The Hidden Benefits of Learning Lots of Different Skills

April 6, 2015
Year On TeamPower Skills

Guest post by Connor Grooms

For the past year, I've dedicated myself to learning many skills across different fields. I've learned to rock climb, design iOS apps, DJ, write sales copy, and hip-hop dance.

Along the way, I discovered several unexpected benefits of learning lots of different skills.

Whether you are just getting started in self-education or want to eventually become a specialist, there is a lot of value in spending a few months to a year to learn many different skills.

You have a better idea of what you want to do with your life.

There’s an expectation built into the education system that we should know what we want to do with our lives by 18 or 19. But really, there are many 45-year-olds with no idea what they want.

For those of us who haven’t stumbled across our life’s mission, the way to figure it out is by trying many different things -- except most 18 and 19-year-olds haven't had the time to gain that many experiences.

This is a goal that college ostensibly fills, but fails at. The problem is, learning about a job is not the same as actually doing it. Only by trying a new skill or job can we really know if we will enjoy it or now. Because as Dan Gilbert showed in his book, Stumbling on Happiness we are terrible predictors of what will make us happy.

By trying many different things, you find out a lot about yourself. This gives you confidence once you begin to focus on one thing.

You can relate to more people.

Relationships form the bedrock of all success. To build relationships, you need to be able to relate to people -- that is, have something in common with them.

The more fields you understand, the greater your chances of being able to relate to someone. Often, you’ll connect with someone over something unrelated to how you end up getting value out of that relationship. For instance, I connected with a friend of mine over DJing and a love for travel, and now we do business together.

Not only will being able to relate to more people make you more friends and connections, but it will also help you become more persuasive. Empathy is the core of copywriting and successful marketing. And whether you are in business or not, we're all selling something, whether it's convincing your parents that dropping out of college is a good idea, diffusing a fight with a friend, or getting a date.

You become a connector.

Upon arriving in Saigon, I met a fellow entrepreneur named Jeremy who also happened to be a local musician. He made a few valuable introductions and now I have some DJing opportunities lined up.

What just happened there? By having a foot in two different communities, Jeremy was able to make several valuable introductions for me.

The more communities you are tapped into, the more often you can provide this type of value to people. Learning new skills lets you relate to more people, which lets you have friendships in more communities.

So not only do you get to learn a cool new skill and meet other interesting people involved in that skill, you also have the chance to connect these interesting people to each other.

You become a fascinating person.

Here's a secret about spending time with successful people: you don't have to be successful yourself. You just have to be interesting.

After spending a few months learning in different areas, you'll be fascinating. Not many people can switch from talking about trading Bitcoin to surfing in Indonesia to the science of smart drugs to what makes a good sales page. Your skills will be different, but that's how you'll be unique.

It's a cliche for a reason: you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Being interesting helps ensure those five people are successful.

You become better at learning.

Learning quickly and effectively is a skill. And like any other skill, you get better at it the more you do it.

You probably already know that constant learning is key to success. But what if you could learn just 50% faster? How much of an impact would that make on your life?

There are principles of learning that you pick up when learning each skill that can be applied to other topics in the future.

For instance, I learned to row by watching hundreds of Olympic races and internalizing the technique of world-class rowers. I learned to design by diving in and through trial and error, comparing what I had designed to websites I knew were good.

When I learned to DJ, I combined these techniques, spending plenty of time 'figuring it out' through trial and error, but also time imitating the sets and techniques that were successful before.

Knowledge compounds. If you've ever tried to learn a new language, you might find yourself saying, "oh, this is just like ____ in English!". The more your branches of knowledge you have to build off of, the more frequently you make these sorts of connections.

You can see the Matrix.

This is the biggest reason that specialists should spend time branching out.

The greatest breakthroughs of the last century have primarily happened at the cross-section of several fields, where knowledge and ideas from one field were used to make a breakthrough in another. Much of Apple's success could be attributed to their focus on design. But had Jobs not become interested in calligraphy, he may have never push design as a core value of the company.

Ken Wilber took this to the extreme, taking wisdom from dozens of fields, from Taoism to Physics to Politics, to create his Theory of Everything.

Seeing the big pictures makes you aware of the changes and shifts. This is where the opportunities are.

Where will your skills take you? Check out Year On's awesome gap year destinations.

Connor Grooms is the founder of BaseLang, which offers unlimited one-on-one Spanish tutoring online, is the CMO of Blue Studies, one of the four largest study abroad agencies in Latin America, and a private equity investor.

Read more about Connor here.

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