If you were to ask Kate of 2009 what the most important thing for success was, she would have probably told you stellar writing skills, a better editor and an even better literary agent.
Then again, if you were to ask Kate of 2009 if she could see herself being a business journalist, freelancing, maintaining two blogs, and planning on getting certified as a yoga instructor, she would have looked at you like this:
Five years later, however, both things have changed. I’m loving my job as an associate editor for Mediatec Publishing, I’ve have had two major freelance articles published, this blog and my site 2014: A Film Odyssey are going strong, and this month I’ll start my journey toward becoming a yoga teacher.
But apart from realizing that I’m capable of more than 18-year-old Kate thought she ever could be, I’ve also learned that maybe writing skills aren’t the key to success as a journalist. In fact, the more I report on human resources, professional development programs and company cultures — as well as study my own career growth and workplace — the more I realize that knowing the how-tos of a job is just the beginning. Being a good writer might have gotten me my position, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.
Similarly, walking into a yoga studio, unrolling your mat and breathing through ujjayi, or “breath of the ocean,” will get you started, but it doesn’t mean you’ll survive your practice.
Instead, the most marketable and important skill to have in pretty much any profession is the same skill that’s required for yoga: flexibility.
Here’s an example of being flexible (adaptable, versatile, accommodating, etc.) that just happened to me the other day. We had a feature for our November issue fall through, so I volunteered to turn my short news piece on Starbucks’ new tuition assistance plan into a 2,000 word piece on how paying employees’ college fees helps organizations develop their leadership pipeline and retain top performers.
Flip (or rather, chaturanga, down dog, forward fold and reverse swan dive) back to yoga class — you might walk into a class barely able to reach your toes, but you’ll still survive it. You just won’t have as much fun.
You probably won’t have that much fun at work, either, come to think of it. Being flexible doesn’t just make you look good; it also benefits the people around you. My greatest weakness comes from a pestering desire to be Wonder Woman. I’m not talking about wanting to wield a Lasso of Truth, fly an invisible plane and fight bad guys — although that’s definitely on the agenda, too — but rather wanting to be the savior of every crisis. Adaptability has helped me be that on several occasions, which might not be good for my ego but is definitely beneficial to my coworkers when they need help. The more you let yourself adapt to what your employer and coworkers need, the more you find yourself able to perform better. As much as it’s important to be able to adapt, it’s even more important to be willing to be flexible and change your plan of attack if it means improving your team’s performance and final product.*
*Again, I point to that November feature I last-minute pitched. Holy Amazon, Batman! Have I started to become Wonder Woman?
And here’s one last great thing about how flexibility is one of the most marketable skills and important things to have in the big-kid world of professionalism. Every day I learn more about learning — how companies develop their employees’ leadership skills, production methods, technical know-how, etc. — and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way for those lessons and programs to have an impact is if employees are willing to, as Sheryl Sandberg would say, “lean in.” Being brittle isn’t going to let you improve your capabilities or develop new ones, so employees who can be flexible to changes in workplace culture or alterations to their job descriptions are a company’s most valuable asset. In yoga, the only way you’re going to get into that full-blown plow pose is if you keep pushing your limits. At work, the only way you’re going to grow is by reaching beyond your limits. And the only way you do that is by wanting to do that.
Once you learn to be flexible, the only limits ahead of you are the walls of your future corner office. Or at least the edges of your yoga mat.
This post was written in response to a request from Webucator, an online learning company currently running a blog campaign. Their community manager reached out to me a few weeks ago requesting I write about what I thought was the most marketable skill for recent college grads. Seeing as I’m only a year out from being in their shoes, I thought I’d help out.