“Why did you hire somebody to put together your IKEA closet. Can’t you do that yourself?”
Good question. I’m glad you asked. To answer this properly, let’s go about 10,000 years back in time.
You hoped this would happen. I can tell.
As far as we know, it is roughly around this time that the first towns and cities started to pop up. Whereas before everybody had the same profession: farmer, and a few thousand years before that: hunter & gatherer — this now started to shift.
Previously, every family or clan needed to be self sustaining, they hunted or farmed just enough for themselves to survive. Slowly, technology improved and with it so did productivity. As people moved into cities and towns, they started to specialize. Rather than doing everything themselves, some continued farming, others took up other professions such as building, butchery, carpentry, and COBOL programming. People became increasingly interdependent, and now only managed to get all their needs met by trading goods and services among each other.
This improved productivity quite a bit, as people who can truly focus on their craft and master it, tend to produce higher quality goods in less time than if a “generalist” would attempt to do the same job.
The increase of productivity through specialization, and efficiency of trade started to move humanity forward more and more quickly. People no longer needed to spend their entire day doing the work of gathering food and doing laundry — the essentials to survive. They started to have spare time. They used this time to play around, be creative, try new things. This is when innovation truly started to flourish, ultimately leading to the industrial revolution in the second half of the 18th century.
Ever since, things have been accelerating and improving. Our standards our living, our quality of life, our wealth. Up, up, up.
Until people like you showed up.
“Hey, I don’t need a carpenter, I can do this myself!”
“Hey man, I don’t need to go to the supermarket, I can grow my own vegetables!”
Yes, you can. Go ahead. If you want the human race to move backward in time, and undo all the progress we’ve made in order to “move closer to nature” (a.k.a. living in the dirt) and to do things “like in the good old days” (when people died at 40).
I prefer to contribute to society moving forward, not backward.
Here’s how I look at it: I’ve been programming since I was 9. I specialized from early age in the direction of doing stuff with computers (later stuff with people, but that wasn’t planned). I got a B.Sc., then M.Sc. and then Ph.D. in this field. Ever since, I have worked in industry. Society invested quite a bit to get me where I am today.
My time is limited. Everybody’s time is limited. There’s opportunity cost to everything we do. We have a duty to think how we spend time in a way that is as meaningful as possible. Of course, meaningful doesn’t need to mean “work, work, work” it includes family life, hobbies as well.
As to hobbies — I don’t enjoy putting IKEA furniture together, nor did my specialization in computer science prepare me for it particularly well. At the same time, there are thousands, perhaps millions of people who are skilled at this stuff. Their specialization path has led them to… putting IKEA furniture together, or carpentry or things of that nature. They can do it faster, better, and can make a living doing so. Who am I to take that opportunity to do their share of meaningful work?
If I need to decide whether to spend half a day putting IKEA furniture together, or I spend that time doing the work I’ve been trained to do for half of my life, or spend that time raising my kids. Which should I pick?
That’s my point.
No more DIY.
Admittedly, putting together IKEA furniture is a bit of a silly example. And honestly, I don’t hire people to put my IKEA furniture together — although perhaps I should.
Nevertheless, the principle holds: if you don’t enjoy it, if you’re not particularly qualified to do it, if it’s not meaningful enough for you to do it, and if you can afford not to — outsource it! Outsource all the things. Get a cleaner. Get a painting crew to redo your walls. Get a gardener to maintain your garden. Get a cook, or some meal service to do your cooking, or order in half of the time.
I know, this may feel overly privileged — you’re not a king, after all. But if you think about it, in the grand scheme of things it makes sense. You should grab all the time you can to get to do your most meaningful work. Time is our one and only truly limited resource.
While you’re painting that wall, you could have been in your workshop inventing that next-gen battery technology. Or in your office, writing that next best-selling book with the intriguing title “No More.”
Don’t feel bad. Outsource until it hurts. Optimize your time to contribute as much as you can. Do justice to the world.
Hire that guy or gal to put your IKEA closet together.