3 Skills + 1 Passion

For young people to achieve success in their career, it is no longer enough to have a college degree. New college graduates feel like a successful, satisfying, and sustainable career is out of their reach. But there is good news for them that is not dependent on the whims of the labor market or the stock market.

The answer to this problem can be found in a simple equation: 3 + 1.

“3 Skills + 1 Passion” is an idea I am recycling from Tim Ferris’s new book Tools of Titans. In it, Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, explained what he calls the “double or triple threat.”

Simply put, young people should focus their academic and personal studies on developing 3 marketable skills that can be used to pursue 1 passion. It does not guarantee success, but it’s about the best advice going these days.

First, let’s look at the skills. These 3 skills do not need to be highly technical or in great demand. Not everybody needs to learn to write software code or perform knee surgery. The real power of the 3 skills idea is in the combination of these skills. For instance, each of the following skills: public speaking, writing, and social media marketing are not all that unique or lucrative, in themselves. Lots of people can speak or write or run a social media campaign, and most of them do not make much money or garner much influence. However, the person who is excellent at all three can be quite valuable in the marketplace and has a real shot at finding a very successful, satisfying career somewhere. Of course, that is assuming that the person has a good work ethic, gets along well with people, and has integrity. And it may take a little luck along the way, but the odds are in the favor of the 3-skilled worker.

The key is that you need to be really good in each of these three skills. You don’t have to be superior, but if you can be in top 25% in three skills, then you have an excellent chance of being successful. Opportunities may abound. And failures will be recoverable.

For example, the subjects of the HGTV show Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines, were successful long before they were approached by the folks at HGTV. They spent many years attempting to combine three skills: Home Renovation + Interior Design / Decor + Realty. They were really good (Top 25%) at all three skills, but they were not truly exceptional at any one of those skills. It also helped that they were hardworking, good with people, and had integrity. And look what happened. They slowly became successful at a satisfying career. Then they got very lucky and made the best of a great opportunity with HGTV. And the rest is history. They are now wildly successful in ways that they never dreamed of. Also, they love what they do because they are passionate about making old things beautiful. That is their passion.

With 3 skills in place, then you can add the passion. This is the catalyst that makes the career chemistry really cook.

Every person has things that they love to do, love to talk about, and love to think about. For some it is making music. For some it is teaching small children. For others it is cooking food and sharing it with others. No matter what that passion is, the wise young worker will find some way to integrate that passion into his or her 3 skills to create a career direction and make the world a better place.

There are many ways to identify a passion. Here are a few good starter questions: What do you love to do that helps other people? What are some dream jobs that you would do for very little money? What you would do to help others if income was unnecessary? How you would you spend $10 million to make the world better? How do you want to be remembered?

Once you have a general idea of your passion, then you can focus on bringing your 3 skills to bear in the arena of your passion. Or perhaps it is more like injecting a bit of your passion into the work where you can do well with your 3 skills.

Perhaps it is not possible to use your 3 skills in any way related to your passion yet, but it’s worth trying, and it’s worth considering what needs to change to move closer in that direction. It might take five years, but wouldn’t that be worth it all, in light of a 45 year career? You may not be able to work your way into a dream job, but you might be able to get very close. The odds are good if you employ the 3+1 equation.

Author: Andy Kerckhoff

I'm a husband, father, teacher. I'm doing my best, wishing I could do better, and trying to help others to effectively lead kids through early adolescence.