“We can say that Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn.”
― Frank Herbert
We all have abilities (things we’re born with, like a good memory or–I wish–excellent eye-hand coordination) and skills (tasks we’ve learned to do). Yet how many of us can pinpoint the combination of skills and abilities that we do best? Do you know when and how you do your best work or add the most value?
This topic has been occurring to me more often, so I thought I’d take a shot at it after Parin, my best friend from elementary school, challenged me with the following question: “What are you an expert at?”
It’s a tricky thing, knowing your exact expertise. You don’t want to brag, but if someone asks why they should hire you–what makes you different from all the other candidates out there–you should have a pretty good answer.
We all know our limitations, and we can sense, based on a job description, whether the task is something we would enjoy or not, but can we pinpoint why we’d be good at something?
If you have an odd career, as I do, it can be difficult to find what all the pieces are that can help explain the whole: Disney, Department of Defense, NASA, Science Cheerleaders–how do all those fit together? Again, thanks to Parin for cornering me on the topic. I didn’t have an answer for him at the time, but I think I have an answer now. Regardless of the task that’s put in front of me, I’m willing to dig in and learn how to do it, and then I do it. That works whether I’m writing about an unfamiliar topic, organizing a conference, or setting up an event for the Science Cheerleaders. Call it a strong affinity for research with an added willingness to dig in and get things done.
That combination is especially helpful if you’re faced with unfamiliar topics or situations: “I’ve never done X before.” Research skills are paramount for most writers, but that ability also matters when handling specific tasks. Disney was a good place to learn the answer, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
Okay, fine, that’s where I do my best, but what about you, Dear Reader? Can you identify the types of tasks that work best for you? If you don’t know your strengths that well, what do other people think you’re good at doing? What do people ask your advice about? What sorts of tasks do you look forward to doing, and which tasks do you do well? All of these are typical interview questions, but they’re also marketing questions if you’re looking to offer your services as a freelance contributor. As another bonus, knowing what you do well can help you focus your job/work search and allow you to concentrate on the areas where your special skill set can really make a difference.