There are a thousands of articles and books about the types of employees they desire: they want people who will listen, who will do what they’re told, who won’t ask questions, and who are willing to work longer hours every year. (and schools were set up to teach kids to learn basic skills, to not think too creatively, and to do as they’re told because this is what corporations want.)
But there’s something else corporations also want. They want experts. Heck, even individual teams want experts. An engineering team that develops a computer wants an expert on memory technology, and an expert in CPU technology. Then they need some experts in writing BIOS, some mechanical experts, and experts for integrating the operating system. Like the assembly line, this is efficient for mass production.
And over the past 10 years, I became an expert. To be completely honest, I can design the hell out of a computer. I can do it fast and with high quality. I can make all the right trade-offs in the design. I can work a logic analyzer and digital oscilloscope to solve problems like none of my peers. I can debug the toughest issues in the business. I’m not bragging, I’m honestly assessing myself. But during those 10 years of becoming an expert (actually it took about 7), I lost something. I lost time. It was an opportunity cost, because while I was becoming an expert in this tiny area of life, I failed to gain knowledge in any other areas of life. In high school and college I read philosophy, studied economics, and wrote poetry – all for fun. But during this “lost decade” since college I failed to improve that knowledge, and in fact I’ve lost some of it.
I think it’s important to understand what type of person you are, and what you ultimately want in your career and in life. Are you an entrepreneur that must remain creative and uncontrolled? Are you a power seeking CEO? Are you a 9-5 and get the hell out of the office employee? Are you an artist? Do you just want to be an expert in something and valued for that expertise? (There are more types, but you get the picture…) Steve Jobs could never have sat in a cubicle and generated power point slides. Richard Branson can create and run amazing companies, yet he would fail miserably as a Director at Microsoft. I think everyone is born to fit a role, and trying to squeeze into a role that doesn’t fit your personality is like trying to push a round peg into a square hole.
As I examine myself, I realize that I wasn’t meant to be an expert. Not in computer design, or in anything else. I thought I was meant to be the expert, until I actually became one. Then the learning curve stopped and the fun was lost(*). I got desperate and decided to get into management, where I could test the waters of Power. After a short time in management (less than 1 year) I knew this was also the wrong path. This is when I decided I would quit the corporate world, opting for an extremely early retirement.
(*) This also happened with long-distance running. I started out as an amateur runner. Over a 5 year span I went from 5K’s to 10K’s to marathons and finally reached the pinnacle of completing a few hundred mile ultramarathons. I wasn’t the fastest, but I was an expert. I knew everything about long-distance running. How to train, how to avoid injury, what and when to eat, how to pace. I had a perfect understanding of my body, I could correct any ache or pain on the fly. And once I became this expert, the learning ended and the fun stopped.
So… if I’m not meant to be an expert, I’m not artistic, and I don’t desire wealth, fame or power – then where do I fit in? To be honest, from the time I realized I wasn’t wired to be an expert and until very recently – I wasn’t sure. But in examining where I’m spending my time and life-energy I think it becomes obvious. I was born to be a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none. This explains why I’m splitting my time reading about economics and investing, writing, investing in real estate, writing Android apps, running an online business, and being a dad/husband. And I want to get better at each, while not necessarily mastering any of them. I also want to learn how to renovate and old house and sell it on my own. I want to learn to do all maintenance and repair on my motorcycle, my bicycle, and my wife’s car. I want to study philosophy, economics, poetry – and I also want to be a better writer. I want to become a better critical thinker, learn stronger persuasion techniques, and find a way to effect the world in a positive way. I want to learn to cook. I want to learn new spoken languages, and new computer languages. I don’t need to be an expert at any of these things, I just want to become competent in each and then move on to more learning. This isn’t a life for everyone, and I’m not claiming it’s an optimal one – but it’s one that will fit my natural tendencies.
We’re all wired different, and we need to ensure that our life situation is compatible with our wiring. I hope that everyone who reads this has already found a career or path that matches their wiring. If not, I hope you’ll use this article as motivation & inspiration to start moving in that direction.