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How to Make Yourself Indispensable

How to Make Yourself Indispensable

Make Yourself Indispensable

    Let me ask you a question: could you disappear? If you didn’t show up at work tomorrow, if you weren’t home at 6:00 for dinner, if nobody ever heard from or saw you again, would it matter?

    OK, these are depressing things to think about, but that’s exactly  how many people feel, day in and day out, in their jobs and even at home. They feel unappreciated, unchallenged, ineffective, and in the end, completely irrelevant.

    In some cases, it’s the situation itself, and if the paragraphs above describe you, you really need to be thinking about how you can change or get out of your situation. Maybe you work for jerks, maybe your job simply has nothing to offer society, maybe your marriage long since stopped working, maybe you’ve fallen in with a group of friends who ultimately aren’t very good friends.

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    But in most cases, it is what we bring to our jobs, our home lives, our social lives – or, more to the point, what we don’t bring – that leaves us feeling, well… disposable. And if you’re going to turn that around, you’re going to have to start by making some real changes in your life and in yourself.

    None of the ideas below are easy – but none are impossible, either. All they require is that you make a conscious choice to make yourself indispensable, make a plan, and put that plan into action. You might be surprised at how much your life can change – and often, how quickly!

    1. Network

    One reason people can feel like they don’t matter is because they’re “out of the loop”, cut off from where things happen. In today’s world, this is practically inexcusable. The Internet as a whole is little more than a giant social networking tool, and tools explicitly for bringing people together – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Skype, and on and on – abound.

    Join and use one or two choice social networking tools. Off-line, select 10 or 20 people who are prominent in your field and introduce yourself to them. Write them letters or email, give them a call, leave comments on their blogs, whatever it takes to make yourself known and to show what you’re capable of. Don’t fawn; approach them as equals or, at least, as potential mentors.

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    Finally, join and become active in professional or recreational organizations – especially groups that are local to where you live and work. Use MeetUp to find local meetings of people who share your profession, interests, or hobbies.

    2. Love

    Both the easiest and hardest thing we humans do is love. It’s easy because we’re made for it, wired up in all sorts of ways to respond to and offer affection, social unity, and physical presence; it’s hard because to truly love means to make ourselves incredibly vulnerable and, in our society, it’s very hard to find it in ourselves to trust that deeply.

    But try it. And not just with your partner, your kids, your parents and siblings – try to be a loving, caring person in all your relationships. I’m not suggesting you break any laws or anything, only that you approach every person you interact with as a person with their own needs, desires, and motivations and see how you can help them satisfy them. Look out for the people around you, be there when they need someone to lean on, and be open with them about your own life.

    3. Excel

    No, not the spreadsheet. Be excellent at something. Figure out the thing that is most satisfying to you and learn how to do it better than anyone else. That might mean a trip to the library, a couple of night classes, or a full graduate education. But whatever it means, do it – there are few specialities in this world so esoteric that there isn’t a powerful demand for people who do it incredibly well.

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    4. Create something

    Your world changes when you create something and put it out into the world for everyone to benefit from, whether it’s a book, a blog, a painting, an invention, a magazine article, a weekly newsletter, a company, a piece of furniture, or a recipe. Partially it’s because suddenly you’re useful to someone, no matter how few, but mostly it’s because the things we create contain a little part of us, a spark of who we are – a spark that much of our society conspires to smother and hide away.

    5. Innovate

    Although innovation is a creative exercise, I’ve chosen to treat it as something different from creating something because innovation, to me, is about solving problems rather than personal expression. Yes, that’s an artificial distinction. Bear with me, please.

    It would be an understatement to say that the world, and the people in it, have more problems than we know how to deal with. Some are extreme – hunger, pollution, illness. Some are less so – boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction. Figure out how to solve any of those problems, and you will be anything but disposable!

    6. Make people feel good

    Around here, we talk a lot about being productive, about avoiding distractions and keeping focused on your goals and overcoming procrastination. But as humans, it its crucially important that, at times, we be entertained. And it’s just as important, from time to time, that we be reassured. A joke, a compliment, an engaging discussion about the latest film or book – these things add a little light to the lives of those around you. Being the guy or gal people can trust to brighten up their day will always attract attention.

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    7. Share or teach what you know

    As a teacher, I know first-hand the feeling of helping people to learn, of sharing a new way of looking at their world and giving them tools to make their own way in it. No matter what your areas of expertise are, there are people out there who want – no, need – to know it so they can have more power over their own destinies. It’s not all that hard to put together a class, seminar, or workshop on just about any topic – check with your local community college or university extension program for starters – but not all teaching needs to be formal instruction, either. Seek out opportunities to share what you know informally throughout the day.

    8. Be eccentric

    Eccentricity is valuable not just because it can be quite entertaining, but because it represents a significant difference in the way you view the world. While this can be alienating to some people – usually people who are already alienated by the rest of their lives – others will seek out and reward you handsomely for your insights.

    How do you become eccentric? Short of taking lots of LSD, which I don’t advice, I’m really not sure. I include there because it’s one way to make yourself indispensable, not because it’s easy to do! But if you can’t just flip a switch and become eccentric, maybe you can learn the lesson eccentrics teach – to seek out the different. Closely examine your own life for the parts you’ve let be suppressed – or suppressed yourself – and bring them out into the light of day. Embrace the things you’ve worked so hard to hide.

    That’s a start, anyway.

    9. Make a difference

    What matters in all these points is that you make a difference in people’s lives. Do that, and the world – or at least some of the world – will hang on your every action. As you go though your daily life, keep an eye out for the ways in which you can make a difference, however great or small. What little tweaks might make someone’s life or job a little bit easier? What systems or processes are just fundamentally wrong, and how would you fix them?

    Adopt a difference-oriented mindset. Overthrow your commitment to the status quo, because the road to the status quo is littered with the husks of disposable people. Do that, and the rest will follow, and you will have become indispensable.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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