How to Uncover the Skills No One Tells You You’ll Need
It’s that time of year again. In just a few short days, we will be changing the calendar and starting another trip around the sun. Many people use this as a time to renew old goals and think of new ones, to make resolutions to start new habits. But before you can make goals or resolutions for the new year, you will want to consider what those goals should be. Many of us like to develop new habits or skills that can make us more successful in the new year, but how do we decide what skills and habits to develop? Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering what to work on this year.
What Kinds Of Skills Are Effective? What Makes A Skill Effective?
Whether you work in an office as a wage slave, own your own business, are starting a business, interact with people in food service, retail, healthcare or some other field, there are certain things that are always true of the workplace. Specifically, the one constant is change. There is always something different to learn, to adapt to. Being able to adapt is an innate human talent, but it is also a skill that can be developed. A skill that is invaluable if you want to succeed in any work environment.
Flexibility is not the only skill you can develop. If you think of why adaptability is an important ability, can you think of other skills that are perennially useful? Getting along with others, maybe? Communicating effectively (effectively picking up on what others are communicating as well as getting your own point across) might be another skill to have in any work environment. The ability to think quickly and critically, to solve problems, is often also a valued skill. The important thing to think about here, regardless of occupation, is what will make you successful, not just in your current position but in anything else you might do.
I once worked at a store with someone who was a stocker. One day the stocker stopped someone from stealing hundreds of dollars’ worth of goods. Not long after that, he was promoted to assistant manager. Why? Because he exhibited something as an entry-level employee that was valuable to management. He showed initiative, leadership. He didn’t wait or call someone so the thief might get away. He chased him down until he finally caught him in the parking lot and the police were called.
Yes, this young stocker was in reasonably good physical shape such that he could chase the thief down, but most of the skills and characteristics he demonstrated were what are often called “soft skills:” vigilance, responsibility, leadership, thinking on his feet, thinking strategically. Other valuable skills someone might have include the ability to work well with others, to explain something so others understand, to listen when others talk.
Now, hopefully you will not have to chase a thief across a huge store and into the vast parking lot just to get ahead in your job. What skills and abilities you do have depend on what you already know and can do?
How Do I Know What I Don’t Know?
Think about the skills you exhibit in your current role. They might be numerous but make a list. Are you a manager and are good at working with people? Are you super-organized? Write it all down.
Now, think about not just where you are now, but where you want to be. If you are in an entry level job, do you want to be in charge some day? If you are starting a business, what do you want it to look like? What role do you want or need to play in that? Even if you are objectively successful, what would continued success look like? A sales professional may want to establish deeper relationships with her clients, for instance. A manager might want to more equitably solve disputes amongst their direct reports.
Write down your goals. Take inventory of what you already know and what you will need to know how to do in order to develop these skills.
Once you know what you want to learn, it is time to figure out how you will make it happen.
What’s My Plan?
Your actual plan might vary depending on what you want to learn but remember that repetition and exposure over time are key. You might remember the famous “10,000 hours” of practice needed for mastery popularized by Malcom Gladwell. Although there has been dispute about the actual amount of time needed and whether other factors are necessary to develop mastery, it is indisputable that time and repetition are important. The best way to make the time to learn and practice is to develop a habit of it. If you want to be a better writer, for instance, start by writing every day. In an earlier story, I mentioned Dorothea Brande’s edict on writing for thirty minutes first thing every morning. That is a great habit to get into. And what or how well you write isn’t important. The important part is to make it a habit. Writers write. The more you write, the more naturally it will come. It takes about two or three weeks to make a habit. Let’s make it an even month. Try it for one month and see what happens.
That’s great, you say, but what about other skills? What if there are things I actually need to know how to do before I start practicing? Great question. The answer is to make learning a habit. Seek out good information on specific skills. You can find courses and instructions on just about everything. If you don’t have much money, chances are you can find instruction on YouTube. You can even find stories here on Medium. Once you have identified your source (s) of information, set a schedule. When each day will you be able to set aside 30–45 minutes to learn and practice what you learned? Think about your schedule and find a time. The length of time it will take you to develop and practice the skill will vary depending on how complicated the skill is to learn, but I suggest spending at least 30 days learning and practicing. Once you have been learning and practicing for a while, think about everyday instances in which you can practice your skills. If you are learning active listening, for example, and happen to work in retail, then practice by giving your customers your complete attention. Practice the active listening skills you learned, put them to use. You will probably find that this will not only speed up your mastery of the skill, but can help you in other ways. If you practice active listening with customers, coworkers, family, and friends, you will probably find your professional and personal relationships strengthened as a result.
How Do I Put This All Together To Make It Work?
Once you have a plan, it is time to put it into action. Remember, too, that you can plan to learn more than one skill at a time, but don’t overload yourself. Try no more than two at a time so as not to divide your attention too far.
Also keep in mind that the process is the important part. Follow the process of identifying your needs, developing a plan, and putting the plan into action by learning and practicing every day, and you will undoubtedly improve. As you learn and grow, you might notice complementary or component skills you will need to learn to be more accomplished. You will already have the tools you need to take on these new skills to pursue and even higher degree of mastery.
In upcoming pieces, I plan to discuss this process more in depth. How do you determine how you want to improve? How do you figure out what you need to know? How do you plan it out and put your plan into practice? These are topics I will tackle next.
Please let me know what you think. Do you feel there are skills you can learn to improve your abilities and relationships professionally and personally? Is there something you always wanted to be able to do but have convinced yourself you are not able to do? If so, what is it? I look forward to reading your answers in the comments below.