How to Continually Sharpen Your Skills
You may think you’re pretty good at what you do. And you may be right.
But you’re not the best you can be, by a long shot. None of us are, and we might never be. It’s important for your career as a freelancer and for you personally to take what skills you have and improve them, continually, and add new skills.
Why is it important? Professionally, it will take you to the top of your game, and keep you there. It will get you better assignments and clients, better rates, a better reputation. Sharpening your skills can bring nothing but good things for your freelance career.
Personally, improvement is important. Not because you aren’t valuable and worthy and a good person already. You are. But because improvement keeps you alive, keeps you challenged and interested and passionate for what you do. Once you have no further challenges in your work, things become static and boring and tedious. But if you continually look to improve what you do, there’s never a dull moment.
So how do you continually improve your skills? Here are some suggestions:
Set aside time for learning. Whether it’s 30 minutes a day, or an hour a week, it’s important that you set aside a regular block of time to learn about your profession. That might be reading magazines or blogs or books or trade journals, that might be paying attention to the work of others, that might be taking a class, or just working on your skills on your own. Whatever you do, be sure to schedule it, and don’t miss that appointment.
Pay attention. Let’s face it: many of us have been doing what we do for so long that we do much of it without much thought. It’s second nature. But that just allows you to do what you’re doing without change, without improvement. Instead, pay closer attention to what you do, to your skills. Just that act, of paying attention, can make a big difference, because it will make you focus on those skills more, and see what you could be doing better.
Fine tune. Once you start paying attention, see how you can improve. Look closely at each skill you have, each thing you do, and see what can be made better. Things can almost always be made better. Work on each skill, practicing it until you’re perfect, trying new things, getting creative.
Get inspired. It can be hard to motivate yourself to improve, especially when what you’re already doing works for you. But if you look at the work of others, especially others at the top of your field, or past masters, it can be enough to inspire you. Find ways to get inspired by the amazing works of others every day, and you’ll never stop improving.
Learn from the masters. Study closely the work of the masters, read about them, read things they’ve written about your craft. If possible, learn from them directly, by studying under them or working with them. They got where they are today by studying from the masters that came before them.
Get critiqued. Sometimes we can’t see what we’re doing wrong, because we’re biased, too close to the work. So you need to get an outside eye to take a look at it. Ask someone you respect for a critique of your work. Ask them to be honest, and specific. And when they give you that critique, don’t be offended or hurt or angry. You want honesty. Take whatever they said that’s critical and make it a way for you to improve yourself. Make a list of their points and see how you can get better at those points.
Take a class. If there’s a class available for your skills, and it’s taught by someone better than you, it’s worth taking. Sure, you can probably get the same information from books or magazines or the Internet, but there’s nothing like a class for learning, because it forces you to take the time to sit and digest the information, and you can often get personal interactions with the teacher so that you can understand the material even better. And if you turn in work to the teacher, you’ll get a critique from an expert!
Work with those who are good. Instead of taking a class or getting a critique from someone who is at the top of your field, work with them. Collaborate, get on their team, work at their company, or do a joint project. There’s nothing that teaches you better than doing, and working with those who know what they’re doing. Pay close attention to everything that they do, ask questions.
If things get boring, look to improve. Once things get static in your work, you will begin to get bored. That’s because you’ve stopped being challenged, and stopped improving. Instead of looking for something else to do, see this boredom as a sign that you need to improve yourself, and set new challenges for yourself. Take a new look at what you do, and see what new goals you can set for yourself that will challenge you to do better.