A Basket of Skills

Growing up I took great interest in my dad’s hobby of making ‘potjiekos’. Potjiekos is a traditional South African stew prepared on the fire with a 3-leg black steal pot, prepared slowly over medium heat for around 2 – 4 hours of cooking, adding meat, vegetables, and spices to your liking.

No one potjiekos tastes like the next one. Each and every time you use the same ingredients, other factors impact the taste of the end result. The weather and the impacts on the heat of the coals, the amount of water you add, the seasoning, the freshness of the vegetables, the fat component of the meat, how long it takes you to brown the onions and meat before you add the root vegetables, how many times you open the lid, the balance of water versus steam in the pot, when to add the more fragile vegetables like the mushrooms and how many times you stir the content before it is done.

See, my dad was an expert! No matter any of these variables, he always produced a winning end-result – at some stage literally, as he won many competitions with his potjiekos skills. He perfected his choice of ingredients and simply adjusted his technique as the context required. Some days he will brown the onions and take it out before he adds the meat to prevent it from leaving a burning smell. Other days he will add it together at the same time to infuse the meat a bit more with the smokey flavour the onions produces.

He might not have been an educated man, but my dad understood something of knowing what is needed, to acquire different ingredients to perfect the taste of the flavor he aimed for at the end of the process and paid attention to variables in order to get his timing right, add the appropriate ingredients at the right moment and knew how to trust the process…

A basket of skills

It is no longer enough and realistic to only have knowledge and skills focused on what you were trained to do. We are entering uncharted waters and the unknown is far greater than the known at this stage. New knowledge is being created at an accelerating pace. There is too much knowledge for you to know everything you need to know to fulfill your current roles – what about new knowledge you, your company, and our country need to explore to know how to respond to this uncertain global economic context. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the information overload that you find it difficult to select out relevant information.

At the same time, much of what we know is no longer relevant or valid for our work, with the lifespan of our current skills shrinking. We therefore find it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of knowledge and skills required in our current jobs – let alone the skills we will require in our future jobs. Do we even know what that will look like? Do we even know what will happen in our industry and our country – or closer to home, to our own income security?

For a moment I will assume that you either work for yourself, or will have to find a new way of earning a living or at least consider adding to your current source of income. This might imply that you were self-employed before the lock-down, that your company were not able to retain you as staff member or that you had to take unpaid leave or a reduction in your salary to retain your job. Or perhaps this was a wake-up call about income security and you need to start a side-hustle in order to not have all your eggs in one (salary-earning) basket.

Whatever your context, you be of opinion that you only have one set of skills. You might fear that you don’t have what it takes to get yourself out of this financial uncertain situation. But we are not one single set of skills. We are not empty vessels entering an unknown harbor. We have all that it takes to apply what we know and what we can do in a different context if need be. We have the ability to re-invent ourselves if need be. I had to do this 3 times already in my 25+ years of earning an income.

Allow yourself a bit of credit. You might surprise yourself with the following activity’s results if you open up your mind to be convinced.

Tick the skills you think you already have (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/top-skills-every-professional-needs-to-have-4150386 ):

TRADITIONAL SKILLS LISTAPPLIED SKILLS
CommunicationAdvocating for yourself and your causes
Asking for help or advice
Brainstorming
Building buy-in to an idea
Business writing
Dealing with difficult people
Facilitating
Handling office politics
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Interviewing
Managing a positive relationship with an employer
Listening
Networking
Persuasion
Resume writing
Public SpeakingArticulation
Confidence
Creating presentation slides
Self-confidence
Projection
Receiving criticism and feedback
Social skills
TeamworkConflict resolution
Relationship building
Team building
Team management  
Time ManagementAttention to detail
Fundamental motivation
Meeting deadlines
Project management
Punctuality
Self-starting 
LeadershipAccountability
Budgeting
Calm under pressure
Coaching
Coordinating resources
Decision making
Goal setting
Growth mindset
Information gathering
Influence
Management
Mentoring
Meeting management
Planning
Politeness
Positivity
Prioritization  
FlexibilityAble to change your mind
Analysis
Anger management
Patience
Perceptiveness
Problem-solving  
Personal SkillsCareer management
Career planning
Competency
Creative thinking
Critical thinking
Dressing professionally
Emotional intelligence
Enforcing boundaries (personal, professional)
Ethics
Honesty
Humility
Integrity
Patience
Perceptiveness
Perseverance
Persistence
Practicality
Resilience
Respect
Self-awareness
Self-confidence
Self-management
Self-promotion
Self-regulation
Stress management  

I have a friend who was kicked out of an organisation due to something he had no control over. He had to re-invent himself and when we had coffee, he confessed that he did not know what to do, as his entire work-life of about 15 years, he focused on this one job (context) and do not have skills to make it in ‘the world out there’ (in a different work context).

I listened patiently to what he had to say and how he missed working with the people he grew fond of, organising meetings and addressing large groups of people on specific topics he put together on PowerPoint. How he missed solving people’s personal problems and assisted many to prioritize the time they spend with others and work. He talked about important people he met and chairing meetings where tough decisions had to be made.

When he was done, I asked him what he would want to do next in his career. He looked at me as if he thought – did you not hear a word I was saying?

I started to identify the universal skills he described. Communication, Public Speaking, Teamwork, Time Management, Leadership, Flexibility and Personal Skills. When he looked at me as if he is not sure what I am talking about and how it would help him, I told him these words:

“You have all the skills in your basket that is needed to walk into any corporate company!”

You might not feel it right now, but you too have all the skills needed to do what you need to do to move forward.

“Yes, but I do not have the technical skills to build an online shop”

Maybe not, but you have problem-solving and creative skills, networking skills and the ability to set goals and attention to detail to self-start a process to either get the skills needed or to connect with somebody to partner with who has the skills needed.

“Yes, but I do not have any idea what I need to do next or what to focus on”

Maybe not, but you are very perceptive to people’s needs and if you apply your analytical skills, you can produce at least 5 great ideas from a brainstorming exercise on what people need right now and how you might fill the gap to get them what they need.

“Yes, but I am not a risk-taker and I do not have the startup capital”

Maybe not, but you know the project cycle and that everything starts at some point and develops as you research the scope, the timeline and budget available, and when and how to scale. You know that not all projects need high capital input, as you will be able to add the capital as you start to sell the idea small steps at a time.

You have what it takes – now apply it in a different context

Although some skills might need a bit of touch-up or refresher, you have what it takes to tackle anything you set your mind to! Yes, the heat might be a bit higher, but then you simply lift the iron pot a bit higher to balance the coals reaching the bottom. There might not be enough water to steam the vegetables, but maybe you could add them a bit earlier to be exposed over a longer time. Perhaps your family is hungry and cant wait 4 hours to eat, but then you simply add a bit more water early on in the cooking process and add a bit more heat to the pot to have a simular end-result quicker.

I believe we all have a basket of skills that is sufficient to cook up a great nutritional meal to feed our family. We might have been asked to only use the most popular ones up til now – by our employer, by our context, or by our own standards.

But the world as we know it changed. We cannot continue on the same path that brought us here. We need a different outcome and therefore need a different approach.

We need to forget about the safe, comfortable way of living with all our eggs in one basket and start to diversify our income streams, sectors, and energy.

We need to unpack our basket of skills and come up with new recipes.