Page 158 Books Poetry Workshop 003You remember the famous Napoleon Dynamite from 2014 cult movie:

“I don’t even have any good skills. You know like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills!”—Napoleon.

Turns out Napoleon had a LOT of skills like milk tasting, drawing ligers (a cross between a tiger and a lion) interpretative dance, tether ball, sign language, towing action figures from a school bus, and most of all, catching a fish for his special friend, Deb.

I love this line because our skills make us who we are and how we show up in the world. Skills help distinguish us from others in our industry and they attract raving fans to us (kind of like the girlfriends Napoleon seeks).

Skills such as singing, drawing, writing, accounting, engineering, and, yes, even computer hacking, won’t come to you overnight—you have to work hard at gaining and honing your skills, which stem from your natural aptitudes. For instance, if you’re naturally good at math and seeing patterns, you can be a proficient accountant, while someone who can hear notes and see patterns, can be a proficient musician. The trick is to take your aptitudes and pair them into marketable skills. I call these kinds of skills “hard” because they are measurable, but then you also need or superpower, or “soft” skills.

I have a good memory and I’m organized. I can remember facts and apply them when I need it. I also love to network and help connect or clients with entrepreneurs. I’ve taken these soft skills and have transmuted them into an editing career that requires a lot of work to keep current. Good stuff! In the last ten years I’ve also sharpened my “hard” skills such as poetry, social media and computing.

Before I was a writer, I worked at Belk Department Stores in two separate buying offices and in three stores. I gained a ton of skills such as fixing the copier, helping collect merchandise for photo shoots, comparing last year’s sales to this year’s sales, ringing up the register/counting cash/checks and spotting potential shoplifters. In my last job as a cosmetics manager for Lancôme, I gained awesome event planning and sales skills, which still help me today.

I was very upset when I was applying for grad school at NC State and was told by a professor that my retail skills had no use as a graduate school candidate. “What?!!” Perhaps the hard skills had no use, but in those retail years I had learned soft skills such as patience, stamina and confidence—all necessary traits to help me succeed and graduate. I wish he would have told me that ALL experiences and ALL skills can help you—even if they aren’t immediately obvious. Remember to cherish all of your past skills, especially while you’re embarking on acquiring new skills.

Both your hard and soft skills set you apart as part of your brand while they help you succeed. Or your skills can help others succeed. And no one can ever take away your skills and the experiences you have behind them.

In Napoleon Dynamite, Napoleon’s best friend, Pedro, runs for president and needs Napoleon’s help in making his campaign flyers of Pedro riding on a horse with a spear. When Pedro doesn’t have a skit ready after his speech, Napoleon dances his heart out with a mix tape his brother’s girlfriend left him. Napoleon is at his best when he’s helping his friends succeed by using his skills. Other friends of Pedro also use their skills to help him become president: Pedro’s cousins because his enforcers and defenders of bullied students. Deb using her creative skills to make giveaway campaign keychains. Napoleon also uses his creative skills to win the dance-off and acquire a stallion for Kip and LaFawnduh’s wedding (a little far-fetched, but who cares?).

So how do you find out what skills you have? Sometimes you can start by deciding what you’re NOT good at. As a writer, do you like technical writing work or career services planning? As a writing teacher, do you like working with young or more mature students? Do you prefer nonfiction or fiction? Or both? Do you like working on a long project, such as a novel, or shorter works? Once you start saying “yes” and “no” to what you want to do, building your hard skills from your soft skills will be easier. Remember what you liked to do in the past and build on that too! The path to success lies in doing what you do best and then outsourcing the other stuff.

Napoleon would agree and then challenge you to a game of tether ball.