This post was originally published on Unsettle.org
Can I tell you a secret?
For a long time, I believed there was nothing I was specifically good at.
Sure, I knew I liked to read and that I was okay with a pen, but I just didn't have confidence in my ability to be better than most people at something.
It wasn't until fairly recently that I discovered that I do have innate talents and unique skills. And it wasn't until I started using them that I realized how powerful they are to build a career you love.
I know I'm not alone.
Judging by the dozens of emails on the topic in my inbox, many of you are in the same boat as I was many months ago.
So the question remains: How do you find out what you're unique good at so you can use those skills to make a living doing what you love?
Well, there are many ways to do just that.
The Two Types of Skills You Can Have
You probably already know that there are two types of skills: hard and soft skills.
So when somebody tells you that you're a great listener, you've mastered the soft skill of listening.
Think of soft skills as skills that you can't touch or see, and hard skills as skills that are tangible. You can see hard skills play out. You can't see somebody listening. You can, however, see somebody play an awesome game of tennis.
In this post, I'll break down soft skills and hard skills so you can find out what your unique soft and hard strengths are. And if you can combine them, you can be unstoppable.
Just one more thing before we get into it:
I've created a workbook to help you work through these points. Click here to subscribe and get access to the workbook. It will be handy as you go through the post.
6 Steps to Finding Out What Your Soft Skills Are
Word of caution: As you go through these exercises, recognize that skills and personality traits are not one and the same. Personality traits are things like:
These are things that are hardwired into you, as part of you.
Skills, on the other hand, are things that you can improve and get better at without changing your personality, like communicating, analytical skills, and connecting.
If people have always told you that you are kind, that's a personality trait rather than a skill. A great one to have! But not something you can use to build a career.
1. Take an Assessment
When I was starting a new job, I had to take an assessment which was designed to tell my new employer about my work personality.
Reading it later was very telling. It turns out that the assessment was very accurate and confirmed what I'd heard my entire adult life about my skills: I'm great at persuasion and influencing people, and not so great at having unpopular opinions and not being liked, in that these things make me very uncomfortable.
Seeing the assessment brought it all together.
When I finally owned what I am good at, I combined those soft skills with a hard skill (writing) and something I really care about (doing meaningful work) to start Unsettle, where I:
2. Stop Looking Within
Looking within is great. It builds up our self awareness, and helps us get to know ourselves.
But it's not great when you don't know what you're skilled at.
So stop looking within and start asking around. Who do you spend the most time with? Ask those few people who know you inside and out what they think your skills are.
Just like a writer who has difficulty seeing the mistakes in their own work, we tend to have blind spots in our own skill sets.
3. Look Back in Time
The answers you are looking for are probably right there in front of you.
In #1, I told you about how I took an assessment for a new job and it confirmed what I'd already heard over and over again in other aspects of my life.
When I saw the words "influence" and "persuasive" on my assessment, it brought me back to comments that people had made in greeting cards, conversation, and performance reviews which said the same.
So go through your old performance reviews, letters, feedback reports, and even report cards from school. Usually our skills don't go away -- they only get stronger with practice -- so don't be afraid to look farther back.
4. Imagine You Were Given a Project
Maybe it's a work project or something in your personal life. Imagine you were responsible for the entire project. The idea phase, mapping it out, putting it together, working on it, executing it, measuring results.
What part of the project would you look forward to the most? What portion would you feel the most comfortable with, would come easy to you?
Those things are in line with your skills. For example, maybe you love mapping projects out. You can play with the structure of the project and work past initial problems very well. You create mind maps and give the project an outline.
This uses analytical skills, organization, and problem solving skills.
Now imagine there were other people on the team. What role would you naturally assume?
Some might naturally assume the role of the organizer. Some may lead the group. What skills are required by that role?
5. What Comes Naturally to You?
This may come as a surprise to you, but what comes naturally to you doesn't necessarily come naturally to everybody.
For instance, I have a friend that can make friends with everybody and anybody. It isn't something she has practiced or tried to improve, it's just something she has always been good at.
I, on the other hand, am not that way. I have fewer, closer friends. So take a moment and think: what is easy for you that might not be for others?
6. What Are your Hard Skills?
Often, it's easier for us to identify our hard skills.
Are you good at acting? Crafting? Public speaking? Now look at the soft skills behind these hard skills.
For instance, say you are really good at playing the guitar. Precision is a soft skill required by guitar players, as is focus and the ability to listen.
And 4 Steps for Discovering Your Hard Skills
When you think of hard skills, you think of talents.
Communicating with others, knitting, singing, math. These things are things that you're good at doing.
But sometimes, we come up against mental blocks so we have a hard time thinking about what we're good at. Here are a few helpful hints:
7. Discover What You Don't Already Know
You could be the best underwater basket weaver in the entire world.
But if you've never tried underwater basket weaving, you'll never know whether it's a skill of yours.
So try your hand at different activities and skills and see what you enjoy doing. If you enjoy doing it, and you're not good just yet, you can always become good...
8. But Don't Stop If You Don't Love it Right Away
You love to do what you're good at. And you're good at what you practice.
So don't stop everything you aren't immediately in love with. Practice a little first, improve, and make a habit out of doing it. Make a schedule and show up.
And if it doesn't feel natural even after you improve? It's probably not right for you. Which brings me to the next question..
9. What do you love to do?
We've already established that you tend to love what you're good at. So let's look at those things you already love to do:
- If you love to write, you're probably good (or becoming good) at writing
- If you've always loved making crafts, you're probably pretty good at it
- If you've always loved debating with others, you're probably good at structuring arguments.
10. When Were You Most in Your Element?
Think back in your life about a handful of times that you felt the most comfortable. When you were doing something that was engrossing to you. That made you excited.
What were you doing? We are most comfortable when we're doing something that we're skilled at. That's when we're in our comfort zone.
The Power of Knowing Your Skills
Knowledge is power, and knowing your skills makes you far more able to build a career and do meaningful work.
There are holes in the world that only your unique skill set can fill.
And when you find those holes, and begin to change the world by using your skills and strengths, you're unstoppable. You just need an idea of how to monetize them. Luckily, I've created a free course for that!