TechRepublic reader Elaine Massa sent me an “Ask Chip” message containing seven questions. I’d like to answer her first one today:
All I seem to run into these days are people wanting a website and usually these are static. This is not a challenge and certainly not what I want to do. Is any business better than no business even if I do not do it well?
The seemingly obvious answer is “Yes, of course.” If you need to put food on the table and stave off the collections officers, then you do what you have to do — right?
Not necessarily. The potential fallacy in that statement is in the words “what you have to do.” That phrase presumes that you have no other options. The truth is that you always have other options — you just have to be aware of them, and then weigh their costs against their benefits. For example, it might be possible to find more challenging work that also pays better if you can spend time looking and training for it. However, making time for those activities may mean taking time from some of your other projects. Can you afford to do that? The alternative may be staying stuck in work you don’t love.
“Well, I have no better opportunities,” you might think to yourself. That, too, may be a self-deception. Sometimes, the way to get the work you want is to just start doing it. For instance, you might contribute to an open-source project. At the least, you’ll be training yourself in what you want to do. Once you’ve gained confidence and a reputation for knowing that domain, you can more easily find paying work in it, or in a related endeavor. Again, you have to decide whether you can afford that investment.
Perhaps most insidiously, when you continue to do the same work for a long period of time, you gain a reputation as being that kind of consultant. Someone who has developed hundreds of static websites might find it difficult to convince a social media startup that they have the chops for something more interactive. Worse yet, you may come to think of yourself as just an HTML coder. When you don’t keep your hand in the latest technologies, you can quickly feel obsolete.
The good news is that most technologies these days don’t take long in which to gain (or regain) competency. But you have to make that effort, which means allocating time to it.
Of course there are extreme cases. If you’re facing eviction or foreclosure, you take whatever work you can get. But I think it’s important to treat that as a temporary state of affairs — a stepping-stone to greater things. Then look for ways to make that next step.
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