Developing that Next Skill

We all have talents and skills that we use on a day to day basis, which help us in our everyday lives, often in ways that aren’t obvious.  Some skills are utilized on a day to day basis; these skills may include public speaking, writing, computer skills and keyboarding, arithmetic, and by extension algebra, and persuasion.  Other skills that you might have, that help but may not be used daily, may be things like your sport, such as Association Football (Soccer), fencing or other martial arts, or baseball; a game, such as chess; or storytelling.  As the daily application of the former skillset is reasonably expected in almost any vocation, I am going to focus on the second; after all, who knew that being good at Soccer might make you a better Engineer?

I can already see the Engineers in the audience scratching their heads, but if you think about it, it makes sense.  At its core, Association Football is a team sport that revolves around passing a ball until someone can kick it into a net.  It’s a team game; and the teams work cooperatively with each other as they do competitively, as they need to agree to work within the framework of the rules for a successful game.  Failure to agree to cooperate in this framework quickly turns a soccer game into rugby, which while another noble and historied sport, is not the goal of a soccer match. I witnessed this happen several times as a child, when my parents signed me up for intramural sports; after all, eight and nine year olds aren’t always interested in playing by the rules.  Similarly, Engineers agree to compete for bids on a project within the rules of their profession, and the rules of the person taking bids. Similarly, they work within their teams to develop the best product possible for the end-user, whether that product is a simple nail for building houses in hurricane-prone regions, or a bridge you can drive a car across.

Additionally, soccer is heavy in the use of physics, and the angle in which the player kicks the ball, stops the ball, and otherwise manipulates it are key to winning the game.  If you are inclined to watch Japanese anime, the series Stellvia of the Universe addresses a similar notion, in which the main character, Katase Shima, solves a major problem by calculating the positions, velocities, and angles of attack of every object in a three dimensional, zero gravity playing field.  Of course, it is unlikely you will have to do anything that computationally demanding, however being able to “eyeball” angles, direction of movement, and to accurately guess the force needed to apply to the ball to reach its destination, be it player or net, are also useful to an Engineer.

The point of this allegory, insofar as it is presented, is to make you introspective to what hobbies you have and what sports you play, and determine what pieces of those playtime activities also help you in your day to day life.  As a fencer, as in all martial arts, one of the most important things I have developed is self-confidence. Although it is still a trait I am working on; after all, self-confidence doesn’t come in a day, and can easily be set back, if it weren’t for the years of time I have spent “slinging steel” on the weekends, I might not even have the confidence to write the words you are now reading, despite having works of both prose and fiction published in the past.  I certainly wouldn’t have the YouTube Channel that I am slowly building.

How can you cultivate those ancillary skills?  First, you must take inventory of yourself, and what skills you currently possess.  Start with those you use in your vocation, such as using tools, calculating rates, or handling interpersonal relationships.  Next, add those from your hobbies that aren’t already listed. Then add skills that may not be related to either, but you have developed through other means, such as having to do repairs to your home.  Finally, list skills that you believe will be beneficial, but you may not have developed yet, or haven’t developed sufficiently to utilize effectively. Go back and honestly rate your skill level from 1 to 100 in each skill, including those you want to develop, with 1 being barely knowing the basics, and 100 being the level of an expert.  In order for this to work you must be honest with yourself about your skill level; neither modesty nor braggadocio will serve you in this endeavor.  As you judge your skill level, be brutally honest about those things you are both good and poor at; it will help you in the end.

Now, take stock of what you want to learn or develop, and determine what skills, if any, can be practiced in both your vocation and your hobby.  If there is one that readily jumps out, select that skill for development first.  Once you’ve selected the skill you want to develop, you have to draw up a plan of action to do so.  This might mean spending thirty minutes each day focusing on using that particular skill in your job, and in your hobby.  As an example, if you are trying to build self-confidence, you might read for 10 minutes from a book on attitude or confidence, and spend twenty doing things that build confidence, such as deliberately making yourself as big as possible (this isn’t a joke, try sitting in a chair at work or home, and making yourself as big and dominant as possible for ten minutes, and see how you feel).  Whatever action you take may feel silly at first, but as you sharpen your skill, it will feel less silly. Focus on developing this skill every day for sixty days; or once a week for a year. Once that time period has elapsed, take stock in where you are in your skill level; you are certain to have gotten a lot better.

Although it should be obvious at this point, I’ll point out that you must write down your plan of action if you want it to be effective.  There is an important reason to write down any plan of action you intend to take, as by doing so, you are not only firming it in your mind, but you have something physical to look at and review.  Keep this plan of action safe, and read it aloud at least once every day.  

Remember, in order to develop your skills:

  1. Do a self-inventory of your skillset.
    1. What skills do you have from your vocation?
    2. What skills do you have from hobbies?
    3. What skills do you have acquired from other sources?
  2. Rate your skill level in each one from 1 to 100, being as honest as possible.
  3. Select a skill you want to develop, preferably one that is used in both vocation and hobby.
  4. Draw up a plan of action and write it down.
  5. Read it aloud daily.
  6. Act on it daily.

To help with this endeavor, I have created a worksheet for you to do your skills inventory on, although a simple piece of notebook paper would suffice.  If you’re of the gaming ilk, you can also use skills sheets from any D20 system game; it can make the exercise a lot more entertaining. You can download it from the link below.

Fans of Napoleon Hill will realize that I developed this article out of the formula he uses in his masterwork Think and Grow Rich, by adding my own experiences and synthesizing them together.  It worked when I decided to spend an entire year developing my defensive skills in fencing; it worked when I developed certain skills in my vocation; and it’s worked as I’ve developed skills as a father.  You can find the book here.






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