What is Skills Development?
Skills development is the process of (1) identifying your skill gaps, and (2) developing and honing these skills. It is important because your skills determine your ability to execute your plans with success.
Imagine a carpenter trying to build a house. He has the raw materials but lacks good wood working tools. He has, however, a flimsy hammer and a small screwdriver. Without the right tools like a hand saw, he can’t turn these raw materials into house building pieces.
It’s the same with goal achievement. In goal achievement, your skills are your tools. The house is your goal. Just as you need the right tools to build a house, you need the right skills to build your goal. Without the right skills, you will only frustrate yourself, waste your time, and spend a lot of time dealing with rudimentary issues caused by the lack of knowledge or lack of skills, as opposed to progressing in your goal. While difficulty and struggle is part and parcel of any goal pursuit, without the right skills, you find yourself struggling more than necessary. Worse still, this struggle is unconstructive and doesn’t help you move forward.
Why Skills Development is Neglected
Yet, why is skills development neglected?
There are 2 big reasons:
Firstly, people are often impressed by what others have accomplished without realizing what they went through to get there. We see their accolades and victories, and make gross assumptions about what it takes to succeed. Then we become disappointed when we attempt the goal, only to find out that it’s not as easy as it seems.
This is very common in blogging. People see big name internet “gurus” making 6–7 figure income from blogging. Thinking that it’s easy, and perhaps perpetuated by the claims of said gurus who happen to sell you courses claiming to help you do the same, these folks start blogging as well, expecting to achieve the same results in a short period of time. They become rudely awakened when they don’t even get a trickle of traffic after a few months, much less earn an income. Some press on; many give up.
Secondly, some of us can be heavily self-critical. We look at how successful others are — the top coaches, internet gurus, award-winning performers, winners of the society — and conclude that we can never achieve the same. We feel that these people are somehow blessed with some special power that we don’t have. I often have clients who say they want to achieve XYZ goal, but after seeing very established folks in the field, feel unconfident about their abilities. They then wonder, “What makes me think that I can succeed? I should just give up because these people are already so good and experienced. Who am I to compete?”
Yet, it’s about skills development. When we see others’ successes, what we don’t see are the countless hours they spent behind the scenes, honing their craft, and building their skills. What we see as “talent” in others is the result of their 10,000 hours of hard work where raw passion and human potential are turned into hard skills. Skills development is where we turn from beginner to novice, to intermediate, to senior, to expert. And henceforth, having the ability to conquer our goal.
Example: My Writing
When I started my blog, I knew that blog writing would be an important skill to master. Yet, I was not an English major; neither had I taken any writing courses before. I was a Business student and in business school we did tons of project work and case studies — nothing to do with literary writing. The one class I took that came closest to writing was a Business Communications module, and even then what was taught was totally different from blog writing.
So before I started my blog, I spent weeks reading up on good content writing, including selecting great topics, writing enticing headlines, and understanding traits of good articles. I read blogs like Copyblogger, Men with Pens and Zen To Done. I also analyzed articles from popular blogs, including blogs I followed, to understand how they structured their posts. After all, if they were doing well, they must be doing something right! I would dissect each article as I tried to understand the author’s thinking process, and then sought to apply that in my writing. I also created an article roadmap and brainstormed on topics to write on, topics that (a) were popular, (b) met people’s needs, and (c) were timeless.
Even then, my initial articles took really long to write. I remember my first series was on “How to Find Your Life Purpose” as purpose is the starting point of a conscious life. I took over a week to craft out the 7-part series; some parts were totally rewritten before I published them! Some of my earlier articles were pretty crappy too. I would read them and cringe, thinking, Did I actually write this?? I would delete the ones that were not so relevant, while rewriting others to improve the content. In fact, this very article you’re reading now was written in 2009 and I’m now rewriting it in 2016.
But I improved. I got better. Today, I’d like to think that my writing is much sharper and on point. My language skills have also improved as I’m more aware of grammatical nuances. I’m also more aware of the nuances between American and British English, include punctuation oddities (in Singapore, we use British English, though I write in American English here as a slightly higher proportion of readers are from the U.S.). Some of my articles have been used in school curriculum, media publications, and business newsletters; many have been shared via forums and social media.
Did these happen overnight? No, whatever little writing skills I have today didn’t magically happen. Neither was I “born” with the ability to write. They came from a conscious effort to build my skills, to be a better writer. The same goes for other skills that I didn’t know and had to build at the start of my business journey: coaching, training, new media, responsive web design, web marketing, among many others. Doing so has helped me thrive in my goal to pursue my passion.
Likewise, if you are starting in a new goal, it’s about building your skills first. Save for rare situations where one is simply born with a natural predisposition in something (say, Mariah Carey and her 5-octave vocal range, though she has acknowledged that her whistle register wasn’t just an innate ability but came from lots of practice), most people cultivate their talent through many hours of hard work. The best coach wasn’t born with coaching skills; he learns it. The best musician wasn’t born with the skill to play musical instruments; he learns it. All these are skills that are developed consciously. And you can do the same too. 🙂
Your Skills Development: Hard and Soft Skills
In developing your skills, I’d like you to consider 2 groups of skills:
- Hard skills: Skills relating to any specific task; they are usually easily quantifiable. They tend to be knowledge-based, such as proficiency in a subject, certification, and technical skills. Fluency in Spanish, skills in XYZ software, graphic design, and programming are all hard skills.
- Soft skills: Skills relating to personality and tend to be transferable, such as communication, leadership, time management, stress management, decision making, adaptability, ability to deal with adversity, and networking.
It’s obvious why hard skills are important. You need domain-level knowledge to thrive in a goal. To be a successful YouTuber, you should at least have some video editing skills. To be a good blogger, you should have good writing skills and a good command of the language. To be a good software engineer, you need to know programming.
But many people miss out on soft skills. For example, a writer may insist he is great at writing but get 0 book sales. Assuming his writing skills are top-notch, perhaps he lacks certain soft skills necessary for success, like networking, pitching, and self-marketing. After all, writing a successful book isn’t just about having good writing skills:
- You need to pitch to publishers/collaborators.
- You need to market yourself to people.
- You need insightfulness that helps you understand what people want and how to write stories that resonate with people.
Many best-selling authors today aren’t necessary good writers but are either personalities with a large following (some of these folks don’t even write their own books but use a ghost writer) or everyday people with a story that resonates with an audience (Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey).