I consider myself a jack of all trades. It’s not because I’m good at a lot of things, but because I’m competent in many things. I’m an expert at basically nothing. That’s fine. I prefer being well-rounded to having laser focus in one single thing, but every now and then, I realize that there are certain skills I missed out on developing, and I’m pretty sure my window to learn them has closed.
Working On Cars
I blame this on my father. Granted, it’s not like he had that many opportunities to show me anything beyond changing oil, fluids, and tires. He got all of his car knowledge working in an actual garage in his twenties. He never invested in a lift, engine block mount, or massive sets of tools, so all of his knowledge is basically ending with him. On the other hand, I’ve spent that same period of my life figuring out the most comfortable way to sit in a rolling chair with failing lumbar support. Even though I lament not knowing how to take a car apart to find a problem and then put it back together, it’s not like I really have the means to do it, regardless of whether I know how or not. I live in an apartment complex with a parking garage, and my tool set is qualified to put together Ikea furniture, tighten random loose screws, and…that’s about it. I’ve basically resigned myself to the fact that unless I move to a house on a decent amount of land sometime in the next five years, I’ll have to rely on mechanics who look like sinister cartoon characters to keep my cars in shape forever, and that my childhood dream of restoring a Chevelle from scratch is pretty much gone.
This is one of those “if I had only known” sort of scenarios. With the rest of these, I knew that they could end up being important and I just chose to be lazy. With coding, I truly didn’t understand how pervasive it had become in the real world. I took two years of computer science in high school, but the vast majority of our class time was split between writing Java code to produce random shapes and playing Quake on the school’s LAN. All of our tests were open book, and the teacher had to rely on the smarter kids in the class to actually teach concepts once we passed a certain level of competency. It was a joke, and I never thought about coding again. Now, I look around and it seems like being able to write at least some kind of code makes you about 100 percent more viable as an employee. I never wanted to be a software developer until I saw the salaries and working conditions of software developers. If you’re a half decent coder, you can find a job any time you want, and if you’re actually what the douchebag recruiters refer to as a “rockstar” or a “ninja” coder, you can name your price. Seriously, you can walk in and out of any consulting job with any company you want, flip off the CEO every day, and fuck your boss’s sandwich on his desk right in front of him, and you will get rehired a week later for more money than you can contemplate if you can speak computer.
And that’s just in the tech world. If you’re half decent with writing code, you can get a bullshit number-crunching job, write a script to automate 90 percent of your work, and collect your monthly productivity bonuses. Sure, they’ll figure it out eventually, but then they’ll just ask you to automate everyone’s work, fire half the staff, and promote you into management.
You can always tell a person who grew up playing tennis versus the rest of the rabble. I’ve seen some of the most out of shape guys absolutely torch some of the best athletes I’ve ever known on a tennis court, because it’s so much more about skill and muscle memory than athleticism. Sure, you have to have all of those things to go pro, but if you want to look good at the country club, all you need is your ability from childhood and the ability to jog at a decent pace. I started playing tennis in high school, and even then it was too late. Tennis is like chess. The best of the best always start at an absurdly young age, and you can almost always tell who’s going to have a real shot at it when they’re still in their mid-teens. Anyone who picks it up as an adult might be able to squeak into becoming decent at it, but it’ll always be an uphill battle against the people who grew up with it. I watched one of my buddies who came up in the sport and played Division II tennis back in the day who hadn’t walked onto a court in five years square off against a guy in his thirties who had been playing every day since he graduated college. My buddy waxed the guy, and it wasn’t even close. I realized that day that even being better than mediocre at tennis wasn’t in my future.
A Second Language
This shouldn’t be on this list, because I’ve taken a total of six years of Spanish in my life. With that much time spent learning it, you’d think I could competently order a pizza in Spanish by now, but I can’t. I know enough to talk shit on the soccer field, and to probably find my way out if I got air-dropped into the middle of Mexico. That’s about it. Outside of wishing my Spanish was better than it is, I wish I had focused harder on it, because learning languages is a skill in and of itself outside of just becoming familiar with a particular one. If you develop “the way” to learn one language, you can apply it to almost any language. I’d love to spend a good amount of time in other countries, but I hate it when people come to the U.S. and don’t know a word of English, so I’d be an asshole if I did the opposite somewhere else. So for long-term visiting/possible ex-pat adventures, I’m pretty much limited to Scandinavia and current or former British commonwealth countries.
So basically, what you should take away from this is that I have no real marketable skills, and if you don’t want to end up like me, you should learn as much as you can before it’s too late..