Last week, I delved into my ongoing series of confidence and skills to help you climb the ladder. Confidence comes from two different places: skills, and experience. Remember, each affects the other:
- Building skills provides experience to help you practice (Preparation for Problem A)
- Experiences help show you what other skills you need or should improve on (Learning from Problem A’s mistakes so you’re ready for Problem B)
Don’t forget confidence is a two-way street!
The goal in learning or improving skills is to help you gain confidence and succeed. Whether you’re starting out and looking for a job or you have a job and just want to keep climbing, skills will help pave the confidence road to success.
Every skill you have is worth something. No matter how strange or silly it might seem.
Even if it doesn’t seem useful now or doesn’t even feel like a skill yet, work on it and will be useful one day – I believe in your skill. Take me and acting, for example.
Before I was in libraries, most of you who have been reading Brash Librarian for a while know my background is in theater, attempting the starving actor thing. While it may seem like acting isn’t entirely useful on a day-to-day basis, it’s one of the greatest skills I’ve ever honed because it helps in nearly every situation I face. When a patron is screaming at you or a boss is telling you that you screwed up, keeping your emotions in check is vital. You can’t get upset, hurt, or angry when dealing with that patron or boss – as the saying goes, “don’t let them see you sweat”. You remain calm, level-headed, and courteous until the situation is dealt with and you can remove yourself.
You don’t get to scream or vent when you’re on stage if something bad happens; you say your lines, do your assigned actions, and get off the stage when the scene is over…THAT’S when you scream or vent, and the same goes for work. You play your part of the calm and reasonable staff member, go into the back office, staff lounge or parking lot and give yourself a few minutes to decompress. Lose your marbles in front of an audience? A boss? A patron? You can’t do that. If you value your career, IT’S NOT EVEN AN OPTION.
Remember, this is just one skill. Did you know I was also:
- A magician?
- Customer Service Rep?
- Financial seminar assistant?
- Poker tournament director?
- A mascot?
- A hair model?
It took a very long time to learn many of these skills, but it was worth it. I never thought I’d find a job that let me use all of my skills, but I was willing to be patient for the right job.
Patience is a skill.
When I first started as the new guy on campus in the theatre department, I met some resistance. I auditioned for every play and musical happening that semester, and got nothing. Of course I wouldn’t get a part! Why cast the potentially-unreliable new guy when you can cast the 2nd or 3rd year guy who’s already proven themselves talented and reliable?
I swallowed my pride and turned my attention towards stage building and prop making. As it turns out, I’m really good with power tools and building props. FYI, learning how to build/fix things with tools is life-changing. I fix things around my library ALL THE TIME. One day, the director announces that he needs people – turns out the show is a collection of 5 short plays, and a miscalculation meant that they needed some more people…one of which was a ghost. No lines, nothing special, just stand in the back and look spooky. But it was a foot in the door!
Looking for my way in, I said, “I’ll do it.”
I started showing up on time, taking my silent role more seriously than some of the main actors did with theirs, and it started to attract attention. It wasn’t long before the next role came along in another short play: Death. Only about 4 lines and 45 seconds of stage time…
“I’ll do it.”
This play was about a down-and-out poet needing inspiration and money. His inspiration? The library. The library was only open two hours a week, and it meant everything to him; to help break his spirit, Death comes and takes his library card. Then he comes back a second time to offer a bag of cash for his soul.
Looking back on it all, this is SO apropos. What a strange life we all have!
With two roles in my pocket, I started building a reputation (and while working on the stage and props, no less). As some kids dropped out and other roles popped up, it turns out another role was needed: a bartender in a play taking place in the wild west.
Once again, “I’ll do it.”
I was now playing a supporting character with lots of lines and plenty of stage time. More responsibility, more costumes, and a totally sweet mustache. Seriously, look at this dapper curl I’ve got going on in the back:
So now I’m a ghost with no lines, Death with a few lines, and a bartender with plenty of lines; the only place I could really go from there would be to star in one of those plays with most of the lines. If you’ve known me or read about me for any period of time, you know I’m both tenacious and just downright lucky, so that’s pretty much what happened next. A short play about two lawyers, one deeply in love with a mermaid and the other a drunk who thinks his mermaid-loving friend is crazy. One drunken lawyer, coming right up.
I wouldn’t call it my finest acting of all time, but it was my first real role in college and I was determined to make an impression. Apparently I did, since our show made front page of the entertainment section.
I did it all because I patiently waited for the opportunity and took it, which led to bigger and better things. I learned waaay more than I expected about schedules, teamwork, quick change costumes, facial appliances, lighting, acting, and other tiny nitpicky stuff.
Let go of the things that hold your skills back.
At some point, we are all blocked or distracted by our own fears or experiences that haunt us. I know I’m definitely guilty of holding onto past things that mess with my head.
Like many other kids, I was a super nerd growing up. I’ve been wearing glasses since 3rd grade, along with the bad acne, braces and social awkwardness. You wanna talk socially awkward? I was home schooled for middle school and spent my first two years of high school at an all-boys Catholic high school. Four years of little to no social interactions with girls = the king of awkward. There were so many social situations where I felt like I should know what to do, but really had no idea.
However, I learned in my early 20’s the best way to overcome problems like these are to face them head-on. The best way to handle the past is to gain confidence and learn from those mistakes, and that confidence comes from building those skills and helps you exorcise some of those past ghosts. When you charge into situations before others, you learn more. That’s why when possible, I like to…
Be the first.
I was always taught, “learn from other people’s mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself”, but I learned there’s also something special about being the first to make that mistake. When you’re the first to make a mistake, there’s a bit more discovery to it. I’d rather be the first guy to make a mistake than the 10th guy who makes the same mistake. There’s usually a bit more leniency given to the first person than the 10th person.
There’s also something that builds confidence by being the first. Be bold! Be daring! Be the first person on the dance floor. Be the first on stage for karaoke. Be the first to volunteer for a particular assignment. Be the first to learn a new skill.
Make new friends who have higher skill levels.
If you want to be better at something in particular, having more skilled people around you will upgrade your current skills. All of my best friends are incredibly skilled people. Whether it’s science, math, fencing, Chinese checkers, Poker, history, trivia, it doesn’t matter; you don’t get better at any sport or game by playing with newcomers – you get better by playing more skilled opponents. However, don’t let their higher skill get to your head. Remember…
Your skills are yours alone. Don’t compare yourself to others!
I love the diversity of skills found in the world. My friend Cindy Leigh has aquarium cleaning skills, my friend Justin is the best fisherman I’ve ever seen, and my friend Brad can distinguish 80 different models of helicopters by hearing them fly.
Being the youngest in my family with my bigger and stronger football-star brother, I shied away physical things in favor of things like chess team instead. (At least chess kids didn’t have to be up at 5am to run.) I didn’t really give thought to sports until I heard that the varsity weight lifting team was holding tryouts. When I started pushing myself and getting stronger, I learned that I really didn’t care how much better my brother was at something, but how much better I was getting compared to old me.
There’s a Muppets movie that came out a few years ago featuring a new muppet named Walter, a young boy who feels like he has no talents at all and just can’t find anything that he’s skilled at. To save the Muppets during their live TV benefit show, Walter finally realizes that even his favorite silly things to do can be a skill.
Speaking of whistling and music, that brings me to my next point…
Get yourself some fighting and montage music.
Rocky has Survivor, Darth Vader has the Imperial March, Batman has his na-na-na-na…What is yours? Me, I’m a big fan of Treat Her Like a Lady by the Cornelius Brothers. Something about the beat just puts a pep in my step, what can I say?
Get a skill that’s easy to learn.
Some new skills are easy to learn. Some take a few seconds, some a few days. Some can take a lifetime to master, but only a few minutes to learn. Some that I like?
- Learn how to change a tire
- An easy magic trick
- Learn to make a drink you really like (and then perfect it)
- Learn how to sew
- How to tie a tie
- How to solve a Rubik’s cube (it’s really just finding the right patterns)
I’ll bet you can learn something new by the time you finish this post.
Find a skill or hobby you can measure.
It’s very satisfying to have a hobby or skill you can improve and actually measure. There’s plenty of ways to measure improvement:
- Weights? You lifted more!
- Running? You got faster!
- Cooking? It tastes better! (A palette can measure improvement)
- Beer and wine? More hobby than skill, but trying new drinks widens your palette
- Typing? You can type more accurately and/or faster!
- Time management? You did those things you needed to do more quickly!
- Working out? Yeah, you look better! (I personally measure this by how my pants fit.)
- Some complicated thing? It’s easier to do now!
- Drawing? Yay, my stick figure has a shadow now!
- Holding your breath? You can hold it for longer! Hey, it might save your life one day.
There’s a great TED talk about a guy who practiced his memory skills 15 minutes a day for a year. He entered the world memory tournament and took 1st place. Yes, that’s a thing!
Pick a dangerous or mysterious skill.
At some point in our lives, we all want to have a super secret identity. You know, some super cool skills that make you look and feel dangerous and mysterious.
Best case scenario, these will make you feel and look like a secret agent. Worse case scenario, they might save your life (metaphorically and/or literally.) What kind of skills would I call dangerous?
- Learning how to pick a lock
- How to break into a car (just in case you lock your keys in your car, of course)
- Learn the basics of knife throwing
- How to rock climb and rappel
- How to start an emergency fire
- How to shoot a gun
- How to pick pockets
- How to fence
- How to ballroom dance
- How to disappear in a crowd
- Learning a martial art. (Super Kung-Fu ninja skills!)
- How to become a master of disguise
- How to spot fake watches, purses, sunglasses, etc.
That last one is actually really handy – I can spot a fake Louis Vuitton bag or Rolex from 100 yards.
Youtube, eHow, Lifehacker and other resources are your friends.
Thanks to the internet, there’s a how-to guide or video for almost every single skill ever conceived. Magic tricks, drink making, knife throwing, sewing, it’s all out there somewhere!
What skills do you have? What skills do you hope to learn? What skills do you want to improve? I want to know! You can comment here or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and share your skills. I want to learn ALL the skills, just like Batman. (Because Batman knows everything.)
Have a happy and safe rest of the weekend,
Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian