What skills are worth paying for?

This post on the NY Times from Cal Newport has been circulating around the internet recently. Cal makes a simple argument. “In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable.”

The kerfuffle normally originates from the second sentence. Let’s focus on the first one instead. What kinds of skills are rare and valuable?

Here’s a non-exhaustive list that came to mind. These are obviously very abstract.

  • The ability to teach yourself. Previously, you could learn one trade and depend on that trade being around for a long time. That’s no longer the case. We now need to be endlessly adaptable. (previously)
  • The ability to coach others. Giving feedback well is absolutely a skill. It’s hard and painful to develop and therefore definitely rare and valuable.
  • The ability to receive feedback and listen. I’m just starting to realize what a skill this is. It’s certainly not easy, and it requires immense self-control.
  • The ability to lead. That’s different than “manage.” Leading is equivalent with saying “Follow me. That is where we’re going and this is the plan to get us there.”
  • The ability to communicate effectively. This includes both text and voice and could manifest in a team meeting or up on stage at a conference.
  • The ability to create a symphony (adapted from Dan Pink). Symphony is the ability to take a bunch of different inputs and create an output. It’s the ability to think strategically and consider how decisions will impact the future.

As I start to think about growth opportunities for 2017, these skills are top of mind. What would you add to the list?

Previously with Cal. If this post struck a chord with you, I would recommend reading A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, which expands on many ideas listed above.

Building Your Own Inner Scorecard

I recently read Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. Since finishing the book, I continue to come back to one specific topic—living your life by an inner scorecard not an external one.

A person who judges himself based on his own standards doesn’t crave the spotlight the same way as someone who lets applause dictate success.

I began thinking about all of the external scorecards we try to live up to on a daily basis. Most of them are meaningless. The car you drive, the money you have in your bank account, the clothes you wear—they’re all vanity metrics.

Here’s the thing: We all know this. There are countless quotes and books that reiterate this over and over. So, why do we continue to focus on these vanity metrics?

We continue to act on these metrics because we haven’t taken the time to develop our own. We haven’t built out our own internal scorecard so we fallback on those designed by others.

Take a few minutes today and write down what’s really important to you. What really leaves you feeling fulfilled? If you had all the time in the world, what would you spend it on? What characteristics do you want to embody?

Set out the standards, actions, habits, and routines that really matter and then give yourself a grade. Then, pick one to focus on and bring it up to an A+. Ignore everything else.

Need some inspiration? Here are the standards/actions I try to hold myself to.

Standard: Putting my family first and spending time with them.
Grade: B
Next steps: I feel like I’ve made progress in this arena with habits like shutting down at 5pm. I still let work crowd into times that I should be spending with family. I’m continuing to work at this through things like planning an awesome vacation for us next year and more regular dinner dates.

Standard: Continuously learning something new.
Grade: C+
Next steps: A year ago, I would’ve given myself an A+ here. While I’ve continued to read, I’ve fallen off the habit of taking online courses, tinkering on small side projects, etc that led me to learning JavaScript. I’m planning on picking this back up in the winter and learning PHP.

Standard: Using my skills as a force multiplier to help others succeed.
Grade: B-
Next steps: This relates to my day-to-day work at Automattic. My goal as team lead is to help the members of my team be successful. I’ll write more about this in the future, but I’m still learning a ton and falling down as many times as I succeed here.

Standard: Spending part of my time and energy for social good.
Grade: A
Next steps: I feel really great about the work I’m doing with Drink for Pink this year. I think we’re on the right track to push breast cancer research forward and help develop a better way of thinking about nonprofits in general.

This isn’t all-encompassing. It’s just an effort in figuring out what’s important, determining your own standards so you don’t fallback on those set by others.

Also, writing these down once isn’t good enough. Revisit them every month and find out if you’re making progress.

Letting Yourself Off the Hook

I was in the gym yesterday on my fourth set of back squats (I won’t embarrass myself by letting you know how much weight I was lifting). Four sets into my intended six, I was just about to call it quits. Due to some knee issues, I hadn’t squatted for two to three weeks prior. I thought to myself, “Being able to squat pain-free was enough of a win for the day. Wasn’t it?” After all, this particular workout represented huge strides from where I was just a few months back when just thinking of squatting made me cringe.

Compounding my lack of desire to continue lifting was the atmosphere of the gym. For starters, I was only one of two folks working out at the time (it was 4pm on a Friday). Normally, I would count that as a blessing, but an empty gym doesn’t exactly work in your favor when you’re lacking motivation and would rather be downing a few beers and relaxing at the end of a week. The radio was unfortunately blaring Miley Cyrus, and I had neglected to wear workout shorts with pockets so using my phone to play music was a bit tricky.

Giving Yourself Slack

We’ve all been in a situation before where we wanted to follow through with a personal promise we made to ourselves. Maybe you promised yourself you would hold off on buying any new clothes until you paid off your credit card. Maybe you told yourself you weren’t going to have that extra drink so you could get up and workout early the next morning.

Then, when it came down to the buzzer, you caved. You had that extra drink. You bought the shirt you’ve were eyeing for months. Looking back, you likely have no idea how you caved so easily. You were so set on not disappointing yourself this time.

A few weeks back, I was listening to an episode of Shawn Blanc’s The Weekly Briefly where he touched on the topic of deep personal integrity. The idea is that when you make promises to yourself, you hold yourself accountable. He used other examples that we’re likely all familiar with like setting your alarm an hour early so you can workout or make breakfast but smashing the snooze button when the alarm goes off or promising yourself that you’re going to workout after you get off from work but heading to the bar with your coworkers instead to celebrate a hard day.

Our natural inclination is to take the easy way out in literally ever circumstance. Our bodies are trained to avoid pain (both emotional and physical). So, we gravitate to doing things that we find unchallenging instead. It’s easy to talk yourself out of doing something difficult. After all, you know all of your own weaknesses.

This is the exact situation I found myself in on Friday, staring down the squat rack and congratulating myself on a job well done so far. I was trying to let myself off the hook.

The problem with letting yourself off the hook is that it breeds failure. After you cave the first time, mentally, it’s easier to give up in the future. In essence, constantly letting yourself down has a snowball effect that eventually makes you your own worst enemy when it comes to accomplishing something down the road. You’re slowly moving towards a quitters mentality. Rather than being someone that pushes through hard times to accomplish a goal, you slowly become someone that gives up. The quitter mentality is a hard one to work yourself out of.

As for those sets of squats, I ended up finishing out all six of them. It was rough. Today, my legs were so sore that I could hardly walk when I got out of bed. Still, I promised myself I would go out on a hike with the dogs, which I did. Don’t let yourself fall short. Be your own biggest champion when it comes to sticking to your guns.