Ten Skills Everyone Should Have

There are a lot of skills you don’t need. You can be happy and successful without knowing how to make a program in C++, play racquetball or conduct major surgery.

But there are other skills you can’t avoid. You can’t go far in today’s world without being able to read or write. Today the ability to drive and use a computer is one most people are expected to have. Here are ten other vital skills, many people don’t have or are seriously underdeveloped.

1) Public Speaking

Public speaking isn’t just about giving speeches to large crowds. It is about knowing how to communicate.

I’ve given a speech encouraging people to join Toastmasters. In the speech I point out that for most people, public speaking is a fairly unused skill. Unless your career demands it, most people will rarely need to get on stage.

But communication is a universal skill. Learning to speak in public teaches you how to convey your ideas. Most people reach a small threshold of conversational skills and then they stop. Speaking in front of an audience forces you to go beyond that threshold.

How to Practice It:

Join Toastmasters. There are many ways you can improve your communication. I believe Toastmasters is one of the best. They will coach you on everything from the basics to advanced skills in a positive environment.

2) Prioritizing

This is the ability to separate the important from the unimportant. To an extent, everyone has this skill. Our emotions are a method of prioritizing. People who have a condition known as alexathemia lack awareness of their emotional state. As a result they can’t prioritize, spending hours debating over the best way to handle their dry-cleaning.

But most people don’t go much beyond letting their intuition decide what’s important. Conscious prioritizing is a much needed skill in a world where are there are more opportunities and distractions than ever before.

How to Practice It:

Take a few minutes out of the start of your day. Use that time to write out what is important to you. Develop a criteria for making decisions on what to do. Getting into this habit will help you cut away distractions and focus on the essential.

3) Empathy

Communication isn’t talking and hearing. It’s speaking and empathy. I’ve already mentioned how public speaking is a necessary skill for conveying ideas. Empathy is the means of understanding ideas.

Empathy doesn’t just mean connecting with another’s emotional state. It means being able to fully see from their perspective. To understand not only what they are saying, but why. This means discerning mood, motives and context which are often ignored.

Without practicing empathy beyond your base level, you can’t communicate. You can’t improve your business or career. You are powerless to forward your relationships.

How to Practice It:

Invest time to listen, not just to hear. When someone is talking to you, don’t just understand what they are saying. Ask yourself what that communication means. What is their emotional state? What are their motives? What does this communication say about them or yourself?

You can also benefit from reading up on basic body-language cues and cold-reading techniques to determine the subtler information they are conveying.

4) Organization

Organization isn’t a personality trait, but a skill. Everyone has their own threshold for what they consider organized. But you should always retain the ability to get things ordered when chaos creeps in.

Organization applies to your environment and your tasks. GTD is an excellent system for organizing everything you need to do so you won’t forget.

How to Practice It:

Bringing order means sorting everything at regular intervals. A good system for organization should require less “spring-cleaning,” but all systems need adjustments as your life changes. Go through all your closets and trashing unused items while creating sections for different items. Sort through your to-do lists, calendars and journal entries to put them back into a convenient system.

5) Goal Setting

Goal setting is the ability to define what you want. The ability to turn vague desires into concrete objectives with a deadline is a powerful one. Whether you choose to set big goals or only focus on shorter ones is up to you.

Before I started regular goal setting, I’d have brief spurts of motivation. But they never got acted upon. Or if they did, they quickly faded away as other motivations hit. Goal setting helped me clarify what I want, focusing my motivation.

How to Practice It:

Start a journal. Use this as a place to write your goals and ambitions. Writing will help you focus your thinking. From there you might want to get a separate binder where you can store any goals you have.

6) Fitness

Fitness isn’t just an attribute, like being rich, good-looking or having a fancy car. It is also a skill. Not just how to lift weights, but how to live a healthy life. Fit people have learned how to manage the conflicting drives to eat fatty foods and laze around watching television all day with the desire to be healthy.

I realized that fitness was a skill after it took me four trials before I started exercising regularly. Before the habit just didn’t stick. But each attempt taught me more about how to handle myself until now it would take more effort not to continue.

How to Practice It:

Find your fitness goals and start practicing. It may take multiple attempts, but learn how to motivate yourself. Also, check out my book, How to Change a Habit.

7) Problem Solving

Intelligence and creativity are ways of measuring another skill, problem solving. The ability to solve problems, not just with mediocre solutions but novel ones. Unfortunately this is another skill that is frequently ignored.

By trying to stay on top of current problems, most people only practice the same types of problems. Programmers are constantly given programming problems. Designers are given design problems. Speakers are given communication problems.

The solution is to broaden yourself so you are faced with problems that require a different approach. Facing those problems will increase the tools you have to think with. Programmers who take up softer design skills may find techniques to better improve their coding. Speakers who take up programming might find different metaphors for handling their communication issues.

How to Practice It:

Take up hobbies or projects that go against your expertise. Even if you can only afford a small time investment, the benefit is stronger thinking.

8 ) Writing

Most people learn to write in the first grade. Later they may learn how to write a paper in highschool and possibly write a few essays in college. But few people learn how to write for other people.

Thesis papers and research articles are written in a formal style. One that few people use in casual communication. As a result their papers look fine, but e-mails, memo’s and letters are confusing garbage. The written word isn’t going away, so learning to write for other people is critical.

How to Practice It:

Start a blog. Blogging is the closest form of writing to a conversation that also expects a professional touch. Even if you only post once a month, it will give you insights into how you write. Even looking back a year into the archives here I can see how far my writing has come. And how blissfully ignorant I was of how muddled it could be.

9) Self-Discipline

Discipline is a skill. It is the ability to focus. Overcoming procrastination requires you to focus on your work or goals. Continuing with a difficult commitment requires focusing on the benefits or consequences of not following through. Even happiness is a result of your ability to focus on the positive.

In this sense, discipline and motivation are the same beast, brought under control with focused thinking. Focus is useful not only for achieving success but happiness. Many people report a highly positive experiences correlated with “flow” a highly focused state.

How to Practice It:

Train progressively. Figure out your current ability to focus and strive to beat that record. If you can only focus on work for an hour without distraction, aim for an hour and fifteen. If you can only read for fifteen minutes at a time, strive for twenty.

10) Finances

The basic rules of finance are obvious:

  1. Don’t spend money you don’t have
  2. Put some of your money into savings
  3. Put other money into investments
  4. Be frugal

But the skill of following those rules takes time. I suppose I’m lucky as I’ve never had a problem following these basic tenets. I was taught as a child to save my money for things I wanted, my parents didn’t just buy things for me because I asked for them. I was also taught to be frugal with my choices but not to be miserly avoiding any pleasure money could derive.

I’m also lucky enough to have avoided many of the money traps people find themselves in. Debt may be necessary to feed your family, and jobs that fall through or investments that don’t work out can leave you with empty pockets. The real skill of personal finance is take the best possible step in your situation. If you have money to spend, know how to spend it to maximize happiness. If you don’t have money to spend, reduce the blow of debt or poverty.

How to Practice It:

Keep track of it. What is measured improves. Write down everything you spend money on and every source of income. Each month do a tabulation of both sides and get a view of the bigger picture. Was spending justified? Did you waste money on things that didn’t matter? Did your debt increase or go down? Answering these questions can help you organize the flow of money in your life.


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