Here we are, again, discussing one of the most difficult questions in life. What am I naturally good at? In the previous post, I told you that the positive feedback that you receive from others for doing a specific thing well, can be a big clue to this question (Take Positive Feedback Seriously). Other ways of finding out could be trial and error or plain simple luck. But once you have it figured out, don’t lose it. Work on developing it over time.
It is a great feeling to do something that you like and that gives you satisfaction. However, please remember that anything that needs to be done well is actually hard work. Just liking an activity doesn’t take away the labor involved. It just happens that the hard work seems easier if we like that particular activity.
Having understood what you do well, there are several ways of developing the expertise. You must continue doing what you do for a living. Anything new, though interesting, may not enable you to replace your income immediately.
Step number zero is to declare to as many people as possible that you are offering a particular service or developing a skill. This is a big step as there is lot of inertia and judgment (or, rather being judged by others) involved here. We need to accept and then announce to at least our circle of friends and relatives our new found ‘occupation’. When I started writing, it took me full two years before I started telling my friends that I am a writer. But it was not all that embarrassing, after all. Many expressed surprise but surprisingly many said it was a great thing to do.
Whether someone reacts negatively or positively, please stay firmly on course. Specially, if you are putting your work in public domain, it is open to criticism, warranted or unwarranted. Learn to live with criticism and use it to improve your work.
First way of developing the ability to do something better is to simply do more of it. Grab all opportunities to do this again and again, and for free. People don’t want to pay a rookie. And if you have not reached the professional level, it will be difficult to get repeat orders to hone your skill if you demand high fees. If you would like to develop your art consulting practice, let people know that you are an art consultant and help them whenever possible. Accept whatever payment they offer. Continue this for some time.
How does one know that its time to declare that you are a professional and start charging professional fees? The answer depends on what quantum of work you have done in your development phase. If you manage to get twenty assignments in a year as an amateur editor, that’s good. However, if you spent two years thinking that you are in the development phase but managed to get only five assignments, you need to work a little more.
In addition to the quantum of work, you need to assess how is the quality of the output. You need honest and professional feedback on this aspect. Again, don’t get disheartened by the negative feedback and don’t abandon the work. The experts in any area don’t give positive feedback easily. Remember the MasterChef series? Or the famous show, The Apprentice by the infamous Donald Trump. Only line I remember from The Apprentice is ‘you’re fired’.
A bit more difficult way of developing your expertise is to work with an expert as an apprentice. This can get tricky as the expert needs good reason for accepting you as an apprentice. Many experts may keep their secrets close to the chest but some may be large hearted and willing to help you in return for some work. Again, the key is to stay on course whether an expert accepts you or not. Remember Eklavya? The tribal boy whom the great teacher Dronacharya refused to accept as a disciple due to his low birth. Eklavya returned disheartened but didn’t give up. He made a statue of Dronacharya and practiced his art to perfection in front of the statue. He became so perfect that Dronacharya felt he was better than Arjuna. In today’s world, you can follow your role model on Youtube, TV or Twitter.
(Just to complete the above story: In a bid to keep Arjuna’s title of the greatest archer of his time, Dronacharya asked for his fees from Eklavya. The gullible tribal agreed to pay whatever the Guru demanded. To his shock, the Guru would not settle for anything less than Eklavya’s right thumb. He cut his right thumb and offered it to Dronacharya, giving up any hope of continuing with archery. Hopefully, you will not get such a guru.)
So far I discussed the informal ways of honing your skill. If you feel that these are not sufficient in your chosen area, look out for professional training. Join a training course. The training course has couple of advantages. It makes your learning time-bound and structured. In addition, it gives you a professional accreditation or certificate. For example, you may be advising people on health and fitness as your hobby. But if you want to take this to a higher level, you may need a certification. Many of your potential clients will ask for your professional qualifications in this area.
Going for professional training has its own drawbacks. The biggest one is that it is very easy to do. Most people spend a lot of time gathering degrees and certificates whole of their life without doing anything meaningful with them. So, avoid the trap. It may be very tempting to join a training course to get a false sense of comfort. But the rubber meets the road when you complete the course. If you are not feeling confident at that time about your expertise or your ability to launch your own business, the training course will prove to be a waste of time and money. I leave it to your judgment to decide. The best way is the middle way. Once you have developed the skill informally to a certain level and people appreciate your work, may be you can bolster your expertise by joining a course.
In many cases, it may simply not be possible to go for a full-time or part-time course due to your existing responsibilities. Don’t lose heart and work without the training course. Developing the skill, offering the service to people and gathering their feedback is the most essential part of the drill. Later when you are at a semi-professional level, you may find time and resources to go for a course. At that level, you will appreciate the course contents more, learn more, retain more and apply more as compared to someone who just landed up to earn the certificate.
So, coming back to the point, keep working on that quality or skill, regularly. Find time and opportunities to do it, collect feedback, reflect, improve and repeat.
If you get disheartened at any point, read this article again or read the biographies of few achievers, who went beyond all odds to realize their dreams. Few examples that come to my mind are Mohhamed Ali, Abraham Lincon and Jack Ma.
In the next piece in this series, I talk about when and how to announce to the world that you have arrived on the scene!
My book is now available on Amazon.in – Happiness is All We Want!
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.