I was listening to the radio the other day and the DJ was talking about how he had to call someone to come fix his garage door opener. No matter how much he pushed the button, it wouldn’t open. There was no sign of life from the thing; even the overhead light didn’t work. So he called an electrician to come out and look at it. The electrician was there for three minutes. He took a look at the outlet that the garage door opener was plugged into. It was a GFCI outlet. (If you’re not familiar with these outlets, they are the ones with the test and reset buttons and they’re commonly used in wet areas, like bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoors because they can detect a problem and break the circuit faster and more accurately than a fuse or circuit breaker.) The outlet had tripped during a storm a few nights earlier. The electrician pushed the reset button, charged the DJ $100 for the call and his time and left. The DJ felt like a fool.
This story summarizes the problems a lot of people have these days. We have become a world where we don’t know how to do even simple things for ourselves anymore. Many of us can’t cook a simple meal, change our own car’s oil, build a simple bookcase, sew alterations, clean our house, replace a flat tire, repair a broken toy, paint a room, mow our own lawns, or handle routine maintenance of our own homes. It’s not always a matter of “don’t want to,” but rather, “don’t know how.” We’ve become dependent on one of two things to handle our problems: Either we pay someone else to do it or we simply go buy a new item to replace a broken one. Either way is expensive.
In days gone by most people, male and female, had a basic knowledge of how to do many things. They had to in order to survive because they couldn’t just call someone to come out and deal with their problem. And replacement items were generally prohibitively expensive. Today there are few people who know how to do a little of everything. Most people focus on honing one skill set; the one they rely on to make money. A person may be a master welder at work but when it comes to maintaining his computer, he’s clueless. The extraordinary chef probably can’t figure out how to change a flat tire. Very few people today are handy enough to handle most of the routine repairs and maintenance that life requires.
The obvious problem with our dependence on others (aside from the question of what you do in an emergency when there is no one available to help you) is that this dependence eats away at your finances. If you have to pay someone every time you need something done, you’d better be using the one or two skills that you do have to make a boatload of money. Otherwise, you are quickly going to be broke. The DJ had to pay $100 for an electrician to push a button. A neighbor of mine recently called a plumber to remove a clog that could have been dealt with by some Draino or a snake. Another neighbor suffered serious water damage to his house because his dishwasher went haywire and he didn’t know where the emergency water shutoff valve was in the house. By the time the plumber got there, the house was flooded. A friend hired me to install some software because she simply didn’t know how to do it. And on goes the list of our inabilities.
This isn’t to say that you have to be great at everything, or that you have to attempt things that are dangerous. If you’re not comfortable rewiring your house or climbing on your roof to do repairs, by all means call someone. If it’s an emergency and you just don’t have time to figure it out for yourself, call in some help. There are times when you need professional assistance and it’s worth the expense. But when you’re calling someone for every little thing, it’s time to get over your lack of ability and start learning to do things for yourself. So when you want to increase your skill set, what do you do?
Get a book out of the library: You can find books on electrical work, cooking, gardening, cleaning, home repair, woodworking, and just about any other subject you could need to know about. Check some out that interest you and read up on basic techniques.
Attend a class: Most community colleges and trade schools offer classes to the general public in areas like auto maintenance, computers, first aid, cooking, basic electrical work, gardening and more. The classes are usually very affordable and you’ll earn your enrollment fee back the first time you do something for yourself.
Go online: There are lots of sites that can help you solve your problems. Some come with tutorial videos to show you what to do. HowStuffWorks.com is one of my favorites, but a quick Google search for your problem will likely turn up tons of results.
Ask for free help: At Lowes, Home Depot, and local hardware stores you can usually find an employee who has the skills you’re trying to learn. Pick their brains for information. You may have friends or coworkers who know what you need to know. Ask around.
Try it: Whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, just give it a try (as long as it’s safe and you’re reasonably able bodied to do the task). If you screw it up, then you can call someone. But chances are you’ll be able to figure it out. You learn more by doing than by sitting passively by and watching someone else work. Get your hands dirty and go for it. If it doesn’t work out, you’re probably no worse off than you were before.
Branch out and up: Once you get the basics of something down, try some advanced things. If you’ve mastered changing your oil, try replacing your brakes next. If you’ve mastered one dish for supper, try another, more complex dish next time. Keep building on what you’ve learned to gain more skills. The more you push yourself to try new things, the bigger your skill set becomes.
Don’t quit: If it doesn’t come out quite right the first time, figure out why and try again. There’s a reason it didn’t work, you just have to find it. And when you do, you’ll know for the next time.
Once you begin mastering new skills, you’ll begin to see the benefits. Not only will you save a lot of money, you’ll gain more confidence in your ability to handle varied tasks. You’ll become a person that others look to for help and advice. You’ll increase the skills that you can use to make a living. If your main job peters out, maybe you can take your woodworking skills and build some furniture to sell, for example. You’ll also be keeping your brain active and helping to stave off degenerative mental disease. Who knows? You might even find your great calling, quit the day job you hate, and begin a new vocation as a baker. At the very least you’ll become a person who isn’t handicapped by lack of knowledge.