I was listening to an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show podcast (which I finally started, even though I’ve been following Tim for years. Highly recommended), and one of the guests mentioned something in passing that I found quite interesting. From the episode with Dr. Justin Mager and Kelly Starrett, one of them mentioned that, if you asked his wife what his “two skills” are, she would say:
- He can mimic anyone. That allows him to understand how you move and why you move, and tweak his approach accordingly.
- Pattern recognition.
I think there’s an interesting exercise in the act of picking out your two skills. I think your two skills are the ones you’re are world-class in. Top of the heap. These are the attributes you’re better at than almost anyone you know, or will ever know. These are your jam.
And I don’t mean major skills, like “lacrosse” or “interpretive dance” or “writing books.” Those are macro skills, i.e. a combination of a great many skills that we lump together under one heading because they allow us to do something others consider impressive. Writing books takes the amalgamation of a lot of skills, so that doesn’t count.
I mean the micro skills. I’ll give you a few examples. I have a friend who is the best listener I’ve ever met. It’s not just that he listens, but he makes it clear he’s listening—he makes it feel like you have his undivided attention. Another friend is extremely good at creating new, deep friendships. I’ve seen her move cities twice, and each time she quickly creates new, indispensable friendships, while keeping the old ones. Still another is world-class at finding and building connections. Whether it be in a corporate system or between colleagues and friends, he can find connections, build connections, and see where connections ought to be that others never see. It’s an eye for synthesis I’ve never seen in anyone else.
I’ll tell you my two skills. My greatest skill is delayed gratification. Have you ever heard of the Stanford Mashmallow Test? I don’t know if I took that as a kid, but I’m pretty sure I would have killed it.
My ability to delay gratification is world-class. I can put off any manner of activities I’d rather be doing in order to do the work I feel is important. The computer I write on has links to 20+ anime series on its desktop, just a click away … and yet I can put them off for hours or days—for weeks or months, in fact. I’ve had TV shows and comics and movies and books I’ve badly wanted to read for months, but I can put them off as long as I need to get my work done. This skill even extends to my dating life, which is both useful and a clever bit of self-sabotage. I’m a builder, and making sacrifices comes easy to me.
My other skill is that I’m completely at home with being an impostor. It’s a particular form of self-confidence, just as the above skill is a particular facet of self-control.
Others have impostor syndrome; I do not. I know I’m a faker, and I know I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I just don’t care. No, more than that—I revel in it. I’m unbelievably comfortable with being a fraud, with not at all knowing what I’m doing and doing it anyway. It’s similar to the reason Vemödalen doesn’t scare me: Since I have no great desire for the utterly unique, it frees me up to steal like an artist—and often, in the synthesis of my stolen ideas, I end up creating something new.
I think it’s useful to diagnose what skills you’re world-class in. (And to be clear, we all probably have more than two. It’s just a nice, low, unimposing number.) In revealing my own, you can see how useful they are at writing and publishing books. Of course, I backed into them—I didn’t know these were my world-class skills before I got started.
And that’s the rub. You’ll never know what skills you’re world-class in unless you do something risky enough to chance being world-class in. In looking for examples of others I know with world-class skills, I had trouble thinking of three people. Not because my friends don’t have things they’re great at, but because they haven’t done anything great! An utterly ordinary life doesn’t demand any great skills.
If you haven’t challenged yourself, you’ll never know what you’re great at. And if you never know what your greatest skills are, you’ll never figure out how to leverage them to become world-class in one of those macro skills that people actually care about.
I’m a stubborn liar. I will sacrifice much to obtain my dreams. I don’t care if I’m an impostor—I’ll do it anyway. That’s who I am.
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