently target and fire a gun and a bow. I want to learn how to hunt (if I can learn to be that patient). Or trapping. I would love to increase my ability to cook things properly over a fire as well as other survival skills because one day I may need them to survive.
I know I was glad to be able to track in the woods when I got lost at summer camp.
I’m not a prepper by any means, but I still find value in these skills. I find value in the ability to diversify what I’m personally capable of. And as a parent, I think we should all hope that our children feel the same way. I think we want them to have a diverse range of interests and abilities.
I know that I want the Valkyrie to be well rounded. I want her to have all manner of skills to fall back on. I want to prepare her for as many possibilities as I possibly can, even if some of them are unlikely. It doesn’t make a skill any less useful. It doesn’t mean that someday they won’t use it.
I know I can’t plan for everything or ensure that she can survive everything, but I can continue to learn and share my knowledge with her.
The Fall of the Jack of All Trades
Once upon a time, we lived in a different world. A world where we praised those who managed to learn more than one or two specified skills. A man was considered more competent if he could do all many of contract work versus only being able to drywall or replace roofing. The Jack of all trades was revered for his abilities and often paid more in the long run than those who could only perform one task.
Alas, those days have passed and our society has taken a turn. Nowadays, we relish those who can perform minute pieces of a larger task. Computer programmers rarely do all the different types of programming in their jobs. They tend to be specified to one part of it. The idea is that the fewer functions one has to perform the more efficiently and correctly they can perform the aspects they are working on.
Which in theory sounds nice, clean, perfect, and maybe a bit robotic.
But What About the Future?
However, while all this sounds nice, it does create a number of problems.
First of all, it’s exceedingly Tedious. Think of factory work. God bless all the people who work in a factory. I’ve worked in one myself. I know it’s not an easy job, but its also a bit mind-numbing doing one single task over, and over, and over, and OVER again. I only did it for a week and I was already sick of it despite the wonderful pay.
And there was a time when that sort of tedium caused Henry Ford to pay his workers nearly double to do menial, repetitive work. At the time people were afraid it would drive them nuts. And in fact, there is some evidence that this may be accurate. One study showed that boredom and tedious, repetitive work can negatively affect your cognitive functioning over time.
#2 The Death of Creativity
Creativity is the applying of new patterns to a set of objects. Specialization removes new patterns from the equation. You have to continue to learn to find new ideas and inspiration. Which implies that generalizing, not specializing is better for you and your company in the long run.
And what would we be without creativity? Creativity is what caused our country to boom into the economic powerhouse it is today. Without creativity, we will continue to fall behind, not only in education but in business. I would much rather branch out and stir the creative pot than kill that part of me.
#3 Communication Breakdown
Specialization creates a problem akin to what happened at the tower of Babel. Everyone failing to communicate, in this instance because they aren’t working together. When each person isn’t at least learning about the whole, they miss out on jargon and key points that allow the system or product to work.
Work becomes bureaucratic in nature and we’ve all seen how that works. At least you have if you’ve ever sat in a government line for anything. If the project manager has to go through each link of the process to find out where something went wrong, rather than just being able to pull everyone together to brainstorm, how much time does that waste? And what if one of the other people would have been capable of doing both tasks? What if they had worked on it as a team and communicated? When a project is passed around in parts and pieces, however, this is impossible to accomplish.
Highly inefficient as any movement has to go through several people, wastes time, and makes anything one person does affect them only indirectly. This indirectness decreases motivation and the need to do something correctly.
So Why Am I Teaching My Child To Bootblack?
I’m teaching the Valkyrie all sorts of skills. I don’t think that any skill lacks value (well maybe being able to burp your alphabet or something like that). I may not use every skill I learn, but I know I can fall back on them if the need arises. I know that I can change my own oil and tires. I know that I can refurbish a torn up piece of furniture.
All those skills and much more have saved me money on more than one occasion. I want the Valkyrie to have those opportunities as well. I want her to be well rounded and no have to rely on each specialized piece on the board to be able to function.
We all have to be able to rely on others and ask them for help when we are incapable of performing the necessary task. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t diversify our own skills and be as independent as possible. I personally think that overspecialization is a dangerous and slippery slope. I think that it cuts us off from other people and possibly things that we could find passion in ourselves.
Regardless, take a chance. Learn a new skill as a parent. Or teach your child. Learn as many things as possible. Be diverse. Be the Jack (or Jane) of all trades. In the end, whether you use all those skills or not, you will be a stronger and more well-rounded person for the experience.