A simple 2-step exercise for figuring out what you're really good at
1. I don't know what my skills are.
2. I don't have (m)any.
The first answer might be born from the simple fact that you haven't thought about that question often.
The second answer, is probably because you're human. We humans have a difficult job seeing our own skills as skills. We don't consider them skills but rather just things we do.
So during this fictional coffee, the first thing I would do is to try to help you figure out what skills you already have. I'd even pull out a stack of note cards, which would probably make you recoil a little. But the goal is to create a list of our current skills so that we know what we have to work with, what might be missing and what we want to improve.
There are only two steps to this exercise:
1. Write down ideas.
2. Look for patterns.
For my high-detail friends this is like some sort of dream come true. For my low-detail friends, you are among company. I feel your lack of organization but I assure you that your career is worth it.
Step 1: Write Down Ideas
I don't want your cards to be perfect. I just want you to write.
Step 1 is all about quantity. One skill per card, as many cards as you can come up with. This is not the time to edit. For now, we're going for volume. To get started, here are some questions you can answer about your skills:
1. What are you good at?
Screw humility. This is no time to be humble. What's something you're good, dare I say, amazing at? Do you create great marketing proposals? Can no one balance a budget like you can? I'm not talking about just in your current job either. Go way back. If you were a fantastic paperboy, write down "On-time delivery."
2. What comes naturally?
You think everyone can do what you do, but we can't. The elaborate dinner parties you throw so easily are indicative that you're amazing at event planning and connecting with others. Just because it's easy doesn't mean it's not a skill. Are you renowned for your ability to pack ten days of clothes into a small carry-on for business trips? Have you figured out a unique way to fit a fully functional wood shop in your garage but always thought of it as a silly hobby?
Step 2: Look for patterns
Now that you've got a few skills labeled you'll start to notice something: Some of the ideas are related.
Group them in the way that works best for you. Maybe you want to group yours by "Skills I love doing," "Skills I get paid the most for," "Skills I want to improve" or "Skills I haven't used in a long time."
Don't worry if you don't come right out of the gate with some patterns. If this is your first go-round with an activity like this, you shouldn't be great at it yet. Try tweaking this exercise to make it work the best possible way for you.
Put your cards in a spot where you will see them during your average day and give yourself more than one chance to collect ideas. Fear would love to add the inconvenience of searching for a card as a way to prevent an idea from seeing the light of day. Beat it back by keeping a stack in a few locations at home. And keep some in your pocket.
It might feel a little strange, but anyone who judges you for writing down an idea and trying to be smarter about idea capture is a jerk. (You could always do this using an app on your phone but remember, there's still something powerful about physically writing an idea down.)
The goal of looking for patterns is greater clarity into what skills you possess. If you have ten skills written down, for instance, and nine of them fall into the category "Skills I don't use at my current job," we need to fix that. We need to find a new job that uses more of your skills, bring more of your skills to your current job or learn the skills your job actually requires.
If you ended up with two note cards and a pattern of "I have no skills, I hate you Jon Acuff," it might be time to phone a friend. Grab coffee with someone and ask them flat out, "What do you think my skills are?"
The point of the note card exercise is to generate two different things: Hope and awareness.
The first one is simple: Launching a Do Over takes a tremendous amount of hope. At the start of a journey like this, it's very easy to get discouraged and think you currently don't possess many career skills.
The second goal, awareness, is to help you see new skills you might want to acquire. Whether you want to get better at your current job or find a new one, chances are you will need new skills.
Seeing what skills you currently have on note cards often helps increase the awareness of what's missing and gives you a jumpstart to identifying the new skills you might need for a new job or to break out of a career rut.
Excerpted from DO OVER: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Jonathan Acuff, 2015.
Jon Acuff is the New York Times Bestselling author of five books, including his latest, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck. He's worked with some of the world's biggest brands including The Home Depot, Staples and Bose. Read his blog at Acuff.me and follow him on Twitter, @JonAcuff.
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