Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Challenge: Specialize

Although Robert Heinlein famously quoted that specialization is for insects, today I am going to challenge that assumption and ask you to do the same.  Today's challenge is for you to specialize in something this year.  I don't care what you decide to specialize in, it could be taxidermy, HAM radio operations, website design, house painting...whatever it is you have the slightest interest in and/or whatever it is you have the easiest access to, I want you to go ahead and grab that specialization by the horns and conquer it.
Why?  A couple of reasons actually.  First, one of the biggest difficulties people have when looking to start their own business (or even finding side work after they have been laid off from their regular job) is that they are OK in many things but not really great in any particular field.  With months of work in one area of specialization, you will overcome this problem and have some solid skills to fall back on.  These skills may not make you a millionaire (but then again they could, who knows...) but they will make you a near expert in something.
Second, by specializing in something, you will have a usable skill should TSHTF and you have to bug out.  No matter where you go, should you have picked a reasonably useful specialization, you will make yourself a useful person to others who will need your skill set.  This will not only give you a way to earn money/a living/room and board/etc but it will instantly make you a vital part of the group you choose to bug out with.
Here's some ideas and how you may put them to work:
  • Idea one.  EMT (emergency medical technician).  An EMT-B (as opposed to being a paramedic, EMT-P) isn't going to make you rich.  In fact many EMTs start off as volunteers, however the skills you learn from a basic EMT class can be extremely useful, not just for yourself but for your friends and family in an emergency.  EMT classes are offered all over the place, the time needed for the class is minimal (usually a couple of months for the class and to become certified), the experience you gain from working along side paramedics and hospital staff is invaluable, and in a pinch, you can always get a side job as a part time EMT in many communities.  From this one specialization, I have seen many people go on to get higher level jobs in hospitals, go on to train others, and even use these skills and credentials to start their own business (usually teaching fire safety and basic first aid skills).
  • Idea two.  Range safety officer.  If you hang around most professionally run shooting ranges, you will note that there are usually some range safety officers on duty to make sure everything runs smoothly at the range.  Again, this usually starts out as a volunteer position and training (as well as certification) happens "on the job" but with this type of experience you will develop a wide range of skills that can be used in the future for earning an income.  Also, the more time you spend around the range doling out advice and information, the more opportunity you have to pick up on all kinds of useful things/information (ie: someone selling firearms for a super low price because they know you, someone giving you some free reloads because they made extra, the opportunity to take advanced classes at a discount because you are part of the range staff, the opportunity to get in a lot of extra shooting practice on the range's dime, etc).
  • Idea three.  Butchering meat during the fall hunting season.  I know quite a few people who love to hunt in the fall.  I know fewer people who relish the thought of butchering their own meat (which is why butcher shops near prime hunting areas are usually overwhelmed in the fall).  Learning this skill--whether through formal instruction in a class, less formal instruction gleaned through the internet and lots of practice, or even less formal instruction by watching over your brother-in-law's shoulder while he cuts up his latest harvest--can prove invaluable.  By learning this skill and after continued learning, you will then have many opportunities such as being able to buy a side of beef at a super low price and butchering it yourself, teaching community ed classes on the topic to people eager to learn this skill, or even writing a how-to book on the topic and becoming an "expert".
  • Idea four.  Website design.  There is a mountain of information available online to teach you this skill for free.  While you won't be an "instant expert", after pouring through this information, and with a lot of practice, you will become good enough to offer your skills in your community and make a bit of money on the side.  You might want to start here.   
  • Idea five.  Blow your hobby up into a multiple-stream-of-income business (and if you don't have a hobby, then get one).  Many people have become "experts" simply because they had a hobby that they enjoyed, the learned as much as they could about their hobby, then they "went pro."  Which isn't as hard as it sounds because often becoming a professional simply entails finding a way to make money off your hobby.  Such as writing about it, teaching others about it, selling the results of your hobby (tied flies, bird houses, etc), etc.  I was introduced to a friend of a friend last summer who happens to be a professional fisherman.  He goes fishing, catches some fish, makes $50,000 (plus a boat in one tournament!) and now he is the advertising face of fishing lures and other fishing related equipment.  Another guy I know liked hunting, knew all of the best spots to go in the mountains near his home, and with a bit of business and marketing skills, ended up with several clients who came from as far away as Asia to go hunting with him each year.
So in tl;dr form: pick a topic you enjoy, learn as much as you can about it, practice it, get certified if possible (however this isn't always necessary), continue learning, find a way to sell your knowledge, continue learning, become an expert.


  1. This is a very, very good year. I read a lot,and you would be surprised how much you can pick up if you read 3 books on a certain topic. This is a very, very good idea. Thanks for suggesting it.


  2. I would say "specialize" in many things. Personally, I am well versed in mechanics, DC electrical, fiberglass repair and fabrication, and wood working. The more stuff you can do for yourself, the better.

  3. I "specialize" in being an electrician as it is my chosen trade - beyond that though, I mainly just like to learn so I am at least competent in a wide variety of skills.

    Specializing in a large number of skills tends to defeat the purpose of specialization - you never get truly good at most of the skills.

    I also specialize in brute force - I'm significantly larger than most, have a good understanding of leverage and body mechanics and also know the basic of rigging and simple machines (ie ramps, levers and pulleys) which let me do the work of heavy lifting and moving - all in line with my actual trade, but often helpful in many other of life's activities.

  4. TY, this year i will specialize in first aid and suturing.

  5. Great Blog. I "specialize" in whitewater navigation. I wonder if that skill could be useful in a disaster scenario. I also have all the gear needed for it obviously. Good article and Blog. I will revisit often.