Some pointers on learning new skills
The end of the year is usually time to review your goals and set new ones. For some, these new goals might involve pursuing a new career path, and with that comes the need to learn new skills.
I made a career transition in 2018 and I'm currently in the middle of one. I wrote this as a way of reflecting on that earlier journey to find helpful pointers for this new one. Let's dive in.
🏛 Find structure
You'll find an insane amount of information online for most skills you're looking to learn. That's great. Where it gets tricky is knowing what to focus on at each step of your learning journey.
You won't beat yourself up for not knowing Advanced Calculus in kindergarten (except you're a child prodigy, that is). It's the same with the new skill you're learning. Knowing the levels that exist and what's required at each step will spare you a great deal of frustration.
Without the structured environment of an institution, you'll have to do this yourself. You can divide competency in most skills into three steps. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Know where you are currently. And what's required to progress to the next step (see progression.fyi). Then plan your learning accordingly.
🏡 Seek out community
Being around people who share your interests and goals can aid learning. It's a great way of staying informed about — and exchanging — new ideas and opportunities. The relationships you build will also prove valuable in your journey.
Community has been an important part of my journey. When I started out learning Product Design in 2018, I joined — and volunteered for — Usable. It's a community of designers in Lagos, Nigeria founded by Kene Udeze. I still have fond memories of those events. But the best thing is the valuable relationships that have lasted years.
💡 Seek out mentors
You can learn a lot by observing a master working at their craft. It's the reason apprenticeships are such a powerful model for acquiring new skills.
Mentors can show you what pitfalls to avoid. They can also provide feedback on your work and connect you with opportunities.
For various reasons, getting direct contact with mentors may not be possible for everyone. Time constraints, for example. Luckily, there are other ways you can go about it. Study the work they put out (especially the thinking behind it) and the content they create, follow them on social media, attend their events, etc.
😩 You’ll suck at first. That's fine.
I've experienced the frustration of knowing that my work could be better. And at the same time not having the skills to deliver work at that level. It got even more heightened when I compared my work with those made by pros.
What I was missing was this, as obvious as it sounds — it takes time to get good. You would create a lot of subpar work on your way to amazing work. Not by choice, but because you don't know better yet. Not convinced? here’s Ed Sheeran.
Don't let that keep you from trying. Compare your work today to what it was a while back. That growth is what matters. If you keep putting in the work with consistency — learning from each attempt — you'll get better at what you do.
💬 Get feedback
The faster you can go from knowledge in your head to practice, the better. Practice exposes gaps in your knowledge so you can fill them.
What gives strength to practice is feedback. It's how you know what you're doing right, what's not working, and how you can do better. Seek out feedback for your work early and often. That's one of the benefits of community and mentors, they can be great sources of feedback.
As you get feedback, separate your identity from your work. When done right, a critique of your work is not an attack on you as a person.
When you create a continuous loop of practice and feedback, your work gets better at each turn.
In this fast-changing world, you’ll find yourself learning new skills often. Here's hoping these pointers make that experience a lot less difficult.
Thanks to Chibuzor Okeke & Done Josiah for reading drafts of this.