Overthinking a Garage Door Opener: We Will Not all Make it Into the NBA Edition

Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes with me knows how highly I prize my Malcolm Gladwell Outliers-like developed grasp of the obvious.  But living in my very myopic, self centered, cloistered world it is hard to identify things that are obvious to the entire world and not me from those obvious only to me.   This weekend I installed an auto mated garage door opener and stumbled upon the value of doing things in the physical world.  After spending more hours than it should take and skinning more knuckles than reasonable, I achieved great satisfaction in pushing the remote and watching the door open and close.   In fact, I achieved so much satisfaction, one day later I am still pushing the button to admire the physical manifestation of a day's work. At the top of this post you see a video from Mike Rowe from a talk actually given at the E.G conference, not TED,  highlighting the value of the lost art of "real" work.  I deeply, deeply believe what he said and having wasted four years of college because I was filling out a check list rather than striving for a goal I proselytize his message on a regular basis - with words.  Now I did it with deeds.

It made me feel really good to invest a full day working with tools into a garage door that will go up and down with a push of various buttons, but I am not advocating garage opener installation training.   There is a whole physical world we ignore through our work and more importantly through our ascription of value.   When my grandfather was fourteen years old he was provided with a variety of options.   College was available, but pharmacy as a trade was presented as an equal viable option.   He chose pharmacy and entered a trade school in junior high.  As a parent of a sixteen year old boy staring to consider the college path I am hypercritical of where we, the big "we," ascribe value.   We, the imperial one, highly value those folks living in the rarified air how create the disruptive technologies that change our world.  The Zuckerbergs, Gates, Jobs, Brins and Pages who show up on the cover of Time Magazine and make billions.  However, as a parent I have to consider the percentage of these relative the rest of the world and realize the irresponsibility of supporting disruption over contribution.

In the pre rock concert days of the TED conference - when reporters were not allowed and speakers wrote their own presentations about their passions - Dean Kamen used to talk about the value of exercising your brain.  He started his talk by addressing the financial and social value we placed on athletics.   Athletes are adored by, and paid, millions.  But there are only three hundred and fifty places in the NBA and the realization of the dream to achieve one those places is reserved to relative few.   He further explained the limitations of advancing athletic skill relative to the infinite ability to expand our brain.   He put actions behind his words and created US First.  Within a few years he had high school children in schools across the country prizing engineering skills over athletics.  This is a wonderful thing but as a whole we still focus the lion's share of our attention on the breakouts rather than the contributors.   There is a reason the hourly rate of plumbers is climbing faster than the hourly rate of attorneys. It is simple supply and demand - and it is our fault.  We are minimizing the value of the careers that lubricate the friction of everyday life in favor of the extraordinary. By definition, the extraordinary is small in number.  As a society - and I a may be speaking very US centric here so excuse me if you are reading this outside the US and feel it does not apply - we are creating college as a goal rather than a means to a goal and prizing the financial rewards of the relatively few successful entrepreneurs over the passion which drove them to their product in the first place.

I am a very simple guy with a very limited world view.  But in my professional world view - the game one not the lawyer one - I see a myriad of opportunities which do not require college.   The perspective of the actual consumer is under represented and highly useful in the industry.  What would happen if one of these kids starts to hone their skills in their formative years.  They, like those of us who started in the eighties, start to use the tools available to them and learn to use Unity, or build an app.  Or maybe even being a tester.   They will find themselves developing marketable skills that may displace the current need for a liberal arts degree.   They may leave high school and join a developer or a publisher. They may be content for the rest of their lives.  Or maybe, one day, they will look over at a guy with more skills, who's walls go all the way to the ceiling and drives a Porsche and ask him how he got there.   The guy will explain he got a degree.  Now that kid will go to college with a purpose other than watching cartoons and smoking pot until they move back in with their parents.  Or, something may burn so strong in their belly they have to leave it all behind to pursue their idea.   A pursuit born of a compelling need to build it and get into the world, not the need to be a billionaire.

Don't get me wrong.  I am still riding my son' ass to go to college, because I am deeply afraid of him living in my home forever and he is not training a plumber's apprentice, but I hope I afford him the breathing room, understanding and support to allow him to determine his own goals provide the platform for him to achieve them - regardless of how much Mark Zuckerberg is worth after the IPO.


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