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16 skills that are difficult to learn but will pay off forever

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There is no instruction manual for life. Most of us fumble our way through life’s ups and downs learning things as we go along.

However, in this modern age where technology enables us to crowdsource information, it’s possible to glean the most important life skills from an array of people and sources in one go.

That’s why it’s useful to pose the question: “What are the hardest and most useful skills to learn?”

Here are 16 of the most difficult to learn but useful skills, originally posted by Kamia Taylor on Quora and shared on Business Insider.


“You can be the most disciplined, brilliant, and even wealthy individual in the world, but if you don’t care for or empathize with other people, then you are basically nothing but a sociopath,” writes Kamia Taylor.

Business Insider quotes business owner Jane Wurdwand who says empathy is a fundamental human ability that has too readily been forsworn by modern business.

“Empathy — the ability to feel what others feel — is what makes good sales and service people truly great. Empathy as in team spirit — esprit de corps — motivates people to try harder. Empathy drives employees to push beyond their own apathy, to go bigger, because they feel something bigger than just a pay check.”

Mastering your sleep

The harm that befalls you a result of sleep deprivation is far-reaching and very detrimental to general health and well being. It is really worth it to make sure that you establish a general sleep routine and stick to it to make sure you get enough sleep. Without sleep you can’t perform optimally.

Time management

Time management is the key to success in the workplace as well as in our personal lives. Without proper time management you cannot meet your personal daily goals or finish your work on time, resulting in a life filled with stress.

You can download apps, adjust your sleep time, create lists, and whatever else works for you, as long as you understand why it’s important for you to manage your time well: effective time management helps you to get things done on time, to be productive and not waste your own and other people’s time.

Asking for help

It’s hard to ask for help, because no one wants to look incompetent, but sooner or later everyone finds themselves in a position where they can’t cope without some help.

Consider what might happen if you don’t recognise that you need help and don’t ask for it. You can really end up in a big mess.

Asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak; on the contrary, the managers I have admired most in my career were those who openly said they didn’t understand something or asked for help because they didn’t know how to proceed themselves.

A recent study from the Harvard Business School suggests that asking for advice is actually well received and makes you look more, not less, capable. By asking for advice, you acknowledge the other person’s intelligence or expertise, which makes them feel good.

Positive self-talk

We are all constantly involved in an inner monologue with ourselves and the content of that self-talk can affect our confidence and self-esteem. While positive self-talk, will build self-confidence and a positive self-image, negative self-talk will do the opposite.

Remember Henry Ford’s words: Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.


Whether you’re trying a new exercise routine, studying for the LSATs, or working on an important project, consistency is vital to maintaining any kind of success.

People often stop working hard when they reach the top, he says, but to maintain that top position, they have to work harder and be more consistent in their work.

Minding your business

If no one has asked for your advice, it’s probably unwanted and wise to keep it to yourself. Besides, it’s impossible to ever know the whole story. It’s so easy to assume you understand the situation, when in fact, you don’t have all the facts. If something doesn’t affect you directly, best stay out of it.


“Most of us in the workplace are so overwhelmed with things to do — instant messaging, phones ringing. I mean, our brain can only tolerate so much information before it snaps,” Nicole Lipkin, author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night,” previously told Business Insider.

One tip for active listening is repeating back what you heard to the other person. “It makes things so much easier when everyone is on the same page,” she said.

Knowing when to shut up — and actually doing it

Keeping your thoughts to yourself when you’re agitated is one of the most valuable skills to learn, and of course, one of the most difficult.

There are many instances when keeping to yourself is the best course. “When we are angry, upset, agitated, or vexed, we blurt out anything and everything that comes to our mind.” Anwesha Jana writes on Quora.

In some situations it’s better to keep quiet, no matter what your personal thoughts. For instance, when someone is too upset to listen rationally to anything you have to say, it’s useless to respond to them.

Resisting gossip

Business Insider quotes Jason T Widjaja who shared the following point: “The most important thing in life to me is relationships. And the most important thing about building and keeping good relationships is trust.”

One of the easiest ways to lose trust, he says, is to gossip about people behind their back.

Widjaja says learning not to gossip was hard to do because it meant missing out on possibly important conversations, distancing himself from influential people, and awkwardly having to tell people, “Hey, sorry to interrupt but I really don’t need to know that, could we talk about something else?”

“But press on and you will get your priceless reward: trust,” he writes.

Staying present in the moment

Living in the present moment is a term tossed around a lot these days, but we probably have no idea what it really means to live in the present.

The state that we have become used to, is a state where our thoughts are either of the past: what has been, what could have been, what you thought happened vs. what actually did happen, or of the future: what will be, what could be, what might be. All of which is removed from where we actually are and what is actually happening.

This means we are only half alive most of the time. This habit takes the enjoyment away from the present moment. Your answer to these questions, will illustrate the point:

Are you so focused on getting a project done, that you don’t enjoy the process of getting it done?

Are you so distracted by your upcoming dentist appointment that you can’t enjoy your time with your family today?

(To dive deep into techniques that help calm the mind, reduce overthinking and stay persent in the moment, check out our no-nonsense guide to Buddhism and eastern philosophy here).

Learning a new language

Learning a second language is a practical and rewarding use of your time that helps to keep you mentally sharp. When learning a new language you gain more than a different way to express yourself, you gain a whole new way of thinking and invaluable insight into another culture that can benefit you in your career and your personal life.

Studies have found that speaking two or more languages is a great asset to the cognitive process. The brains of bilingual people operate in a way that offers several mental benefits.

Speaking up

If you want to have an impact in your work, your community, or even on a wider public platform, you must learn to speak up in public. It’s hard for most of us to do and the fear of public speaking is the most common fear across cultures, but with coaching and practice you can overcome it, like so many thousands have done before you.

Warren Buffett said this about public speaking:

“You’ve got to be able to communicate in life and it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasize that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”

Honesty with others

Being completely honest with others can be awkward, but just because you don’t have anything nice to say, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say it, writes Gillett, suggesting that radical candor is the way to practice complete honesty with others.

“When practicing radical candor, use the acronym HHIPP to remember: Radical candor is humble, helpful, immediate, in person, and it doesn’t personalize,” she writes.

Honesty with yourself

This is surprisingly difficult to do. So much of what we tell ourselves about ourselves are lies, which explains why most of people don’t really know themselves.

But if you can cultivate the habit to be brutally honest with yourself, the rewards will be personal integrity and respect from others, both currencies that will take you far in life.

Written by Coert Engels

I'm a South African based writer and am passionate about exploring the latest ideas in artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology. I also focus on the human condition, with a particular interest human intuition and creativity. To share some feedback about my articles, email me at [email protected]

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