Born for This

Born for This: Improve Your Skills, Increase Your Value [Book Excerpt]

One of the many keys to succeeding as an entrepreneur lies in focusing not just on improving your skills, but improving the right skills, according to author, entrepreneur and speaker, Chris Guillebeau. Understanding and repositioning your skills by making a list of the things you do well, as well as a list of what you do not like doing and aren’t good at, allows you to focus on what skills need to be upgraded.

In this excerpt from “Born for This,” Guillebeau explains how we can improve our skills in order to succeed in business.

“Breaking out of prison–whether a real one or one surrounded by cubicle walls–will force you to think differently and use a varied set of tools. Most universities do not award degrees in escapology, and even if you’re leaving from the corner office, no one will hand you a key to freedom. Just as in prison, you’ll need to make one yourself.”

The following excerpt is provided exclusively for StartupNation from “Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do” Copyright © 2016 by Chris Guillebeau, Crown Business.

Improve the right kind of skills

When most people think about “improving their skills,” they think about things like getting better at spreadsheets or practicing irregular verbs in another language. But for the most part, these things won’t help you make big advances in your career.

If the goal is to break free of the job you hate and move into the job you dream of, you want to make rapid advancement in the right kinds of skills. There are two broad categories of these. In your specific field, there are technical skills that relate directly to the work you are hired to do. Examples include a kind of software you should master, or any kind of practical, hands-on skill your job might require. We’ll call these “hard skills”—they aren’t things that most people will learn, but they’re important to what you do.

Other skills are more universal, or at least widely applicable. We’ll call these “soft skills” because they are abilities that help you no matter what you do in life and work. These include things like writing and speaking, negotiation, problem solving and more.

Improving soft skills will make you a better employee, a more attractive job candidate and a more confident spokesperson for yourself in general. There’s no good reason not to improve them, at least for most of us. Oh, and one more thing: for the most part, soft skills are generally not learned in the classroom—they’re learned out there in the real world. The good news is that, unlike the hard skills you typically need an expert to teach you how to do, soft skills can be self-learned.

  1. Improve your writing and speaking ability

You don’t have to be a professional writer to benefit from writing well, and most people have to talk articulately at least once in a while in their jobs. Being a better writer isn’t all about using perfect grammar and spelling (professional writers use spell-check, too). To improve your writing, remember that all writing is essentially persuasive. Make sure your writing contains a call to action. Ask yourself, “What do I want people to do after reading this?”

Another hallmark of good writing is simply to be engaging. Even if you’re writing a corporate report, there’s probably a way to keep the reader engaged. Be succinct and try to keep it interesting, no matter the subject. Infusing a bit of humor helps, as do brief anecdotes and stories. Before sending off an important memo, read it out loud. For more valuable help in writing well, check out the book “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley.

As for speaking skills, one good resource is your local Toastmasters International club (operating in more than a hundred countries). Note that the style of public speaking practiced in groups like Toastmasters isn’t necessarily what you’ll use in your job, but it will help you gain confidence and learn more about how to present a perspective that gathers support. If there’s no club near you, practice speaking up more in meetings at work, volunteer to speak at a community board meeting, or give a presentation at your kid’s school—but only when you have something to say, of course. Tell stories to illustrate a principle, and if you’re going to be speaking for more than a minute or two, decide on your first and last sentences in advance. The key is to learn to be more comfortable and natural when speaking in front of others.

No matter what type of work you do, being able to craft a cogent argument is key. The lessons for both writing and speaking are: be persuasive, be interesting, be confident and get other people on your side.

  1. Learn to negotiate

Negotiation isn’t just for diplomats and car salesmen. The art of negotiation is about finding win-win solutions to any problem in or out of the workplace. Some people think that the goal of negotiating is to get the best possible deal for yourself—but that’s not the point, at least not at any cost. You want to speak up for yourself and get a good deal, of course, but you also want the other party to leave the table happy.

On a trip to China a few years ago, I noticed that there was a fine line between being a good negotiator and being too pushy. If I accepted a price at the market without bargaining, I was perceived as weak and naive. In China, and in many other cultures around the world, the first price is never the final one. You should always be prepared to make a counteroffer. If I argued too much, however, the merchant would act insulted and withdraw from the discussion. The key to getting what I wanted was to walk that fine line—to be assertive, but not so aggressive as to turn people off. This rule of thumb applies in most situations where your goal is to convince the other person to give you what you want.

To improve your negotiation skills, consider the classic advice from the poker table. It’s not just about playing well; it’s about knowing what table to play in the first place. Clearly understand what you hope to achieve, as well as what the other party hopes to achieve. Play your cards wisely and save your best bet for when it feels right.

Related: Q&A with Chris Guillebeau on Side Hustle School

  1. Improve your ability to follow-through and follow-up

Successful people, no matter their field, are good at following through and following up. If you’ve ever been to a meeting where a lot of good ideas were discussed but then nothing happened later, you’ve spotted a great opportunity to put these skills to use. It’s easy to come up with ideas. Making ideas come to life is where the real value is.

Writing things down is one of the most basic ways to improve your follow-through and follow-up skills. It’s nearly impossible to remember all the things you’re supposed to, and the mere act of trying to recall everything with total precision can drain your energy. But don’t just write down your action items; you should also give yourself a deadline for actually doing them. Follow-up is useless without the follow-through.

There are lots of different systems and methods for keeping track of to-do items. It doesn’t matter which one you choose as long as it works for you.

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  1. Become comfortable with useful technology

Economist Tyler Cowen writes a daily blog called Marginal Revolution. One of his theories about the future is that the world will be even more divided and unequal than it is now. But the division is not just between the rich and the poor, he says—it’s between those who are comfortable with technology and those who resist it. “High earners,” to use his terminology, are those who use computers of all kinds on a regular basis. “Low earners” are those who are uncomfortable with using gadgets and software. Those who will thrive in the future, in other words, are those who will have the skills to use technology to make their lives better and more productive.

When escaping from prison—or any job you don’t love—improving your “soft skills” increases your value in the post-prison job market and helps you break into the work you were born to do.

“Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do” is available now wherever fine books are sold, and at

Reviews of “Born for This” 

“’Born for This’ is chock-full of inspiring yet practical advice to develop new streams of business, build your fan base, and invent the job of your dreams. If you’re looking for someone to help you find your footing on the new frontier of work, Chris Guillebeau is your man.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of “To Sell Is Human” and “Drive”
“Chris Guillebeau makes getting your dream job seem less of a dream and more of a reality. Through actionable tools and inspiring advice, “Born for This” is a must-read for those yearning to find that perfect career path.”
—Susan Cain, New York Times best-selling author of “Quiet”

“Intensely practical and packed with real-life examples, “Born for This” is the essential guide for a career that will bring you not just a paycheck but true happiness.”
—Gretchen Rubin, New York Times best-selling author of “The Happiness Project” and “Better Than Before”

“Seven years ago, I sat in awe reading a blog from some guy named Chris Guillebeau. I couldn’t believe the hope and hustle he was writing about while I sat there stuck in a cubicle. Seven years later, he’s still a sage guide to me and millions of others who love the books he writes. If you’ve ever wondered, ‘What should I do next?’ read this book!”
—Jon Acuff, New York Times best-selling author of “Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck”

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