In my polymath life I have come across a couple of skills that I have found extremely useful both in my career and everyday life. I’ve also learned that they are not necessarily skills that everyone possesses or even considers a “skill”. Some of these seem like no-brainers but they’re really quite important and should receive some attention if you want to be successful in any career.
1. Let me google that for you — NOT
You’d think everyone knew how to google. Alas, no. Numerous times people have asked me for “advice” on something they, supposedly, couldn’t find. Then I googled it myself, and it usually took me two minutes to get results, as in: first page results. So I kept sending them Let Me Google That For You links and hoped they’d get the hint. They probably think me rude, but at least I rarely get inane request per email these days.
However, I’m part of a couple of community groups on Facebook and there I still notice this tendency to ask the hivemind for info that googling could have provided. I suspect the reasons behind this are:
- They didn’t bother to google because it’s easier to let others do the work for you — which is incredibly irreverent of other people’s time.
- They couldn’t find the info because they don’t know how to do a proper google search. It’s not that hard, and there’s plenty of information online if you — oh, the irony! — google for it.
Obviously, there are situations where I think it’s perfectly okay and even smart to consult your hivemind. I will myself use the Facebook groups or the slack channel that my beloved coworking space offers to ask questions under the following circumstances:
- I have arrived at a point where I have googled extensively but still haven’t been able to find anything or haven’t been able to find the right thing. In this case I make sure to mention this when asking.
- I don’t want info but rather opinions that I value.
- I don’t actually know what I’m looking for.
And that’s when I’ll ask the community. But other than that? Always Google first.
2. Using the right tone or even vernacular
No matter how and where you grew up, whether you’re highly educated or just barely finished high school, where and how you live now — the language you use says a lot about who you are. You might get pigeonholed just based on how you speak. Just look at “poor little posh boy” Benedict Cumberbatch.
Simply by being aware of how language affects interactions you can make your life a whole lot easier. I’m not advocating pretending to be anything you’re not, but by being aware of language you can subtly adapt to situations. You learn to pick the right tone in a job interview, a networking situation or at a party — or even the right tone for your brand. It’s a spectrum on which you can play, an extended part of your vocabulary.
If you’d like to watch an impressive spoken word essay on vernaculars and language, I can recommend Jamila Lyiscott’s brilliant TED Talk:
3. Knowing a minimum of code
I don’t know much code, and I generally like to leave such things to the experts, but there’s not always time to ask someone else and it’s not always practical or reasonable to do so. I might have to fix something small on my website and I might have to do it fast. Or I might have some issues with the automatic sizing on embeds in my WordPress blog post, and knowing a couple of shortcodes (or how and where to find them) will let me solve the problem on my own. Or I’m using a billing SaaS which is severely limiting in its options to design invoices – but by simply trying out whether it accepts <b> and <em> tags I can find a way to emphasise something on my invoice and at least temporarily fix the issue.
There are plenty of resources and tutorials online that will show you how to do the basics in HTML5. Solving these small issues on my own makes me feel in control of my own projects.
Furthermore, knowing about the very basics of code helps me communicate better with programmers and developers. The people you work with will thank you for taking the time to learn a little about their job and you will appreciate being able to solve small problems on your own. The same goes for digital image editing — if you possess a modicum of skills you are more flexible and also better equipped when you ask something of a designer.
4. Being self-reliant
There’s a basic level of problem-solving that I’d like to be able to expect from anyone. Simple things: Basic DIY stuff like knowing how to use a hammer, knowing where your breaker box is, knowing how to do laundry, fix dinner, sail a boat, catch fish (I have totally forgotten how to do those last two, by the way), make a proper cup of tea, and so on. I also value that I’m capable of cutting my own hair if need be, even if this “skill” is just based on a YouTube video. Being self-reliant, to me, basically means not being scared of messing up while trying to solve your problems by yourself before asking for help.
5. Asking for help
Asking someone for help isn’t contrary to being self-reliant but, rather, complements that skill. It’s less about always asking others to do things for you and more about knowing when to ask for help and how to do it. Just be honest and always make sure the other person is aware that saying “no” is a perfectly normal option. I believe I learned a lot about asking by reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking. It’s not always easy to do but I do force myself to ask more often now. After all, what’s the worst thing that could happen? A “no”? Well, it’s a definitive “no”, if I don’t even ask in the first place.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Which essential skills do you have, think important, and with would you like to possess?