The way COVID has slowed life down has created genuinely interesting opportunities right now if people choose to take advantage of the time. Whether you are thinking about changing careers, picking up new skills, or learning of any kind – this might be your time to shine outside of your comfort zone.
I want to talk to you about the importance (and fun) of skill-versatility and share some thoughts on smoothly adapting to changes in life’s pacing more smoothly to help accomplish your personal goals.
Take A Few Days’ Pause
Acknowledging the importance of starting things off on a good foundation – I always recommend taking a few days to sit and think deeply. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish and what you should focus on to pull that/those task(s) off. If it needs to be broken down into smaller steps, go for it — but it helps to have a concrete end goal in mind before you start anything.
And if you’ve already started something, that’s ok. If you can take the time to pause for a little bit (like if no one is waiting on your output and you don’t have any looming deadlines), take a moment. I just recently did this with this blog. If you look at my post dates for the last few days, you’ll see that I stopped for a few days recently to plot and scheme plan.
Follow These 3 Steps Repeatedly
In order to build up this new skill set for your goal, you’ll want to develop comfort doing these 3 key things, in order, over and over again:
Understand what’s required.
Learn new things you know nothing about.
Practice what you haven’t mastered often.
I know – “Duh” – right? But, hear me out: There is a little more complexity in each of those steps than their simple sentence gives them credit for. And although there are only 3 steps, the associated nuance of each one can make your small desire a gargantuan task if you bite off more than you can chew.
#1: Understand What’s Required
It is very likely you can think of times people you know have started personal projects without doing their homework on the subject first. I know I’ve jumped into things without looking before. I have had friends and family start businesses without understanding what all that entails. And I have seen many out there operate on the hope they’ll eventually learn the necessary things along the way.
While stepping out into practical application is a valuable step, if you do so too soon and at a point where you are genuinely unfamiliar with what you’re doing – it can prove a costly mistake (either monetarily or in terms of something even more expensive: time). Yes, the brave and the bold are rewarded for their efforts – but only fools waste time if they don’t have to.
This step asks that we develop an idea of the minimum requirements for achieving a task. You don’t have to know everything, but you do want a surface-level familiarity with the necessities so that you can operate properly. A deeper understanding of the subject will come with time & practice.
For example, I want to learn new computer coding languages, so I’m picking up Python in my free time. Before jumping right in, I looked at a few articles and spoke to a few professional Developers I know.
Everyone made it clear it helps to set aside time for learning, regular practice, and having an end-application in mind. But, they also told me what version of the coding language I should learn. Each preparation resource made it clear that I’ll use Google often and really shouldn’t stress too much about remembering every single bit of code. Every initial point of inspection helped me manage my expectations and feel more prepared for the road ahead.
Had I not taken that small amount of time to grasp the actualities of coding in Python, any number of time-wasters may have sabotaged me from the start. I might have underestimated the amount of time it would take to learn the language. I could have studied an outdated version of the codebase. I may have felt like a failure for not remembering every single detail of syntax and rage-quit before I ever really got going.
#2: Learn New Things You Know Nothing About
Put simply, the name of the game here is “Versatility” – aka – “Growth”. There will be different schools of thought on this for sure, but I don’t feel like you should obsess over trying to master things. Learn enough to function in the way that you need to for your purposes, and then move on to some other aspect of your journey.
In my coding example from earlier, I will need to know how to type to code. But – if I already know enough about typing, why would I obsess over become the world’s most proficient typist for my coding? Yes, typing skills would help. Sure. But why drive it home beyond what’s necessary? That’s keeping me from what I’m really trying to do: learn to code.
Beyond that very practical reason, there’s the fact that you run the risk of getting trapped in the familiar and things that you’re comfortable with if you spend too much time obsessing over refining things that you already know. I think that’s a natural tendency for most humans, but it’s a true pitfall for some.
I have seen friends who talk time and time again about switching up careers or learning new things, but they also refuse to carve out time from things they already know to make room for learning anything else. I am not questioning their commitment or desire to grow, but I am saying that they seem a little “stuck in the familiar” to me.
The unknown and anything uncertain is scary to a lot of people, but it’s how we expand our experiences and knowledge as people.
Make it a point to focus on “what you don’t know” vs. “what you know” if you’re trying to grow in any new skill set. Even if you SUCK at the new thing(s) you’re trying to pick up, factually speaking – you’re doing something new. You’re familiarizing yourself with things you knew NOTHING about before you took the plunge. You are growing and becoming more versatile.
And the opportunities this mindset will unlock for you will speak for themselves over time. I have landed jobs, clients, funding, scholarships, interviews, relationships, and great memories just by approaching things in this manner. Just psyche yourself up, and step away from your comfort zone for a little bit. You will be fine – I promise.
#3: Practice What You Haven’t Mastered Often
If #1 is about preparation and #2 is about exposure – then #3 is about building habits more than anything else. The second step of this focuses on fearlessly stepping out of your comfort zone, and this step is about trying to “add a room” to your existing comfort zone through repetition.
I remember I used to be TERRIBLE at public speaking. I stammered as I spoke, said “um” every other word, lost myself in my speaking points as I went on. I once got on stage in front of a room full of people – began to speak – forgot my lines – froze – and ran off stage. Yes. This actually happened.
But I kept at it. I would record myself speaking over and over again – catching each “um” and “like”. I would look in the mirror so that I could say things without obsessing mentally over my posture each time because I’d just see myself and correct as needed. I practiced in front of friends and family. I learned to defend my points in conversations with people much smarter than me.
And then… I wasn’t so bad at public speaking anymore. I have stepped so far beyond that initial fear of talking in front of a group of strangers that I’ve been able to leverage that into speaking in front of groups, speaking on behalf of organizations, talking confidently in company meetings, performing — and it’s all been a blast! But none of that would’ve been possible had I stopped at “learning about speaking” and not “practiced speaking publicly”.
Whatever it is that you’re “dabbling” in right now – keep finding new aspects of that activity (#2) and then continue “dabbling” (#3). That is how you will grow your skill set. And once you’ve had your fill of that, restart the steps and kick it back to #1 about a new thing.
Why Does Versatility Matter?
You can find a lot of success by digging deeply into a single thing. There is no arguing that. Look at any professional athlete, programmer, artist, and so on. But I’d argue that those people also have an intense passion working on their behalf and reinforcing whatever drives them forward. There is nothing wrong with that.
But, 1) there’s probably more to those individuals that you see them excelling at, and 2) most people haven’t figured out their “one thing” yet (and many never do). So, why not try many things?
Versatility can open doors for you into new experiences that you never anticipated. Versatility can lead to cross-applications that you otherwise wouldn’t see.
A person who is “just a chef” opening a restaurant may not do as well as the person who opens a restaurant and is “an equally talented chef who also used to DJ and run a successful fitness studio/blog + YouTube channel on the side of their old job as a financial planner”. I don’t know how those things fit together for the second person – hahaha – but I have to believe that the second individual will create something INCREDIBLE with their restaurant experience vs. the first person who only went super deep on one lane.
Versatility can also, in some cases, offer more job security than not. What happens if the one thing you know is no longer considered lucrative? Your employer may have to downsize (times are hard in some industries), and you’d rather be the person who can call on a number of skill sets to seek out new work than the one who is now swimming in the same stream with tons of unemployed people who also worked in your field (and may have more credentials than you do).
I don’t have the answer to how people should live, but I can advocate for a route that I’ve known to be fruitful and filled with fulfilling adventure and meaningful acquaintances. There is no point in mastering anything if you don’t have any joy left in your tank at the end of the day.
How do you go about picking up new skills? Do you have more of a tendency to try different things, or dig into one area? Why do you prefer that (there is no wrong answer here)? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!