Million Dollar Skills

Thursday, March 03 2005

I’ve been wanting to learn Ruby lately because I’m seeing nice applications spring up that use it. Last night I got to thinking about how it’s difficult to learn a new programming language and how if you don’t have this “learn it or starve” attitude, you’ll simply dip your toes in and move on when the thinking gets too heavy.

Then I thought about why I’ve not been out of work for the past 10 years. It’s because I’ve positioned myself as an expert in something after learning a new skill. 10 years ago (ok, maybe 9.5) I picked up ColdFusion because I would have basically been out of a job if I didn’t. Early on I decided that I needed to be an expert at it, and I slowly started towards that goal. Over those 10 years, the opportunities that have presented themselves because of that skill have been fantastic. Have I earned $1M in the course of ten years? Not quite, but close, which gets me to thinking:

Carrie and I watch Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Amazing Race pretty closely. We TiVo all three, and when the kids are asleep we slip into “reality”. In each show, there’s this goal everyone is working for. In Survivor and The Amazing Race, it’s a $1M prize. People on each show put themselves through exhausting tasks for merely the chance to win. They’ll trash friendships, eat grubs, risk personal injury, lie, cheat, steal, whatever it takes. They disrupt their lives for a month or so and give it everything they have. As if their lives depend on it.

I argue that learning a new skill and becoming a specialist in that skill presents a much more sure chance at earning $1M, and that alone should provide enough motivation to get over the uncomfortable and difficult learning curve to obtain that new skill. It might take 10 years to earn it, but what would you do with an instant $1M anyhow? Live off of it or blow it?

All I need to do to earn a million dollar skill is study up, memorize some stuff, experiment, try out the skill, fail, learn from failure, and continue. That’s certainly easier and more comfortable sounding than eating grubs and coconuts on a deserted island rolling in my own filth where everyone you see is out to rip a chance of $1M out of your hands and be happy to do it.