Know Thyself IV

Skills and Mastery

Thus far, in the search of know thyself, I have spent all of my time understanding who I am.  This is time well spent but I have taken almost no time in understanding what I can do.  This is the next step, understanding skills and passions.  It is important to look at both the skills and passions we already have as well as those that we wish to acquire.  Understanding our current skills and acquiring new ones are a critical part of the personal improvement plan.

Let’s first take a deep dive into what we mean by skills.  A skill in its most basic form is the ability to carry out a task with pre-determined results within a given amount of time and energy.  That is a very definition-y approach to something that constitutes what we can do.  Let’s go deeper.

Wikipedia categorizes skills into six buckets: Labor Skills, Life Skills, People Skills, Social Skills, Soft Skills and Hard Skills.  There is a fair amount of overlap between each of these buckets based on different perceptions and categorization schemes.  I won’t waste your time discussing any one type more than once.

Let’s look at the Labor skills first.  These are the skill sets that allow us to operate in the marketplace.  They break down into the sub categories of foundation, transferable and technical and vocational skills.  The foundational skills are the very basics that allow us to acquire new skills.  These are things like literacy and math.  It’s pretty damn hard to learn how to code if you can’t read or do addition.  The next is the transferable skills.  These are the skills that transfer from one line of work to the next.  Many of these are the soft and people skills that we’ll talk about in a little more detail later.  The third is the technical and vocational skills.  These are your hard skills, things that require technical know-how and specific training.

Next we have our general life skills.  These skills allow us to navigate the ship and manage the demands and challenges that life throws at us.  The nerdy term for this skill set is psycho-social.  The folks that struggle with these type of skills typically struggle to find their place in society.  They could be troubled youth, substance abusers, on the autism spectrum, or any other number of other reasons.  These are the very basics: decision making, problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking, self-awareness, empathy, relationships, assertiveness, coping, communication and resilience.  At this level we are not talking about our people skills, but something deeper.  Life skills form the foundation for things like people skills and soft skills.

With that segue, let’s cover people skills next.  These are the skills that determine how well you play with others.  Most of these are covered in kindergarten but people skills are the ability to effectively communicate, understand and empathize with others.  Strong people skills build trust through sincerity.  These are a must have to interact respectfully with others to develop strong working relationships.

I’m going to cover social skills as well.  There is a fair amount of overlap between social and people skills.  The reason I’m covering social skills separately is that I like the list of social skills that the Employment and Training Administration has identified: Coordination (adjusting actions in relation to others’ actions), Mentoring, Negotiation, Persuasion, Service Orientation and Social Perceptiveness.  Learning these skills is known as socialization.

Soft skills are another categorization of a lot of the other skills we already looked at.  These are less quantifiable like people and social skills and serve as a good complement to hard skills.  Hard skills are more technical and quantifiable.  The hard skills fit nicely in the technical and vocational bucket under labor skills.

Hopefully, this study on skills was interesting even if it was a little dry.  Stay with me though, there is a point to all of this.  To build an effective personal development plan, we need a way of getting from who we are to a better version of us.  Some of that comes from understanding ourselves but a larger part is going to come down to strapping in and working on those skills that we want to improve.  We all have soft and hard skills that could use a bit of work.


Before I share the skills that I am choosing to work on, I would first like to discuss motivation and mastery for a second.  Daniel Pink has done some amazing studies on what motivates us.  He has done a couple of TED talks and written a book on motivation but my favorite is the RSA Animate version of his talk.  We are going to use these tools heavily in making sure we stay on track on our plan.  What he found is that the three biggest factors in motivation are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.  You will have total autonomy in how you build your plan.  We will also spend some time defining your purpose when we build out the vision that the plan is based on.  Mastery however is going to be an ongoing goal for the rest of your life so it’s worth spending a couple cycles on that now.

The scale of mastery that we use comes from the four stages of competence.  This was a theory built by Noel Burch while working with the Gordon Training International.  In the first stage, we are incompetent and ignorant of the fact.  The way to progress out of this stage is by showing a serious desire to learn.  We classify folks at this level as novice, because at this stage you don’t even know what you don’t know.

Personal Improvement Plan Mastery Arrow

In the next stage we have conscious incompetence.  This is where folks start to understand how much there is to know and how little they know of it.  They can recognize their deficits as well as the value of the new skill.  We classify folks at this level as apprentice, because they are starting on the journey to mastery.  In the third stage, the practitioner knows how to do the skill but it takes intense concentration.  They may have to break it down into its component parts and a ton of focus is required.  We call this level journeyman.

In the final stage, you have reached mastery of the skill.  It’s something that can be done with your eyes closed.  Many times, you can execute the skill while doing something else.  A good example of this is driving.  You don’t think about how you are going to pull out of the driveway in the morning, you just do it while you are thinking about what you have to get done for the day.  This stage is mastery.

The first step in the skill breakdown is listing out all of your skills and assigning your current mastery level to those skills.  This was a fun step for me that allowed me to flesh out my quiver of all the things that I know how to do or that I want to learn how to do at some point in the future.  The list ends up being far too long to manage though, so I will share the next step which is narrowing down the list to just those skills I plan on using in the next two years or the skills that I hope to acquire in that same time period.


This list becomes the launch pad for the next part of the process of building our vision and scorecard.  I will cover my version of those steps in the next several blogs.  There will be a final know thyself blog though that covers all of the other tools that we tried and decided not to incorporate into the process and why.  Stay tuned!