Staying in touch with ‘old’ skills

Before going to law school, I was a bricklayer. I enjoyed it. Working outside, being very well paid, learning a great skill and not having to go to the gym to keep a good rig going, what’s not to like about that. However, like all things good or bad, it comes to a point where it is time to move on. Those who taught me advised – learn, do, save, and move on before the body gives out. Good advice in any industry and that time did come partly from disillusion in building standards and slapped up construction, and partly time for a new challenge.

So, some years on I have evolved and continue to love learning and understanding new concepts and skills and generally growing in this project called life. I continued to use my ‘masonry placement technician’ skills in renovating or restoring my own properties throughout the years, or being asked to build a barbeque for friends, but it became an occasional and now rare thing.

Whether I still had those skills was tested the other weekend, and I learnt some valuable lessons. I was asked to rebuild a chimney in a heritage house that was knocked down by a branch in a serious storm. ‘A rebuild? No problems’ I said. However, I had not been up scaffolding and hadn’t touched a real chimney in many years. How much of my skill and stamina would I have lost…? Actually, the skills were still there, but the stamina was lacking. I had estimated a day’s work to clean, prepare and rebuild. It took two full days. I was achingly sore on Saturday, but could feel absolutely nothing by Sunday afternoon. It took me two full nights of sleep before I was back to my usual self.

The lessons learnt

Well there were a few, and I believe they are transferable even in a different field to what I do know. If you have to undertake a task you haven’t performed in some time (or years) determine whether you are match fit. The skills may come back after thinking through the process to be undertaken, but make sure you don’t underestimate how long it is going to take to complete. Some sparring before you get in the ring again will help.

Although some skills become irrelevant as careers develop, or are replaced with new technologies and associated skills, enduring skills are not and never will be. I think there is benefit in reaching back occasionally and reacquainting yourself with those skills. If for no other reason than realising the effort you put into learning those skills and how you have developed since.

Additionally, if a subordinate is currently using those skills in their role it helps to keep you a little humble to realise the effort put in by those you lead. For instance I haven’t had to undertake document discovery for many years (boring but necessary litigation skill/process), but I certainly appreciate what doing it taught me and I can sympathise with those who perform such work, especially as AI software is taking over such work.

Finally, when you realise you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, admit it, but don’t stop chewing until it’s done.  If you’ve said yes, then use your will and determination to complete the task. It’s never acceptable to walk away from a half finished job. You know how to do the work, you just haven’t done it for some time, you may end up a little tired, but it will be doable. Don’t be weak, harden up and get the job done.

So stay in touch or revisit some of those enduring skills occasionally. It will keep you honest and match fit and there is a lot of satisfaction in being able to say you’ve still got it… even if the speed has slowed.

Article by Charles Watson

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