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Improve the Right Kind of Skills (They Probably Aren’t What You Think)

*My book Born for This is all about helping you find the work you were meant to do. This series explores some of these lessons.

Lesson: Improving “soft skills” can increase your value no matter what kind of career you have.

Hard skills are things you learned through technical or academic training: how to make architectural drawings with certain software, how to properly administer medication as a nurse, and so on.

Soft skills are just as important—if not more—but aren’t usually taught in school. To be more effective (and to become more valuable), spend time improving your soft skills in writing, negotiation, conflict management, and follow-up.

When Daniel Vlcek quit his job and ventured out on his own, he already had the hard skills of property management, having trained as an electrician and spent years working maintenance on Colorado vacation homes. What really set him up for success, though, was his persistence in mastering the soft skills, in particular the skill of working with people.

Once he overcame his shyness about knocking on doors to talk to property owners, he found he was good at making them feel comfortable with his ability to handle their entire booking and management process.

In fact, the more his people skills improved, the more his business grew, and the more his business grew, the more he was able to enjoy the freedom he had always wanted. Losing his job, he said later, was one of the best things that had ever happened to him.

To sum up:

  • Professionals with marginal skills: undesired

  • Professionals with strong hard skills but poor social skills: needed on a short-term basis, but not always valued over the long run

  • Professionals with strong hard skills and strong social skills: indispensable

People like Daniel remind me of something that Steve Martin said: “When you’re just starting out, don’t just be good—be so good they can’t ignore you.” If you’re reading this, you probably already have lots of hard skills. To be so good they can’t ignore you, focus your efforts on improving soft skills.


Born for This is available from or your favorite local bookseller. You can also take the free quiz or join me on tour in your choice of more than 30 cities.


Image: David