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In the Shop

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

What's Your Specialty?

Jan 26, 2013

 I used to work with a guy nicknamed "Goose" who was a wizard with metal. He could cut and weld and machine and turn out metallic works of art. He always knew how much a piece of metal would twist when it was welded, and knew exactly where to put opposing welds to keep things straight. If he needed subtle bends in a piece of bar stock, he'd stand and look at it for a minute, then apply heat from a torch in just the right places so that the metal magically distorted then cooled into the exact shape he wanted.

I believe everybody has a talent, a gift, that allows them to do something better than the average person. My college roommate had "perfect pitch" and could pick up nearly any instrument and within minutes play a rudimentary melody. I've seen carpenters who effortlessly turned a small pile of wood into magnificent cabinents. My wife, the schoolteacher, has an uncanny ability to work with kids--I call her the "Kid Whisperer." 

All of these people had to work to improve their innate talent. We see a guitar player who effortlessly plays complex music, but DON'T see the hours and hours of practice that helped him hone a natural gift for music. My friend, Goose, used to go out to his dad's scrap iron pile and weld and cut and bend metal for hours, just to see what he could do. The secret seems to be that for whatever a person's talent is, it's easy and interesting enough so they're drawn to working to improve and perfect it.

That's not to say anybody can't get good at anything they're willing to work at. I can weld and cut metal well enough to make repairs or improvise repairs, but I'll never be as good as Goose. I played trombone from 5th grade all the way through college, but was never really good at telling if a note was slightly flat or sharp. I can deal with children well enough to babysit the grandkids on my own, though the effort is more like herding cats than actual childcare.

I think the key is to experiment, explore and try different things until you discover the one--or more--things that come relatively easy for you, that interest you enough for you to spend the time and energy to become "good" at them. Some of you are wizards at disassembling and restoring old tractors without a glance at a technical manual. Others are fascinated with studying plants, and have developed above-average skills at managing crops as they grow and figuring out how to squeeze out 10 more bushels per acre than your neighbors. Many of you who work with livestock were inherently attracted to working with animals, and can tell at a glance if a calf or lamb needs extra attention, or move a stubborn cow to where she doesn't want to go. 

Everybody is good at something. It's just a matter of finding what your "something" is.