The Curse of a Jack-of-All-Trades

5 03 2008

I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades, never afraid trying to do something on my own, and always watching and learning how to do things.  I can’t help it, was raised this way. 

From a young age I pushed a toy lawn mower behind my dad as he mowed the lawn, in elementary school I spent afternoons with my grandfather who taught me about woodworking and tools as we built (yet never finished) a rocking chair, in junior high I hung out with carpenters and contractors everyday after school as they remodeled both my grandparents and my parents houses.  I was an early adopter of HGTV, yet This Old House remains my favorite home improvement show.  In high school I, like most teens, was infatuated with cars, and as a result I can, and have done just about everything on a car, short of body work.  Through all of this, I learned and did even more as I became an Eagle Scout.  I watched, I learned, I did.

I loved these aspects of my childhood, and these aspects built a foundation for me to know how to do an extreme variety of things, and as much as I love (and Mary loves) this about me, it’s a curse.

I constantly have internal struggles as three aspects of my life make it nearly impossible for me to make a decision on any variety of things.  These three things that alone are great, seem to deeply conflict each other.

  1. I’m a DIY type of guy, born and raised, for the sake of being constructive, and seeing a finished product that I created, saving money is just a bonus.
  2. I’m Frugal.
  3. I’m a perfectionist.

As the saying goes, “jack of all trades, master of none.”  I’m a perfectionist that can’t do any of the things I love to do perfectly, yet I hate the concept of paying someone when I can do it myself, but since I know how things should be done (even though I can’t do them perfectly) I monitor to make sure things are being done right.  As Fat Bastard in would say “It’s a vicious cycle.”

This internal struggle is one of the major reasons that Mary and I decided to build a new house instead of buying an older home and having projects.  We’d rather move into a house already done the way we want it than have to live with imperfect DIY project after project.

JD at Get Rich Slowly, posted an interview with Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.  I have not read the book, but in the interview the concept of a “low information diet” is brought up.  Tim explains that the people who excel with this type of lifestyle don’t overload on information.  Instead they outsource what they can, and don’t feel the need to stay caught up.  Tim calls them “selectively ignorant,” not really knowing more than they need to.  In other words, they are the opposite of me.

I am going to try being selectively ignorant because in many aspects of my life I feel that because I know how something is done, I should do it myself.  As a result I have a handful of half finished projects, and quite a few that would look much better if I would have paid someone else to do it.

What it comes down to is focusing on the things that you truly thrive in.  If you can focus on these things, and outsource/outchore the rest to others, in theory you’ll be doing quite well in your career and in your life.  This concept is one that was first brought to my attention in the book Strengthsfinder 2.0, which has the reader take a personality test and then tells you the 5 things that you thrive in, and what type of people to surround yourself with in order to be most successful.  It is a great test/book and I highly recommend it, as it was the first publication that I read which focused on strengths and not weaknesses.

I have to begin accepting that just because I can do something myself, it doesn’t mean I should. I am excited that I won’t have any large or highly visible projects once we move, and I’m looking forward to being able to focus more on what I’m good at (like looking towards the future, advising, and teamwork), and getting better at a select few things I truly enjoy but am not great at (like writing). 

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