Can I tell you a secret?
For a long time, I believed there was nothing I was specifically good at doing.
Sure, I knew I liked to read and that I was okay with a pen, but I didn’t have confidence in my ability to be better than most people at it.
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 uniquely 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.
You probably already know that there are two types of skills: hard and soft skills. So, when someone tells you you’re a great listener, you’ve mastered the soft skill of listening.
Think of soft skills as skills you can’t touch or see and hard skills as skills that are tangible. You can see hard skills play out, but not soft skills.
For example, you can’t see somebody listening, but you can see someone 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, which will be handy as you go through the post.
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 you can improve and get better at without changing your personality, like communicating, analytical skills and connecting.
For example, if people have always told you that you are kind, that’s a personality trait, not a skill. A great one to have, but not something you can use to build a career.
6 steps to discovering your soft skills
1. Take an assessment.
When I started 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 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.
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 influence people through writing in order to do meaningful work.
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 doing.
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 his or her 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 number one, 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 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 further 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. Go through the idea phase, map it out, put it together, work on it, execute it and measure results.
What part of the project would you look forward to the most? What portion would you feel the most comfortable with or would come easy to you?
Those things are in line with your skills. For example, maybe you love mapping out projects. 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 does the role require?
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 everyone.
For instance, I have a friend who can make friends with everyone and anyone. It isn’t something she has practiced or tried to improve on, it’s just something she has always been good at doing.
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 guitar players are required to have, as is focus and the ability to listen.
4 steps for discovering your hard skills
When you think of hard skills, you think of talents.
Communicating with others, knitting, singing and math may all be 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 doing. 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 doing 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 love making crafts, you’re probably pretty good at it
- If you love debating with others, you’re probably good at structuring arguments.
10. When were you most in your element?
Think back to a handful of times you felt the most comfortable, when you were doing something that was engrossing to you or 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 zones.
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.
Sarah Peterson is the author of Unsettle.org, where she encourages people to never settle for careers they don't love. Sign up for her free course to find the perfect idea for a lifestyle business so you can gain flexibility and freedom and do work you love.
This article was originally published on Unsettle.org