“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” -Ernest Hemingway

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Choosing the right word is never easy. Whether you’re writing a blog post or arguing conversing with a loved one, the words you select can make or break you. They can accurately express your ideas, or they can muddle things up. And in this age of social media and other digital communication, many of our words are permanently recorded for all the world to misunderstand interpret. Yet most of us continue to pluck the first that come to mind.

With so much riding on the particular words we speak and write, it’s a good idea to reflect every now and then on their importance, their power, their quirks; to behold the myriad ways they are currently being used in society. Sometimes we need to put on our Hemingway glasses and look at words as if we’re seeing them for the first time.

Here’s an eclectic array of content from around the web that will get you thinking about words in a new way .

George Orwell and the Politics of the English Language – If you haven’t read this classic piece, now’s the time. Here are the rules about word usage that Orwell recommends:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

What is a word? – If you’re feeling brave, see what the philosophers have to say about words.

Recent Articles

What do Donald Trump and the Pope Have in Common? – Clue: they both like “big” words.

These Words Would Knock Your State Out Of the National Spelling Bee – Here’s a state-by-state rundown of the words people googled for spell check the most during the last year (Arkansas, should we be worried?). For more insight into regional word usage, check out this State-by-State Map of the most unique descriptive words used by online daters.

Musicians with the Most Diverse Vocabularies – Spoiler Alert: The winner by far is Eminem.

How do you speak American? Mostly, just make up words – If you’re a fan of made-up words, you’ll also love this fascinating book by Lizzie Skurnick.

What it’s like to write speeches for a rude, rambling and disgraced politician – Recent review of a book that some think will become a classic on political communication.

Think of “Mullet” as a 1980s Word? It’s Not. – My favorite slang for “mullet”? Kentucky waterfall.

Words jump-start vision, psychologist’s study shows. Even during the first electrical twitches of perception, words are already shaping our vision.

Twitters Knack for New Words – Much praise here for Twitter’s neological invention.

Why Is There So Much Hate for the Word “Moist”? – Finally scientists weigh in on this strange case of “moist” aversion.

Sherbet vs Sherbert – A lot of commenters have weighed in on this debate. What do you think?

Greek crisis: A reader’s guide to puns and portmanteaus

Oxford English Dictionary’s New Words – Well it’s about time that “shizzle” and “koozie” were given official status.

Reference Guides

We’re all familiar with the Oxford Dictionaries, Cambridge Dictionaries, and Dictionary.com. But sometimes we need a different set of references to guides our word searches. Here are some you should check out.

Urban Dictionary – Crowdsourced online dictionary of slang words.

Pseudo Dictionary – More crowdsourced terms.

Dictionary of American Regional English – The full panoply of American regional words, phrases, and pronunciations.

Online Etymology Dictionary – Best place to discover the origins of English words.

Metaphor Map of English – Shows the metaphorical links between different areas of meaning, and allows us to track metaphorical ways of thinking and expressing ourselves over more than a millennium.

Visual Thesaurus – Offers a floating constellation of related words. Visuwords has a similar. interface.
Acronym Finder – Find out what any acronym, abbreviation, or initialism stands for.
Eggcorn Database – Searchable database of words and phrases that came about from the mishearing or misinterpretation of other words.

All-Vowel Words – The title says it all.

All-Consonant Words – Ditto.

Blogs for Word Nerds

About Words – Best feature: weekly list of possible new words that lets users vote on them.

The Word Detective – Words and language in a humorous vein.

One Letter Words blog – Strange and unusual references from a word genius.

Word Spy – The word lover’s guide to new words.

Literal Minded – Commentary on words by a guy who takes things too literally.

Fritinancy – Names, brands, writing and language from a professional wordworker.

Pain in the English – Discusses all the gray areas of the English language.

Cruciverb.com – The ultimate crossword database. A true word lover’s heaven.

NY Times Wordplay blog – Crossword blog of the New York Times.

Podcasts

The Allusionist – Etymological adventures with Helen Zaltzman in a fortnightly podcast ( My favorite).

A Way With Words – This NPR classic examines language through the lens of history, culture and family.

Lexicon Valley – Podcast about language pet peeves, syntax, etymology and neurolinguistics.

Lists

34 Interjections You Should Be Using

79 Common Mispronunciations

107 Regional Slang Words

83 Old Slang Phrases We Should Bring Back

11 Terms for Self-proclaimed Smartypants

Top 10 Words with Bizarre Meanings

39 incorrectly used words that can make you look bad

25 Maps that Explain the English Language

A List of Words about Words

Compendium of Lost Words

Wiki list of English portmanteaux

Most searched for words on Google

Most searched for words by NY Times readers

Palindrome List

 

You just learned about english, grammar, and pop culture. Get points for this article on Degreed. Catch Jedd McFatter tweeting the most powerful words possible at @ATYPICAL.

Information overload is a real problem for many Internet users. Daily sifting through websites, emails, news feeds and social media can be overwhelming, especially when a lot of time is wasted filtering out the junk. So whenever we decide to search online for a particular thing, we’d like to be able to cut the extraneous noise and exert as much control as possible. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the skills needed to perform powerful online searches, and thus rely on results that often barely skim the surface of available resources.

If you want to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your search skills, here’s a quick and easy guide on how to find just about anything online.

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Master Google’s Advanced Search Features

If you’re not sure how to use Google search operators to produce targeted search results, you should pause for a moment and download this handy Power Searching With Google reference guide. Follow the tips and you’ll dramatically reduce the number of irrelevant sources you review, and increase your chances of finding quality data. One of my favorite techniques lets you limit your search to a specific type of file. For instance, if you use the format:

[filetype:.pdf]

the search will return only PDFs. So let’s say you’re trying to find financial information about a company. Using this search operator can significantly narrow and improve your search, since many financial documents, such as tax returns, are often stored online as PDFs.

Google also offers powerful filtering options that allow you to further customize your searches. Another option is the Advanced Search interface, which has a lot of these features built in. And if you truly want to become a Google search Jedi, take Google’s Advanced Power Searching class for free online.

 

Know Where to Get Free Data

There will be times when the information you’re looking for can’t be uncovered through a Google search. In fact, the majority of data on the Web is stored in databases that can only be accessed through customized search interfaces or specific queries. Some of this data is locked behind pay walls or sites that require registration and login, but a lot of it is open and free to use. Here are some tips and resources to help you find this kind of data.

  • Delve into all of the free government datasets that are available online. You might be surprised by the vast array of public data that has been collected at the Federal, State and Local level. Gov and Census.Gov are good places to start if you’re new to this and want an idea of the kind of information that’s available. The Sunlight Foundation is another good source for free government data and research tools.
  • Peruse huge public data sets from groups like Freebase, Socrata, Data Hub, Knoema and Amazon Web Services. In addition to the information you find there, you’ll be exposed to other networks of datasets, and eventually gain a feel for where to find particular types of info when you need it. Buzzfile is another good site to check out. It provides comprehensive business information and allows you to build lists.
  • Start thinking of social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn as massive databases that can be mined for info unique to their respective platforms. There’s a lot of data from these sites that might be missing from your usual Google search results. For Facebook search tips, check out this tutorial. For advanced LinkedIn search tips, read this.
  • Sign up for newsletters that provide updates when new data and resources become available. A couple of my favorite providers of this info are ResearchBuzz and beSpacific.
  • Bookmark lists of free data for future use. Here are a few to get you started:

 

Deep Web Research and Discovery Resources

30 Datasets and Public Information

Comprehensive List of Open Data Portals from Around the World

Legal Resources

19 Sources for Consumer Research Data

122 Data Sources

 

See What the Academics Are Up To

Nowadays it’s fairly common to find summaries of scholarly articles on blogs and news sites. Nevertheless, most academic research remains hidden from general web searches. If you truly want to dig deep with your online search, you’ll need to know how to tap into these sources.

The first place you should visit is Google Scholar. This freely accessible search engine allows you to search for physical or digital copies of scholarly books, articles, court opinions, dissertations, and more. If you find a particular scholar who’s an expert in what you’re researching, you can explore all of their related research. You can also track a particular topic and receive email alerts when there are new developments in the field. Google Scholar offers several other search tools, so there are plenty of options for customization.

If you’ve identified a professor as an expert on your research topic, you can also look up their University faculty profile for more info. Sometimes professors will post PDFs of their published articles that are otherwise stored behind pay walls in the journals where they originally appeared.

 

Ask for Help

Let’s say you’ve identified a professor or some other expert on a topic for which you can’t find much data. What’s stopping you from emailing the person with your questions? Or picking up a phone and calling? I’ve done this multiple times, and it’s resulted in the exchange of datasets, articles, tips and interesting discussions. If you’re ever stuck, or would like to go deeper in your research, it’s worth trying. Local and university librarians are another great source for info, and they’re usually willing to help as much as they can. In particular I’ve had success contacting librarians on twitter.

You can also try the new personal research service Wonder. Just type in a question and a team of experienced researchers will send you 5-7 links and a summary answering your question. I’ve been a user for two months and am impressed with the customized research I receive.

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Experiment with free research tools

Developers are constantly coming up with clever tools to help users find information online. Keep a lookout and try the tools you find most interesting. Here are a few I’ve been experimenting with lately:

Proper Channel – Web application that allows people to collaborate on finding the most efficient way to navigate bureaucracy. Provides access to thousands of instructional flowcharts.

Atlas – New platform for discovering and sharing interactive charts. Powered by Quartz. One great feature is that users can download the data behind the charts.

Import.io – Tool that lets anyone, regardless of technical ability, to extract structured data from any website using extractors, crawlers and connectors.

Quandl – Platform that hosts data from hundreds of publishers on a single website, and provides tools that make it easy for users to get data in their preferred format. Their mission is pretty lofty: “to make all the numerical data in the world available” on their website.

Degreed – Online community of learners with platform that allows you to track, organize, share and validate everything you learn. Degreed also provides the Web’s most comprehensive list of free places to learn, so no matter what you’re searching for, you’re almost certain to find a way to learn more about your topic.

 

You can find Jedd McFatter on Twitter. Click the links below to tell us what tools you use to find the best content on the web!

You just learned about research and technology- get credit for it on Degreed.

You may be familiar with American Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, who developed the theory of self-actualization. In Maslow’s studies, he identified the hierarchy of needs which include five fundamental elements needed in order to reach the stage of self-actualization. These five elements are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. Maslow argues that an individual cannot be fulfilled in life unless all five elements are met, working from the bottom to the top.

Throughout life, we work towards acquiring these elements so that we can live a comfortable life. We immerse ourselves in various every day activities. One of the activities that plays a large role in our lives is work. Similarly, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be directly translated into our needs within our careers. Although we all have varying work schedules, we dedicate a great deal of time towards our jobs and the responsibilities they require. This is how the hierarchy of needs applies to our growth and happiness within the workplace.

 

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  1. Physiological Needs –Air, food, drink, shelter, sleep

At work, your physiological needs include the factors that make up the work environment such as a clean working space, work supplies, technology, etc. In order to carry out tasks efficiently, you first need to have the essential tools and assets readily available. A lack of physical comfort at work can result in distraction or failure to produce work that meets the expected standards.

 

  1. Safety Needs –Protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear

Making sure you feel safe from any harm, whether it is mental or physical, is a significant aspect in the quality of life at work. There are various factors that play part in ensuring safety in the workforce. These factors include a reasonable income, medical/dental insurance, accommodating benefits, and proper rules and regulations implemented by Human Resources. A lack of safety or a culture of fear can lead to work-related stress which can impose major consequences both inside and outside of work.

 

  1. Love and Belonging Needs –Friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships

One of the needs that could make or break your path to self-actualization at work is feeling support and a sense of belonging with people you work with. Teamwork, mentorship, and a sense of acceptance from co-workers largely affect how employees feel about the company. It is important for you to feel like you are a valuable asset to the team, and to feel that you are making a contribution towards end goals. Without the support from fellow co-workers, one can feel insignificant, isolated, and alone.

 

  1. Esteem Needs –Achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others

Esteem needs go hand in hand with love and belongingness needs. Feeling that your work matters and is recognized by others plays a large role in how you feel about yourself. Mastering concepts and becoming an expert at what you do builds esteem. In addition, the way you present yourself at work is imperative in gaining the trust and respect from your surrounding peers. It is also essential towards your own personal growth within a company.

 

  1. Self-Actualization Needs –Realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences

Realizing your full potential by seeing your path and where it can lead you is the ultimate goal in any work experience. Learning how and where you can apply your skills and knowledge greatly impacts the future you see yourself having. Self-Actualization within your career can result in peak experiences that make you a better employee and member of society.

 

All work experiences are a significant learning experience towards the person that you want to become and where you want to succeed. Once we achieve the fifth level of Self-Actualization, our needs are met to enable us to pursue the career of your dreams. Where are you now? How can you push yourself to reach the next level?

 

Tweet us your thoughts on how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to your career at @degreed. You just learned about psychology and personal development, track what you learned on your Degreed profile.

 

You can find Lindsey on Twitter and LinkedIn

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Let’s be honest, our best learning experiences often occur when we’re not thinking about the fact that we’re learning. When we find ourselves laughing out loud, or captivated by a story or image, our sense of being entertained usually trumps our recognition that we’re being educated.

Many quality examples of this “edutainment” are offered online, but finding them can be tricky. So we’ve done the hard work for you and scoured the web for our favorite recent blogs, podcasts and videos that excel in their ability to amuse as well as inform. Here’s our top five:

John Oliver Explains Patent Law

Unless you’re an inventor or an attorney, you probably know very little about U.S. patent law. Luckily, we have a hilarious British talk show host to explain it to us. Oliver’s opening rant against “patent trolls” is priceless, especially his commentary on a bizarre new dance patented by a feline artist. If you liked this, you’ll probably also get a kick out of Oliver’s coverage of U.S. chicken farming.

 

99% Invisible. Episode 161: Show of Force

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This podcast tells the story of a crazy idea hatched by two U.S. soldiers serving during WWII. Their plan involved the recruitment of young designers and artists into the army to create a deception unit, aka Ghost Army, which consisted of inflatable rubber tanks, fake artillery, pre-recorded battle sounds, and other illusory equipment. 99% Invisible once again delivers a story you won’t forget.

 

10 Amazing Bets that You’ll Always Win

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In this latest video from Richard Wiseman (a former magician who’s now a renowned Psychology professor) we learn the secrets behind ten tricks you can use to astonish your friends. This is just one of many videos Wiseman has produced to illustrate his research on the psychology of luck, illusion, humor, and deception. Check out Wiseman’s “59 Seconds” YouTube channel where he offers nearly 30 proven life-changing ideas in less than a minute each.

 

Misconceptions about Caffeine

As usual, Mental Floss has proven that several of my basic assumptions were wrong. Using scientific research to back up its claims, this video sets the record straight about both the positive and negative effects of caffeine. Who knew that an 8oz coffee can pack in twice the amount of caffeine as an 8oz Red Bull? You can also learn a thing or two from this Mental Floss video which discusses misconceptions about the weather. Spoiler Alert: Counting the seconds between when you see and hear thunder probably isn’t giving you the information you think it is.

 

The Key to Becoming a Creative Genius

If you’re not familiar with James Altucher, this podcast is a great place to start. The best-selling author’s quirky views on business and personal growth always challenge and inspire. If you like this podcast, be sure to check out his blog, Altucher Confidential. You can even ask Altucher any question you want on his site and if he finds it interesting he’ll devote an entire podcast to answering it!

 

You just learned about patent law, history, psychology, health, and leadership. Track it all and get credit on your Degreed profile. You can find Jedd McFatter on Twitter. Tweet us your favorite Edutainment pieces at @degreed

The future belongs to those who can generate the best ideas. Plain and simple.

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In a highly competitive world where employment is unstable and currencies are declining, unexpected events can quickly derail our dreams and drain our bank accounts.

Because money can always run out. Ideas, on the other hand, are limitless. If we ever find that our backs are up against the wall, those of us who are able to come up with new ideas will be the ones who bounce back strong.

But there’s no reason to wait for a crisis. The ability to generate ideas will always create opportunities to build wealth and find success, by freeing us from our total reliance on others’ (often bad) ideas, and by allowing us to also help others break free. If we want to be the kind of innovators who consistently produce great ideas, we need to start today by embracing a new mindset and approach that weaves the process of idea creation into our everyday lives. The good news is that this process is often a fun and exhilarating experience.

The days of waiting around for some mythical “Aha!” moment are over. Now’s the time to reach out and switch on your own lightbulb. Here are some habits and techniques to get you started.

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Habits

● Read deeply and widely. Branch out and study subjects you’re not familiar with. Engage with all the different forms of media and always take time to reflect on the information you’re absorbing. You’ll need a lot of raw data to work with if you’re trying to generate exceptional ideas.

● Look for patterns and trends. Learn to connect the dots. Hone your ability to see the relationships between elements. Steve Jobs put it best in an interview with Wired Magazine when he said that “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something…they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

Ask more questions. Challenge more assumptions. Be the person who asks “what if” over and over. Sometimes we’re so focused on getting answers that we forget to ask the most worthwhile questions. Best-selling author Warren Berger explains the power of innovative questioning in his book A More Beautiful Question, and lays out a system to help us develop more productive inquiries. Check out this podcast interview for a brief overview of Berger’s ideas.

● Embed yourself in an environment (or create one) that’s conducive to creative thinking. Work and spend time with others that allow you to test out your thoughts, to think out loud without judgment. Constant worry about how others will receive your ideas stifles creativity. Build a network of friends and colleagues who understand that the incubation process for birthing great ideas requires patience, encouragement, and critical feedback. Science writer Steven Johnson brilliantly describes what an idea-inducing environment looks like in this famous hand-drawn animated video: Where Do Ideas Come From?

● Write down all of your ideas! Don’t let a single one slip through the cracks. Carry a notepad everywhere you go, or use an app on your phone to record ideas whenever they arise (I’m hooked on Simplenote and Mindly). Be sure to document all of the persistent problems or needs that you encounter, because many of your best ideas will come from trying to resolve your own concerns. Also keep an idea journal, paper or digital, where you can track your ideas and practice the techniques below.

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Techniques

● Study unexpected successes. Analyze businesses that achieved against all odds; trends that popped up out of nowhere and took the world by storm; high-demand products no one predicted would sell; sports teams that proved all the critics wrong. Identify the fundamental ideas and conditions that led to these successes, and then see how they can be applied to your own ideas and environment. Here’s a list of unexpected success stories you can start analyzing right away.

● Master metaphorical thinking. Learn how to use comparisons to express ideas and solve problems. Metaphors directly link unrelated things by evoking vivid images that help us see from a different perspective. Think about some metaphors we’re all familiar with: Time is money, Domino Effect, Lame Duck. These are well-known because they do such a great job of framing something unfamiliar in a way that expands conceptual understanding and inspires creative problem-solving.

Use singular brainstorming sessions to generate more original ideas. This means formulating ideas on your own before bringing them to a group, which will help you avoid the pitfalls that often come with group brainstorming, such as idea plagiarism and fixation, personality conflicts, and anchoring biases, among others. For more effective group sessions, try Brainwriting instead.

● Use the right brainstorming tool. With literally hundreds to choose from, finding the tool that best suits your goal is important. For instance, if your objective is to find peripheral ideas surrounding a central idea, you might consider using mind maps. If you need to come up with a lot of “outside the box” ideas as rapidly as possible, you should try a few lateral thinking techniques. If you want a basic, tried and true method that can be applied to anything, you can go old-school and implement James Webb Young’s 5-Step Technique (developed in 1939 but still remarkably effective).

Whenever I am trying to formulate ideas to improve an existing service or product, I like to use the SCAMPER tool to make sure I leave no stone unturned. When I’m looking for solutions to a hard-to-solve problem and feel stuck in narrow way of viewing the issue, I employ the Reverse Brainstorming technique.

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My advice is to start off experimenting with as many methods as you can. Eventually you’ll develop a knack for choosing the most fruitful approach.

For more brainstorming techniques, tools and tips, here are more lists and guides:

14 Brainstorming and Idea-Generating Techniques That Work (this list comes with a useful set of worksheets you can use).
James Altucher’s Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine
18 Best Idea Generation Techniques
13 Unusual Brainstorming Methods that Work
38 Tools for Getting More Ideas
How the most creative business people generate ideas
Where the World’s Most Innovative Companies Get Their Ideas
Idea Generation Techniques among Creative Professionals (list begins on pg. 5)
Ultimate Brainstorming (comes with a free workbook)
Mindtools Brainstorming Toolkits
Idea Generation Techniques booklet

 

You can catch Jedd McFatter on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

In today’s work environment, what you know isn’t nearly as important as how fast you can learn. With new technology emerging at an unprecedented pace, your job security depends upon the speed at which you can adapt and develop the skills your company needs to compete in the global marketplace. The good news is there are proven methods for accelerating your learning. Here are our tried techniques to get you started.

1. Increase Your Reading Speed

Well duh, you might be thinking. Reading faster would obviously accelerate anyone’s ability to learn. But as adults can we really expect to improve enough to notice a difference? According to one of the world’s leading experts on elite human performance, Tim Ferris, the answer is an emphatic YES! On his blog Ferris details how anyone can learn to read 300% faster in only 20 minutes by training their eyes to eliminate inefficient movements and avoid rereading. A few years ago I followed the method and was astonished by how much faster I began to read.

For a slightly different perspective on how to increase reading speed, check out Scott Young’s blog post from earlier this year. Being the voracious learner that he is, Young extensively researched the topic with a critical eye and concluded that training to speed-read is still worth the effort.

Several speed reading apps are also available if you do a lot of reading on a smartphone. I’ve tried nearly all of them, but the two that I’ve found most effective are ReadQuick ($9.99) and Acceleread (Free). If you use these tools as a part of your overall speed reading plan, you’ll see dramatics results in how quickly you can consume new information.

 

2. Focus on the First 20 Hours

Getting off to a good start is crucial for rapid skill acquisition. If you can push through the early stages of frustration that come with learning something new, you will usually hit your stride. In his book “The First 20 Hours,” entrepreneur Josh Kaufman provides a practical guide on how to navigate this beginning phase, and claims that you can learn the basics of any new skill in approximately 20 hours of deliberate, focused effort.

Kaufman does a great job explaining how to deconstruct a complex skill into smaller subskills that are more manageable. He urges the learner to attack the most important subskills first, using a practice regimen built around intense 15 to 20-minute study bursts. Do this 40 minutes a day for a month and you’ll pick up the fundamentals of any new skill. For more insight into these ideas, check out Kaufman’s popular TedTalk:

 

3. Optimize your Environment

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Another basic way to accelerate learning is to optimize your environment. This means turning off distractions and avoiding multitasking, which can be damaging to both your brain and your career. It means mastering your learning tools and making sure everything you need is within reach before you start a study session. It means paying attention to details like room temperature, lighting, and noise levels. It means tapping into your flow state as much as possible when you practice.

And that’s the ultimate goal, really. Getting into the flow. The sooner you get there the faster you will learn any skill.

Here’s a simple way to remember the 3 hacks you need to speed up your learning:

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As always, keep tracking everything you learn through your Degreed profile to give yourself a clear picture of all your skills and knowledge.

You can catch Jedd McFatter on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Being only a few years removed from college, I have a lot of friends who are currently going through the process of graduating and choosing their next step in life. I also have a couple close friends who made that decision a few years ago and are now struggling with the fact that, in their view, they may have chosen unwisely. Charting a career course is difficult and confusing for almost everyone. As often as not, asking the right questions is as difficult as finding the right answers (if not more so).

Most of us have some idea that career success comes from some combination of ability (What am I good at?), passion (What do I love doing?), and pay (How can I make the most money?). In my experience the most pivotal is ability. Passion and money are great, but if you want to know what career path will make you both happy and wealthy, you need to start by asking yourself “What am I really good at?” This may seem intuitive, but in my experience it is anything but. Indeed, I came to my own fork in the road a couple years ago, and came very close to making the wrong choice.

My Experience

In college, I studied communication sciences with the intention of becoming an audiologist. Audiology is a secure field with plenty of high-paying jobs. However, between my junior and senior year I had taken a summer job working in social strategy for a large fitness company. I immediately realized that I was good at it. As time went on, I started to realize that I was very good at it. I started to think I could make a career out of it.

But when I graduated, I seriously considered going back to get my masters in audiology and reverting back to that career path. It had been my plan all throughout college; could I really just abandon it? Especially for a career track in social media that, at the time, seemed like it might be a dead end. I asked one of my good friends what I should do and he gave me some great advice:

“Jeremy,” he said, “you have a gift for social. Don’t let that go to waste.”

Despite a number of concerns, I decided to continue in social media. Two years in, I view that decision as a financial, personal, and career success: My employer truly values my work, I’m enjoying it more than ever, and I’m making good money.

Ability Leads to Passion

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Choosing a career you are passionate about is very important. What I have found is that people who choose to do what they excel at are almost always the most passionate about their work.  The truth is that interests wax and wane. I know people who have dream jobs working for their favorite sports teams who sometimes get burned out on those interests for a little while. That’s something that happens to everyone. At those times, it can be very difficult to keep the passion alive.

The passion that comes from being good at your job is different than interest. It stems from being able to take pride in what you do, and from being frequently recognized. It comes from winning. We are biologically hard-wired to love winning. You don’t have to be successful for very long before you find yourself very passionate about that thing. I’ve noticed that my friends are much more likely to be passionate about basketball if they’re tall. I doubt that’s a coincidence. Think about your own passions. Are you particularly good or knowledgeable at those things that you are passionate about? You probably are.

How to find what you’re good at

Many people want to choose a career in an area where they excel, but have trouble figuring out what that is when it comes to actually choosing a career. I have found one question to be the most helpful in figuring that out. Ask yourself, “What is the most successful I have ever been in my life?” Look for particular accomplishments, not general abilities. A good answer would be “I won the spelling bee in 4th grade”, “I was elected student body president in high school” or “I was able to talk my friend down from committing suicide and help him turn around his life.” Bad answers would be “I’m a good studier” or “I’m a people person.”

After you have identified moments of accomplishment, try to think of ways that you could recreate similar circumstance in your work life. Too often, I see people thrashing around with their own self-image of who they are supposed to be, rather than objectively evaluating their past results. They get an idea in their head and it’s difficult to let go. For example, I have a friend who insisted that his greatest strength was his creativity. I asked him what led him to believe that and he was unable to name a significant creative idea or project that he had produced. You will be able to avoid this type of self-deception by finding concrete moments of accomplishment in your past.

In identifying your career options, past performance is the best indicator of future results that you have. If you can figure out what you have been good at, you will discover what you will be good at. And once you start down that path, you’ll be on your way toward more passion, more money, more recognition, and ultimately more happiness.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn, read it here. Check out Jeremy Nef on Twitter or LinkedIn

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This week hundreds of thousands of college grads will toss their caps and throw the gowns into storage boxes as they head towards the next stage of life: True Adulthood. A much needed break from years of classes, late night studying, and exams is well-earned, but what happens when the weeks slip into months and learning has abruptly ended?

After graduating, I experienced a stage of what felt like a great loss. I stepped into the shoes of my new full-time gig, I was learning there, but I was missing the push of learning and studying. This lack of learning stage left me feeling sad, and bored. Eventually I felt mentally stuck.

Growing our personal skills and understanding after graduation shouldn’t be limited to the training and learning we do in our new jobs (if we receive an offer post-graduation). We should be poised to set and stick to personal goals to keep improving ourselves, even if the work doesn’t result in a grade or final exam. Here are some ideas on how to grow after graduation.

1. Set the schedule. As a graduate, you are forever free of 7am Geology class, but you’ll find the best use of your individual time if it’s structured. Figure out what time of the day you’re the most productive and focused. Set 30 minutes to 1 hour a day during that time that you can use to experience learning.

2. Learn something that may seem irrelevant. Here’s a crazy idea: having the freedom to literally learn about anything you want. Consider topics that may not help fuel your career right now. Study something that makes you excited. Remember the lecture in English that peaked your interest? Read more from that author. Study watercolor, search out a new coding or design skill (you can find tons of open courses online if you want more structured learning, get more info on that here).

3. Measure it and be accountable. It’s hard to be motivated to finish a goal if you’re not going to measure it. Gone are the days of finals, but all the learning you do should count for something. Sign up for degreed.com and start tracking what you know and what you’re learning. Set goals on the platform for weekly articles, videos, or books to keep you on track. Grab a friend and take a community class or start a book together- having someone else to keep you accountable will make habits stick.

4. Passion Projects. Find a way to apply your learning and integrate it with other passions. Designing a website, selling your product on Etsy, writing blog posts about the books you’re reading. Whatever activities you’re passionate about doing- apply what you’re learning to those. You’ll be excited to do it and it’ll help you retain what you’re learning.

Learning doesn’t have to stop after the graduation ceremony. There are many different ways to continue pursuing education post-graduation, the key is to tap into your desire to learn and fuel that desire in the right way.

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