After reading that miserable article, I was IM’ing with a friend of mine at Complex Diagrams. (He’s a UI designer I know.) It struck me that what I really wanted to write was an article about the skills that have served me most in life, not just school, but the actual office.

1. Being able to read a lot, and fast.

It will get you through college and through a lot of stuff at work when you’re on a deadline. I took a speed reading course during freshman orientation week in college. I was already a fast reader, but it did help me learn a few new tricks I still use today. Along with reading a lot and fast, is having a good vocabulary so you don’t have to drag out a dictionary all the time. (But if you need an online one, I recommend Merriam-Webster’s site. It’s my go-to site when I need help.) I don’t know how to help you if you have dyslexia. I have several friends with this problem and I just don’t get it. But all of them have extremely powerful memories.

2. Think critically.

Be a skeptic. Not necessarily a nay-sayer, but a devil’s advocate. You want to be able to decide what ideas are meritorious and not just say no or be negative just to be a jerk. You can build something up by tearing it down in a constructive way. Knowing how to evaluate ideas, concepts, people, everything is really important. By doing this well, you will become the office resource for quality discussions.

3. Argue effectively.

Understand what’s really at stake during people’s conversations at the office so you can know how to argue for the right things. I debated in high school and in college. I also wrote a lot of essay and research papers in high school. And though I was a very bad writer in high school, I got to college and was well-practiced at documenting an argument. I still use those skills at work for emails, proposals, design and requirement documents.

4. Write grammatically, if not concisely.

I will admit, I don’t know how to use a semi-colon very well, so I cover it up by using a period wisely. Knowing what an Oxford comma is not necessary, but spelling properly, using antecedents and subordinating clauses well goes a long way in communicating at the office. Do not underestimate it. Emails get forwarded and people who don’t know you will form an impression of you in text. In general, I am not a concise writer, nor speaker. But I know how to edit in text, which helps overcome my problem.

5. Focus and sustain effort.

Being able to focus your energy and effort for 2 hours or more is really important. As I age, I realize what a short attention span I have at work. Judicious application of focusing myself has saved me, my team, and my project many times in life. Learn how to self-discipline yourself to focus.

6. Listen actively, and listen ‘through’ people for what they are not saying and understand their motives and agendas.

Hearing and listening are two different things. I register aural stimulation when I hear, but I understand when I listen. Plus people like it when you listen to them. It makes them feel good, which segues into my next point.

7. Be generally friendly and nice at the office.

Sounds weird, but just saying hello to people helps. I often have to talk to total strangers and if you at least give the appearance of being nice, when you do have to speak to someone out of the blue, they will be positive and helpful.

Ok, these are certainly not the only life success tips out there. It’s just the seven concrete life skills I think make a difference. My evidence is my life. When I am lacking in one skill or another, I can tell. I continually fall back on some of these skills at work no matter where I’ve worked or what I am doing. My job reviews, assessments, peer reviews, recommendations, etc, all mention variations on these themes. I am sure that there are quite a few other things I could have put, like self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses, but I think that comes later, after you build a foundation with these seven things.

What are your key life skills that have added to your personal success?


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