Cover Art for Life on Target Episode 1 featuring Nathan Spearing checking framed construction with a tape measure.

Episode 1: General Competency Equals Freedom

True agency equals freedom. General competency is more valuable than obsessive mastery in just one area. In Episode 1, Nathan starts to unpack what C.R. Wiley calls the four languages of agency: mechanical skill, organizational skill, people skills, and aesthetics. Drawing on his experience in the military and construction, Nathan begins this multipart series by focusing on mechanical skill and how to grow in your technical and mechanical aptitude by drawing on relationships in your community.

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Welcome to the Life on Target podcast. I’m your host, Nathan Spearing. Today we begin a four part series on general competency. Also, I feel like this four part series forms an excellent framework for how you view education as a whole, less like subjects like math and English and literature and history and all these different subjects that the industrial revolution has given us to create factory workers and people that can produce a large amount of things for expanding society, but more as an education for those that want to be free, that want to have agency.

            If you remember from Episode 0, we defined agency as the individual’s ability, your ability, to make your own choices, free choices, to express your individual power and to have the capacity to independently affect change. Now, I don’t want you all to confuse this with the ability to do whatever you want: “Screw the man. I’m my own boss. I get to affect my own power. “All those kind of things that the woke movement or this new age society will try to say is okay. And that if you feel it, you get to do it. No.

            This is defined as in the areas that you have authority over yourself and are able to make your own choices that you do that. But in the areas that you are under authority and that something higher or greater than you dictates what your actions should be, you know those. And I think that understanding authority and understanding rules and understanding who has jurisdiction is a critical part to understanding which areas you are free to do what you want to do.

Understanding authority and understanding rules and understanding who has jurisdiction is a critical part to understanding which areas you are free to do what you want to do.

            And we’ll probably expand on the authority aspect a little bit more, but today I am going to focus on one of the four areas or languages of general competency. And I want to begin by reading the excerpt from C.R. Wiley’s book, Man of the House, and then focus on one of those. So this excerpt comes… It was in the margin in his book. And I felt like it revolutionized my optic on education and gave me this kind of framework. And that’s why we’re going to spend four episodes kind of walking these different aspects out. So, here’s the quote.

“People who get things done have agency. To build and manage a household you’ll need a lot of it. Forget the adage, Jack of all trades master of none. While it contains one important truth, it obscures another. General competence is essential if you want to master the most important thing of all, freedom. Learning a new skill is like learning a new language. And with language learning, when you’ve learned one, it is easier to learn another. When it comes to agency, you could say there are four language groups. Once you are competent in one language, the others in that group are easier to learn. Unfortunately, it does not seem to transfer from group to group though. Here are the four groups. Mechanical skill, organizational skills, people skills and aesthetics.”

C.R. Wiley, Man of the House

So, like I said today, we are focusing on the mechanical ability or the mechanical skill aspect of those four language groups and we’ll move on to the other ones in subsequent episodes. Mechanical ability is probably the one language in agency that I personally feel like I excel in. And don’t worry, we’re going to get to some other ones that are really a challenge to me, but this is a particular area of strength. I’m a general contractor. I’m building out a homestead/farm. We are planning the build of our barn in our house. I am remodeling a 43 foot school bus. My professional life was in the military as an infantry guy, always had my hands on weapons and was learning how to do mobility and changing tires and things like that.

            So, a huge part of my professional life has been doing things that were mechanical and I am pretty well versed in those different things. And I think that for people, you generally view mechanical ability and skill as like you view math, either you like math or you hate math. With general or mechanical ability and skill, you’re either somebody that’s mechanical or you’re not. You either avoid it like the plague or you run at it.

            For somebody who’s trying to get agency, and for those of you that may fall into the category of, I’m not mechanical. I have no idea where my hammer is. I don’t even have a Phillips and a straight blade screw driver in my house. My wife hangs all the pictures in our house, my wife fixes everything, whatever the case may be. I want to encourage you to look for areas that you can gain these skills. And that’s not in the sense that you say like, “Hey, I want to become a weight lifter. So I’m going to go do a one rep max of 500 pound deadlift and injure myself.” That’s not necessarily going to be to pull your whole car apart and change the timing belt on it if you’re not a mechanical person.

            This is encouraging you to do a self-assessment where you are mechanically and what your ability is, and find ways, little ways that you can grow your skills in those areas each and every day. So for somebody that’s incredibly mechanically incompetent, this could potentially be, using a ladder to change a light bulb or looking for a way to fix something on your house that is messed up. Now, in our day and age, there is a huge practice to just go to YouTube and find a video on it.

Gaining Mechanical Skill through Building Relationships

            And if you know how difficult that is actually becoming with the volume of stuff that’s out there to find somebody that’s intelligently teaching you exactly what you need, I would say that there’s a better way that also has another benefit and that is find somebody who has that skill and just come to them directly and transparently and say, “Look, I listened to this amazing podcast with this amazing host, Nathan Spearing. And he was encouraging me to gain mechanical skill and ability. And I really feel like I don’t do a good job in that category. And I was just wondering for the sake of my own general competence, my own ability to be free, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind helping me with how I can hook the ice maker up in my kitchen, how I can change out my washer and dryer, because my old washer died and I want to figure out how to hook up the hoses on the back. And I’d really like to do this myself. I’ve relied on people in my life to do it for me. I want to be the one that does it. So can you come over and help me?”

            And if you don’t have somebody in your life that you can think of to give you that skill, then it probably means you’re not involved in church, or you probably don’t have a community. So maybe we need to back up and go to that level, but find somebody. And the thing about the way this always used to go prior to YouTube is that you would get also a little bit of extra advice in other categories. So you may have the guy come over to teach you mechanical skill, but he also may give you some organizational skills and/or improving your people skills while you’re talking to him.

            So your general competency and your agency is actually improving in more than one category when you do this the old fashioned way in finding an expert and going to them. If you’re somebody like me who is really good mechanically and understands a lot of different things about specifically, for me, as a general contractor, houses, specifically residential houses, buildings, not commercial stuff, but also way I expand mechanical ability is particularly I’m not necessarily a car and an engine guy. So I look for opportunities to grow in that area because we have a bunch of different cars and some of you know we are remodeling a 43-foot school bus.

            So I’m looking for ways to expand specifically in the auto area and to grow my ability there. And there’s an elder at our church that’s an auto mechanic. So I can ask him. I try not to ask him as much because he’s kind of the guy everybody in our church goes to with all their car issues. So in some ways I will figure this out on YouTube myself a little bit, just because I feel like the guy that knows about auto stuff gets beat up a lot. But, occasionally, I do ask him some questions on that side.

            Other ways that I expand my mechanical ability is asking my subcontractors on the job within their specific skill sets. So there’s different licenses and different trades that I’m managing, having them explain to me why they’re using a certain technique or where they learned that from and having these conversations with people. So I’m getting relationship with these subcontractors and I’m also giving them a chance to teach me so that I become better as far as applying these things for other people.

Demystify Mechanical Skill for Your Kids (Teach them how to use tools!)

If you’re a young person listening to this podcast, or if you’re a parent educating your children at home or they’re getting an education somewhere else, look for ways to give them this mechanical skill and ability. It’s really hard for me to not reach in and grab the screw driver or the drill or whatever from my kids as I’m watching them struggle doing this, but resist the urge. Let them get those fine motor skills using a bit driver to put a screw in. And some of the ways that that’s been done in our household lately, is we just built some different chicken tractors and chicken coops and we’re working on the bus, and I try to get the kids out there doing that. It gives me the ability to learn patience, but it also gives them the ability to put their hands on these different tools and to use them. And they’re actually excited.

An eight year old, nine year old with a drill is a great thing and they just get fired up.

            An eight year old, nine year old with a drill is a great thing and they just get fired up, especially the boys. But my girls are actually out there too, learning this thing and gaining this mechanical skill. And in some ways early on in life, demystifying these tools, demystifying how a house is put together, how a vehicle works, and just taking the time to make that a part of your child’s education. And why I’m specifically very big fan of home schooling, because the other day, in the interest of expanding my mechanical skill and ability in the auto thing, I noticed my radiator fan went and shut off. And had to go down the internet hole traffic here, trying to figure out why is it. And found out it was a likely coolant sensor.

            So, actually took all five of my kids outside and we changed this coolant sensor together. Screwdrivers, wrenches, showed them the switch, showed them everything, gave them a little bit of understanding about how an engine cools off. And we paused their typical education in the house. And I said, “Hey everybody,” they were doing their normal morning time with mom inside. I said, “Hey, everybody get out here,” paused everything, they came outside, and we took 20, 30 minutes to go over that. And it actually worked out really well because my small son was able to get a screwdriver that we dropped down in there that was really hard for any of us to reach.

            So we had some benefit there and everybody learned a little bit of a mechanical skill. And the long-term benefit of having the skill and ability is we are seeing a huge decline in the trades in America. And specifically as one in that profession, unable to handle the volume of work coming my way, the volume of requests, and having trouble just even communicating well that I can’t even handle it because the volume that’s coming in. So, for those of you young working on your education and looking for employment, focusing on mechanical skill and ability is going to be an excellent category with respect to vocation.

Mechanical Skills Open Up Vocations that Stand the Test of Time

            I’ve talked about durable trades on other podcasts before. And you look at those vocations that have stood the test of time, that make money regardless of what the economy is doing because they’re crucial to society continuing to run. All of them have a large, or the vast majority of them have a large mechanical skill facet to that. So the more mechanical skill and ability you have, the more ability that you’re going to have to enter some of these vocations that are in demand and actually turn that ability and skill into money that can feed your family and provide for you.

So I responded to hurricane Maria into Puerto Rico. I was there five days after the hurricane hit and was able to see how society functioned with a lot of damage. And there was no cell tower, or there was like one cell tower up and working. The airport didn’t even have power. There was no ATM services. There was like very few gas pumps working. There was no utilities of any kind. And just watching how society worked there, and I was in there as a contractor trying to restore infrastructure, specifically the cell phone infrastructure to the island of Puerto Rico. And just the ability to function when all those utilities go away, to understand that you have a lot of water in your water heater and how to maybe get water out of there. This is not zombie apocalypse, this is not earth shattering attacks. These are storms that we see happen and affecting areas, that if you’re not in a place that is on the coast, it could be winter storms, it could be power outages and things. And just having just an understanding of your house, understanding of your vehicle and the different functions, and how to fix certain things, or how to use what you have while you’re waiting for certain utilities to be restored is extremely beneficial. And then the ability, once you are able to affect yourself and your own your circle, is that ability to continue to influence and make things better for those around you in your culture or in your community, and to reform culture on a larger scale because we are continuing to help each other and to grow.

            So, that is the end of this podcast. Real quick, if any of the knowledge that you got here was beneficial, just ask that you share it with one friend. Click the share, copy the link, go into your messaging app, drop it there, share it on social media, it would be awesome. The next episode that we’re going to do is going to be one of my particular areas of challenge, but I’ll talk to you how I’m working through that personally, but that’s organizational skills. So, hope you tune in next time. Hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. Have a great day. Go out there and figure out one way to get a little bit more mechanical skill. Thank you.

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