Being a Dad, a Generalist, and Seeking Opportunities for Purpose with Matt Garber

Jordan speaks with Matt Garber about what it means to be a generalist and how he acts as a conduit for other people's growth.
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Show notes

Generalists do all things good. They have their hands in everything. They enjoy the pace and the race of the next project and big idea. But as a Generalist and a family man, Matt discovered the importance of finding balance, and taking his hands off roles, delegating them to those who specialize, so he could focus on the big picture and let the experts help take it to the next level.

In doing so, it allowed Matt to discover who his key people were in business, being a conduit for their growth. The hope is to lead others to think outside the box of their current role, seeking opportunities to serve and find diversity to achieve satisfaction and cause change – at work and at home.

Matt Garber,  non-profit executive, attorney, and entrepreneur, and RevOps Therapist and CEO and founder of Greaser Consulting, Jordan Greaser talk about opportunities to find your mission in family and in the workplace. 

Jordan  00:00

Hi everyone, this is Jordan, the owner and CEO of Greaser Consulting. On today’s episode, we’ve got Matt with us, who is a self proclaimed, or maybe I call him this, who knows, generalist. The idea behind this is somebody who just loves doing a lot of things. Now he’ll say this, I don’t even know if he said this on the podcast, but being okay in a lot of things, maybe not great, but okay of a lot of things. As opposed to being that specialist that really hones into one area, we jump into ideas about finding mission and purpose at work. When do you say “no,” even though you’re excited about things? How do you prioritize? What is a generalist? How does it fit into the ecosystem? How can you learn cross functionally around different departments and bring what you learned over an A to B, and so on and so forth. So just a really interesting conversation that I think you’re all going to want to lean into and enjoy. Here we go.

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Jordan  01:12

Hi everyone, this is Jordan, we’ve got Matt with us. Go ahead and introduce yourself. 

Matt  01:16

Hey Jordan, thanks for having me on. My name is Matt Garber. I am a central Pennsylvania native. And I, for the first time, I’m calling myself a startup generalist today. But that’s kind of a summation of a lot of the things I’ve done over the years, I grew up in central Pennsylvania, went away to Grove City for college, and got really passionate about coming back to my hometown of Altoona, where I spent a good number of years diving into all kinds of startups, and community development projects, and some other ventures, and then eventually went to law school. So now I’m a corporate counsel of a nonprofit organization. And my wife and I have five kids. So we’re busy in that life of raising a family. So that’s, that’s my summary to introduce myself.

Jordan  02:06

What, what, what does it mean to be a corporate counsel at a nonprofit? Like what, by nature is that a generalist physician or is there like a, like your day job is like a very specific thing that you’re doing over there?

Matt  02:19

It really is such a broad number of tasks and things that you have to do in that kind of a wall. So a lot of attorneys coming out of law school will find some kind of a particular industry to go into, or they’ll go into a big, you know, big law firm where they can specialize. And I actually did that for a while coming out of law school, I was in the field of energy law, energy and utilities. So I was diving into energy litigation, and really focusing in on that for a few years, but I actually found the generalist part of my personality, pauling, I think, and, and also my interest in nonprofit organizations. So a few years later, when I had an opportunity to go in house with a nonprofit organization, I took the opportunity. And as a corporate counsel, I’m doing all kinds of things, everything from managing compliance, doing audits, looking at cybersecurity, dealing with technology and operations and equipment. We’re a fairly small organization, so I wear a lot of hats, and it keeps my days pretty interesting.

Jordan  03:24

When did you figure out that you’re a generalist? Like you even hopped on today’s call, you said that “For the first time, I’m calling myself this.” And the reason I asked that is, one thing I have found is there’s like the people that are specialists, like those are the folks that everybody is almost envious, envious about growing like, those are the people like, I want to be an engineer, I’m gonna go be a doctor, I’m gonna go be a cardiologist, I’m gonna go in and be into tech, you know, whatever. They got it figured out, they know what they’re chasing, and then they just hone into that world. And sort of the rest of us are like, well, shoot, I don’t really know what I like to do. Like, I like to do this, like to do this, I’d like to, like, was there a period of time when you like, finally, like, discovered this idea of being a generalist? And you’re like, “That’s it! Like, that’s me!”

Matt  04:09

You know, three minutes ago, when we first started talking, no I’m kidding. I mean, I haven’t used that term, generalist very much. But I have recognized that, that interests that I have, and have had for a long time of, of being involved in a lot of different things, and I think specializing is so important in our society. I mean, you need people. You think about the medical field, and how many different parts of the body there are and how many different things there are to know. And the scope of human knowledge is so large, that we need people to specialize in those areas. And that can be, you know, a very good way to build a career. But there are people I think like myself, who, who want to step back and see maybe a big picture and then kind of figure out how to get things done when I’m not necessarily in those, those niche specializations quite the same way. So, so one of the things I learned, you know, all lawyers have to do this, but I think in particular in a kind of a corporate counsel role that I have, and you’ll talk in law school about issue spotting. And the idea is that no lawyer can know everything that there is to know about the law, or even about a specialty within the law. What lawyers have to be good at and I think, in some ways, especially more generalist lawyers like myself, they have to be able to look and see what are the potential risks and potential legal issues that could come up? And we call it issue spotting, you got to be really good at stepping back and saying, “What are the things that could be hitting me from the left or hitting me from the right or what’s, how could this contract go sideways?” Or you have to just think so broadly about the possible scenarios that can happen. And I think that’s that, in some ways, is a generalist kind of skill. And the more you have different experiences and different kinds of aspects of life, you know, it kind of informs your ability to think about these potential risks and pitfalls when you’re making legal decisions.

Jordan  06:09

How do they train you for that in law school?

Matt  06:13

That’s a great question. I mean, so I went to law school late in life. Well, later in life, I was in my early-mid 30s. But I was older than most of, most of my peers in law school. And I had already had a career and been involved in business and a lot of startups and stuff and then I did this big shift. I love the first year of law school, they just immerse you in all the big topics of law, about constitutional law and contract law, and torts and all this stuff. And then after that, you can start to take more, more classes, but kind of to your liking, but really, they do from the get go, try to really pound into you this idea that you need to be thinking of all the potential legal issues in whatever the scenario is you’re looking at. And all through these first year classes, you’re reading all these scenarios and stories of real life cases, and how things went sideways, that you could never have thought, you know, would go sideways. And they’re almost entertaining sometimes to read. But that’s why lawyers joke among themselves about being paranoid about things because, you know, you think about all the things that could possibly go wrong. And it was interesting for me going to law school, because I’m such an optimist by nature. So in some ways, it was kind of interesting to me, like, I kind of assumed things are gonna go right, sometimes, but law school kind of pushed back on that, and said, you know, so hopefully, I’m at a good balance there of not being too cynical, but also, you know, keeping my eyes wide open.

Jordan  07:44

Are there any, like, stories or whatever that particularly stick out to you of like, this happened, and it went sideways, that, like, just, it’s never really left your, your brain there.

Matt  07:54

It’s been a few years, you know, since, since there’s classes, so I don’t know if I can think of a specific one. But I do just remember, sitting in the classes, especially with torts. So if you think about personal injury, you think about just anytime one human being, can accidentally or purposefully harm another person, but kind of in not so much in a criminal law context, you’re talking about, you know, maybe somebody, you know, builds a swing set, and they build it very badly. And then, you know, somebody gets injured or something. And I just remember sometimes reading these real cases, and you, you’re reading the beginning of the case, when they’re reciting the facts, and you’re thinking, oh, this is just a normal, and you’re, you know, nothing’s going. But you know, something awful is gonna happen, and some of the most unlikely things that you could possibly think so that, that stuck in my head definitely from law school.

Jordan  08:48

Well, I think this next question is a fair one in the sense that you know, you’re coming in, you’re saying, listen, I’m a generalist. I know, I was looking through some of the things you’ve even been up to, you’ve taught English as a second language. You’ve been in the nonprofit space. You’re part of a mentoring organization called Fathering.Me. You’ve got a startup company called GiftHopper, right?  Little shameless plug there for everybody listening, right, go check out GiftHopper. The point is, and then this attorney on the side, but you’re thinking you said mid 30s, you, you decided to go back to school. But the irony is like, when you go get a doctorate degree, like that is a terminal degree where you’re supposed to have become the specialist right? In some sense, right? So how is it that an individual that has this generalist mindset of you like to dabble in everything, says, “I’m gonna go chase a terminal degree?”

Matt  09:42

I guess, law school drew me because, you know, the education there, applied to a lot of the things I was already interested in community development, becoming a better writer and communicator. You know, policy and thinking about how our society works. So law kind of interfaces with all that. And I think it was general enough for me to kind of be interested in. And I wasn’t disappointed, my first year of law school, very intense. But it was just incredible to sort of see how some of the pieces of society fit together. And that was pretty exciting. And I guess, I guess I would add Jordan to I mean, it’s not, you know, I’m not, I didn’t go after law school and just hang a shingle and say, you know, “Matt Garber Law, I can do anything.” That, that is very difficult, and there aren’t many people to do that. So I do have some specialization certainly, like, I’m effectively a business lawyer for nonprofits, but it’s still broad enough, that I’m dealing in a lot of different areas and, you know, having to apply the different resources that I have available to solve problems.

Jordan  10:48

How much does being a lawyer influence your ability at GiftHopper? How much does being an owner at GiftHopper, this startup, you know, gifting company, influence your mentoring program? Like, does it all intermingle? Or is it like silo, silo, silo, silo.

Matt  11:05

I love when there’s crossover and I think there’s a good bit. One thing that came to mind is, with GiftHopper, it actually was something I started, it was kind of my hobby during law school, I just needed some kind of entrepreneurial outlet to work on. So I squeezed in some time and started developing a team of co-owners, co-investors, and then sometime after law school, we launched it. And it’s been running for about five years now. And growing steadily, especially the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of growth. But one of the things that I saw really happen was, when we were trying to, you know, settle or get a big contract with  GiftHopper or, or communicate with a potential prospect or, or something that was going to really reshape our business, and all the communication that went through there that I learned from being a lawyer and a big firm, about how to get everybody’s input on your team, how to really look at your communication and effectively present information in a way that I think was really compelling. And we’ve taken some big swings as the, this little ragtag GiftHopper owner team that we started as, and had some big wins, because we kind of take the collective brain trust, and really learn how to synthesize that into communication that really works. And I learned that from being a lawyer and watching some really good lawyers and how they, they involve their team’s input in a really unique and powerful way. So that was a one just practical crossover that’s been really useful.

Jordan  12:39

Well, what is that unique way that you’re talking about that you see amongst a team of lawyers.

Matt  12:42

So my first boss in my first law job out of school, and this was in the energy field. I have immense respect for him and what he’s done over the years, and the kind of boss and leader he is. And I think the fact that just it’s hard to articulate but the way, when we would be dealing with like a really important document, it could be a documented litigation, where we’re making a demand of, you know, an opposing party, or we’re filing, I mean, we filed these massive briefs. So I mean, I would work hours and hours and hours, highly technical kind of litigation we were doing, and you try to boil this information down and make it really accessible to the judge. And my boss, even though he had 20-25 years experience, very successful, he would, I mean, he cared about my input as a new person, he would look at this editing process and just, in the way he kind of approaches, it’s hard to even explain because it’s almost more like a learned skill than something I can just articulate. But it was so effective at just making these documents in these, these pieces of litigation process so powerful and effective. And so again, it’s something that’s harder to explain, it more was learned by absorption, but I was able to translate that over to a startup. And when we had big swings and big sales that we needed, we were really effective at times because of that process.

Jordan  14:11

So let me let me just zoom out a little bit more touching more on the theme of being a generalist. One of the issues of being a generalist is, folks tend to be so involved and enjoy things so much, that sometimes it becomes hard to say no. Right? And so I do this, I do this, I do this, I do this. Just to put my cards on the table, I tend to be wired a little more that way. And one of the problems I have, is I’ll get so interested in six things at once that I end up doing all six things pretty poorly. Right? And there’s a positive side to this generalist mindset. But in my experience, I’ve had some of that negative side of like, waking up one day and realizing, oh my gosh, like I’ve over committed to probably four different things as opposed to just one thing. Do you have any of that inside of you? Like, how do you decide what I’m going to say yes to something and when I’m going to say no, even if the interest is there?

Matt  15:10

Yeah, I think you’re right on Jordan. I think that it’s, it’s kind of a pitfall of that personality or interest, that you can want to say yes to all kinds of things. And I, I feel like, I do think I’ve grown in this, like, through, through my life, you know, but sort of, almost, I got a reputation amongst my friends. I remember at one point, just kind of, oh, Matt’s involved in everything. Like he’s, he’s just doing this and this and this. And how do you do at all? Well, probably the honest answer is some of it probably I did poorly, or, you know, not certainly not as comprehensively or as effectively as I can. So I think as a generalist, if you’re in a startup, or if you’re in an organization, I think it is really important to start thinking not of your role as a static role, it’s always going to be that way. Because that’s, that’s almost like just being your own business as a solo entrepreneur, or something like that. I mean, if you’re really trying to build an organization, or build a team, you start with the generalist approach, but you need to find people to start to fill gaps that you’re either not good at, or don’t have the time for or, you know, you just need to start delegating to grow. I mean, Jordan, I’m sure you’ve been through that process. Very up close, you know, in terms of your company. Right? Have you experienced that? You know, needing to.

Jordan  16:31

Yea, mostly through, mostly through pain? Yeah, well, I mean, you just, you just hit certain spots, right, where you’re like, oh, there’s so much going on. And even though you like, love it, and it’s thrilling, you know, I’m just speaking candidly here, like, I can’t come home every night at seven, because I’ve got four kiddies, right? And so there’s this balance of, again, this is like my sick nature, like, I’m still over here thinking, yeah, but I can do it. But it’s like, but at what cost? It’s so while certainly it’s not going to be at the cost of being a father to my kids, or a husband to my wife, right? Well, at what cost then at this, at what cost? And so, for me, that’s been a huge learning process over the last few years is, I love to do 20 different things at once, like, I just feeds me. But there starts to become this line of, well, what are the items? What are the items on that list that are non negotiable? Okay. And it doesn’t matter. If I really, really liked this thing. I have to admit, it’s not a non negotiable for me. So I gotta let it go. And I told, I taught actually, one of my colleagues here, I said, you know, I, I think 1000 versions of me have ever, have already died and there’s 1000 more versions yet to come. And he’s like, what are you talking about? Like, well, in this situation, I could have gone this way. And I wanted to, but like, I had to make this decision that I wanted to do this, but I had to make that like, so that whole life that could have been doesn’t exist now, right?

Matt  18:07

Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, man, I can relate to this so much, Jordan. And I think, I don’t think, you know, logically speaking, I don’t think being a generalist means that you have to say yes to everything. I mean, I think but I think that that tendency exists because of the broad areas of interest. So and also, if you’re a generalist, in some ways, you might get approached by lots of people, because they see you as, as oh, you know, Jordan can help me with this, because I’ve seen him do X and Y, and Z. And you might not even be great at X, Y and Z. I was just telling my sister the other day, I was like, I feel like I’m not great at a lot of things. I’m good at a few things, I’m okay at a lot of stuff. And sometimes in an early stage startup, that’s actually a really good thing. You know, somebody who’s okay in a lot of things, but, but that doesn’t mean I should say yes to every opportunity that’s out there, for sure.

Jordan  19:03

Well, just on that note, you just said about your sister there. At an early stage of a startup, you, you cannot be a perfectionist. You have to just say, well, this is the work product, minimum viable product here. Sure, I’d like it to be better, but with the skills, skills, time and effort, whatever and all these other priorities, we just got to ship it. All right, here we go. And so there is a skill of being just good enough at that stage, right? Like, you don’t gotta be perfect. It doesn’t have to be amazing. But there’s a lot of things early on that need to be just good enough. But, as the wheels of the machine start to turn, and as things get better, as things get more involved, whatever, like, then you kind of have to have and again, this is another thing you have to be willing to let go of certain areas even if you like them, because now we do need perfection. Okay, and I can’t facilitate that. So now the sick part of me is like, I could probably learn how to do it. But it’s like though, I gotta give that up, I gotta let somebody else learn how to do it or come bring their expertise, whatever that is.

Matt  20:08

I think that can be a challenge for a generalist personality who is running an organization is to say, oh, I can do X, Y, and Z. So I’m going to, you know, potentially save money by, I don’t know, what’s a good example? Oh, you know, I’m the owner, let’s say you’re an owner of a, you know, $500,000 business, not real big, but you got some stuff going on. And oh, I can still do the bookkeeping. But, you know, you have to think about the trade-offs. Like, if you’re going to take 3, 4, 5, 6 hours a month, and do all the bookkeeping and payroll and everything and maybe maybe it takes a day or month, but, but there’s people that are specialized in that, and there gets to be a point where you need to start to give that to the people who can really run with it and excel and let you actually think about the next level of what it means to be a generalist. Somebody who’s looking at the big picture.

Jordan  20:59

How do you make that decision?

Matt  21:01

Well, it depends on the context. To me, it’s so much about, you know, building the team, in any organization or operation, you’ve got to figure out who your key people are. And sometimes that’s more obvious than others. If you’re in a nonprofit context, this can be one of the biggest challenges if you depend a lot on volunteers. Because you know, with an employee, you can kind of say, okay, I want you here between nine and five. And then I can tell you what to do between nine and five, but a volunteer, it just doesn’t work that way. So you need to identify who your key volunteers are, that are reliable or have certain skills. If you’re a nonprofit, if you’re, if you’re a for profit, you know, it’s obviously identifying the right people to hire, and building that team out. And then vendors, you can’t forget vendors, a lot of times, as a general skill, take all these things on your own plate. But there are lots of good vendors out there, if you can just find the right ones who can handle certain discrete functions of your business. I mean, and take it over for you. And you find those vendors and build those relationships.

Jordan  22:08

I was just telling somebody today, hey, you can’t complain about free labor. But when you have an NGO or nonprofit, whatever that is, you know, there’s all these volunteers are part of. This is just a fun question. Have you ever had to fire a volunteer?

Matt  22:24

Oh, man, that’s a good question. I have had to redirect volunteers, I’m sure. But, but I don’t remember having to totally push somebody out before but. I guess there’s, I’m sure there are situations where that happens. You know, it depends on.

Jordan  22:44

Well, I was just thinking, I was, just as you were talking, I was thinking, I know the process of like, letting an employee go. Like this is the expectation you didn’t hit it. I can’t pay you anymore, because you’re not meeting expectations. Well, with a volunteer, right, like what, you’re here on your own dime. You’re figuring out on your own, you’re really missing expectation, but like, how to like, what do we do here? You know what I mean? I mean, I would just.

Matt  23:04

I think, yeah, that’s probably a unique challenge to nonprofits, and in churches and other volunteer organizations, like, you got to manage it, but it’s a whole, it’s just not as clear, it’s far more gray.

Jordan  23:20

So we’re, we’re getting kind of close here. So I want to ask you, like one or two more questions before we hop.  Specifically around, you’re in a nonprofit company, and that’s where you’re employed. But you’re also, you’re also running or like part of running a startup company. And then you also got a nonprofit Fathering.Me, which mentors folks and whatever else. Like, obviously, mission is a big part of your life, right? Like just kind of reading that resume. What would you say to folks that sort of have this generalist mentality that are sort of really mission driven? But maybe they’re not entrepreneurs? Right? And so they’re, they’re working, just, you know, name, the company name, and that’s where they’re working like, like, what would you encourage them to do in order to find some of that mission or outlet? Or can you find enough mission just in the workplace at that one job?

Matt  24:21

Right. Right. It’s yeah, I mean, at the very beginning, I think just, if people are feeling a little bit of that limitation or dissatisfaction in their work, or in any context, I think one of the first things to encourage people is just be super reflective, like take it, take a couple hours, go away by yourself, get in front of a whiteboard, get a notebook, and just start brainstorming out all the opportunities that you have within your current role. So it’s the context are so unique, but, but people that think creatively outside the box a little bit in terms of even their own positions, may find that there’s opportunities within their own companies to, to serve in different ways that may, you know, bring them a little bit more diversity to their work. I would also say that, you know, just in general, the more you learn, and this isn’t necessarily generalists, or specialists, but the more you learn in general about what’s going on around you, and around your work, you know, a lot, a lot of people, it’s very easy to come into a job and just say, hey, my job is this, and I focus on this, and I get good at this. And that is, that is the core, like, whatever your function is, getting good at that is, is, is obviously kind of central. But the more your curiosity around the position, like understanding, if you’re in sales, development, you know, understanding the general industry, and how that industry is faring and, and kind of what’s going on big picture and learning a little bit more about what your, your audience is actually thinking like, you can kind of scratch that itch a little bit about that curiosity and interest in, in ways that might actually intersect with what you’re doing right now in your job. So those are a couple thoughts I have in terms of, you know, just, there might be more than meets the eye sometimes right in front of you. It’s good to look for those opportunities.

Jordan  26:17

Well, I have to tell you, I was surprised. You know, I come from a humanitarian background. How did I even get my first job in tech? Basically, pregnant wife needed some money, took a job that I didn’t really want just to be upfront with you. Got into it, though, and I realized, this is the humanitarian stepping into business who thought I don’t want anything to do with business was wow, like, even from an employer standpoint, or like a manager standpoint, like providing a job where people can make money to go and take care of their families, like, that’s a huge part of life. Like, that’s not a small thing. And then you find out even inside of that, like, there’s all different types of employment scenarios, scenarios where managers are micromanagers, or they stress their folks out, or people hate their jobs as a result of what, like, in some ways, just being missional, in the sense of like, anybody who works with me, I’m not gonna say it’s gonna be perfect. It’s not like kumbaya or whatever, but I’m going to do the best that I can to make sure that like, when they go home, they still have energy. You know what I mean, or they’re going to be the best at their craft, you know, whatever it is that they’re trying to achieve. And wow, I thought there’s a huge mission in that. And then even in sales, connecting a problem to a solution. And like, like, this is, like, it’s no small thing. Whereas just to be fair, like, just to be honest, I used to think, oh, this humanitarian, I’m living with purpose. And then I jump into this business world, and I had to eat some humble pie there. and think, wow, there’s a whole lot of purpose going on in here.

Matt  27:45

Absolutely. I agree. I think, I think the biggest impact you’re going to make in your life in general, most people are going to be the people that you interact with regularly, regularly. As humans, we are relational creatures. So we could donate a lot of money to organizations, we can advocate for causes, and those things have value. But that’s partly why I’m so passionate about being a dad. Because what other lives in this lifetime that I get to live, am I going to impact more than the kids that I’ve been, you know, blessed to raise? And yeah, there’s challenges with that, but, but I’m their dad, and I, you know, so that needs to be a central part in my marriage. And then, and then your work is also a pretty close circle, sometimes the people you’re with and your clients, it’s solving problems and building a better workplace. I mean, I’m just echoing you at this point. But I think those, you can get a lot of purpose in those things. And, and I think that mentality shift can be really energetic.

Jordan  28:48

Yeah, outside of that, hey, I’m working for the weekend, to like, I’m working with purpose.  I like that it all integrates together. But, Matt, I appreciate you being willing to hop on and sort of take some curveball questions today. If anybody wants to reach out to you what’s the best way for them to get ahold of him.

Matt  29:06

You know emails great Matt, M-A-T-T at GiftHopper.com. And I’m happy to chat about anything related to startups or being a generalist or even, even just brainstorm with people who want to launch a new venture. I always enjoy that.

Jordan  29:24

All right, Matt, thanks for coming on. And I hope for our listeners today that you enjoyed today’s episode. We’ll see ya. 

Matt  29:30

Thank you.

29:31

Hot dog. That was a great episode. Thanks for listening. If you want to learn more about Greaser Consulting or any information you heard on today’s episode, visit us online at www.greaserconsulting.com. Be sure to click the Follow button and the bell icon to be notified on the latest here at RevOps Therapy. Thanks and see you real soon.

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