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Real World Skills

November 15, 2014

“In war you needed to have the man decent, patriotic, but, no matter how patriotic he was, if he ran away he was no good. So it is in citizenship; the virtue that stays at home in its own parlor and bemoans the wickedness of the outside world is of scant use to the community. We are a vigorous, masterful people, and the man who is to do good work in our country must not only be a good man, but also emphatically a man. We must have the qualities of courage, of hardihood, of power to hold one’s own in the hurly-burly of actual life. We must have the manhood that shows on fought fields and that shows in the work of the business world and in the struggles of civic life. We must have manliness, courage, strength, resolution, joined to decency and morality, or we shall make but poor work of it. Finally those two qualities by themselves are not enough. In addition to decency, and courage, we must have the saving grace of common sense. We all of us have known decent and valiant fools who have meant so well that it made it all the more pathetic that the effect of their actions was so ill.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Principles are a wonderful thing, and they are the guide to living well. Like any guide, they will point you in the right direction, and without them one is truly lost. Without them, it does not matter which direction you go, for you wander aimlessly.

However, the capacity to walk in a given direction is still necessarily to make progress. A guide is useless if you cannot actually move in the direction you are being guided towards. So too is it with principles and practical skills. Without both we shall never get anywhere.

We’ll be depraved and meaningless without principles or pathetic without practical skill.

Today I’m just going to talk from some initial experiences as a paralegal about the virtue of what could be called ‘office skills’ .

Fundamentals Count

Crafting a beautiful essay is wondrous, and requires the highest order of thinking. However, the skill to pay attention to detail is more important. I discussed previously how grammar was never explicitly taught in high school, in favour of meaning in words (analogous to principles). That’s all well and good, but as I said before, you have to be precise and clear to foster communication. You have to make sense, be intelligible etc. Without fundamentals like good editing skills, you can’t realise principles like ‘be clear’.

Without Skills You Can’t Even Send A Letter!

I think we can agree that communication is vital in a business. School goes a long way to stressing clarity, precision, innovation etc.

But, do you know how to send a letter? How to fold it so the address shows up on the front of the envelope?

Forget the fact that letter writing (or how to detail a letter for postage) is never taught at school. What I’m saying here is that all your writing skills are totally useless if you can’t address the letter! On my first day I realised I didn’t know how to fold the letters. My partner paralegals sympathises with me – they had been in the same situation! One lady commented how she had spent months working, till she came to where I work now and was only taught then how to post a letter.

How to post a letter may sound appallingly trivial, but it is every individual’s responsibility to learn such basic skills. I don’t care how grand your ambitions are if you can’t achieve them As Teddy said…

You must learn basic skills, and be continually in a process of acquiring those skills you lack.

A Lack of Skill Breeds Helplessness

What you don’t know you can’t do. What you don’t know and want done you must pay somebody for. If you can’t cook well and want good food, you must pay.

This makes you dependent on higher levels of income. Obviously, being specialised is important, and can help in achieving higher levels of income, but part of those gains are eaten up by costs you end up paying because of your lack of skill in other areas. A man who specialises, yet is so clueless about fitness as to necessitate hiring a personal trainer to be fit is losing part of his monetary gains.

The specialist without general skills is also totally helpless if they have no job. They are not resilient. They are helpless, and shatter upon difficult times.

Furthermore, even if a lack of skill does not mean financial worry, I find a lack of skill frankly very disconcerting. A lack of skills is correlated with dependence, subservience and the like. Those traits do little for self-esteem. By contrast, mastery emboldens the individual and develops a quiet confidence in oneself that is immensely satisfying. To feel confident and able is wondrous.

All this is not to blast specialisation, but simply to say “specialise, but be well armed in general skills.” Be Mr. T.


Self-reliance being a virtue is a thing I hold to be true. Without skills, the beacon of principles can guide you nowhere. Skills are fundamental. Without them, you are a helpless cur, unable even to send a letter. Your aims may be noble, your will forceful, your life brimming with energy, but without any skill you cannot do what the lowest knave can do – act.

You have a responsibility not just to yourself, but others to be self-reliant. In doing so, know you must acquire the skills you lack. Become thoroughly competent and able, and you shall achieve mastery, financial security, and embolden yourself.


From → Foundations

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