How to Reframe Your Skills When it Feels Like You’re Going Nowhere

by Phill Nosworthy

Fiddle with perspective.

Yellow ladder on a deserted beach

Ed’s note: This post was written by guest editor Phill Nosworthy of Switch Inc.

I’m constantly surprised when talented people think they’ve got nothing to offer. Have you ever met someone like that? Chances are, you’re one of them.

In psychology, there’s a strange phenomenon called the Dunning Kruger effect, which makes people totally incapable of accurately assessing their own level of talent in any given area. It’s why boneheads don’t think that they are boneheads, and why smart people doubt themselves when they are faced with big challenges. It’s known as the worse-than-average effect. As people, we tend to have a very strange relationship with our own talent.

This approach brings together the best aspects of being a generalist and the best aspects of being a specialist – both of which are shaky strategies on their own.

But here’s the thing, even if you do you see your talent accurately, you’re going to have to completely re-imagine the entire conversation if you want to be valuable in the marketplace in future.

What makes you valuable at work?

Deloitte did a piece of research that shows two-thirds of young people don’t think the job they have now will even exist in 10 years’ time. And if you ask most business thinkers out there today, they’ll tell you that we’re going to see a huge increase in people freelancing and renting their skill sets out in bursts and contracts. This is nothing like the 40 years with one employer that our parents had.

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Because of that, old ways of thinking about what makes you valuable at work or as a freelancer are being blown up. Take, for example, the law of 10,000 hours and using that as a pathway to mastery. I love this idea and it will remain to be true. But when the market is constantly changing, and your job is likely to disappear, putting all your efforts towards one path might be too high a risk.

Stack your skills in a way that amplifies their effectiveness and makes you super valuable to who you’re working with today.

I want to suggest a whole new way of thinking about talent that moves away, even if just a little bit, from the strengths movement that made so much sense only 10 years ago. This approach, first suggested by the artist Scott Adams, brings together the best aspects of being a generalist and the best aspects of being a specialist – both of which are shaky strategies on their own.

I want you to become deeply aware of your unique talent stack and to be constantly adjusting and expanding that stack, depending on what you’re working on at the time.

What is a “talent stack”?

You have a bunch of skills. Some you’re great at, some you’re okay at, some you stink at. In the past, we would have asked you to focus on your strengths, becoming super good at one thing. But, as we’ve already established, that’s an iffy strategy. Instead, I want you to stack your skills in a way that amplifies their effectiveness and makes you super valuable to who you’re working with today.

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Think of your talent stack like a remix of your capabilities and attributes. Take mine, for example. I am not the world’s best communicator; I’m okay. I have a good mind for marketing, but I’m not going to set up my own agency. I’m not an academic-level researcher, but you give me a topic and I’ll come back with some great thoughts.

Now, on their own, these skills aren’t quite enough to get great things done. But something serious happens when you stack them together. You stack research with decent communication skills and a dose of marketing flair? All of a sudden you’ve got something unique and valuable. Something that I can build a life on.

If you are a creative, add some project management into the mix. If you are in numbers and accounting, add some agile thinking strategies to your stack. If you are a personal trainer, make sure you’re really good at marketing and interpersonal communications.

It’s your stack that you’ll build a career on. Own it and grow it.

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Emma S

Phill, I love this. Perfect timing for me too. I am questioning myself, but will re-evaluate my talent stack as I think the sum of the parts is pretty good.

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Phill Nosworthy

Thanks Emma S. Be self aware, but not self critical. Use that questioning of yourself to always drive you forward, and not hold you back. Great things ahead, on the other side of great constructive questions. Remix that talent stack of yours and find the people who need it most. That’s how you create value!

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Rajna Barry

This is a great outlook! I’ve been struggling to define what I’m “best” at, but I know the sum of all of my talents, or as you say my talent stack, amounts to effective output in my work. It’s hard to present that to other parties that are not familiar with you, or when you are trying to break into a different field, as people tend to judge skills based on a very basic set of criteria that may not identify this connection well. It will change the way employers hire too.

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Phill Nosworthy

Rajna – I’m hearing you on this one. So, an idea for you: NAME IT. If you can name your talent stack, you can own your talent stack and you will find it all the easier to position and sell it to other people.
Always keep in mind that this isn’t spin, or putting lipstick on a pig! But that this is a sharper and more intelligent positioning of your unique skills and talent!
Treat it like that, and people will start to see it like that too.

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Panda

Great advice. I’m reorganising my talent stack post illness and ongoing issues. With a marketing background, I’ll have to come up with a great new name to reposition myself!

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Akunna

Thanks for this piece Phill.
I can identify with Rajna’s comment above and have noted your response to it. I presently don’t know where to channel my energies because I find it hard to identify what my passion is or what field will benefit most from my combination of skills.

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Jen

Thank-you, this couldn’t have come at a better time! I’ve recently had a career change (new career is also freelance) and it’s been hard to get started; I’ve realised that I need to stack my existing talents so clients can see why they should work with me (I have less experience in new field but plenty of experience in other field’s that can overlap in to new career and possibly make me more valuable!) 🙂

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