We are living in an era where it’s easier than ever to learn something new. Today, all it takes is a dose of dedication and some decent youtube videos or an online training to master a new skill. And learning a new skill has SO many benefits!!
According to this article, learning a new skill does all kinds of awesome things for your brain; your brain literally ‘grows’ in white matter which improves its performance, your learning speed increases, you make all kinds of new brain connections, your ability to adapt to change improves, and you are less likely to develop dementia. On top of that, it’s fun, and it’s great for your resume/future jobs. In other words, learning a new skill is extremely powerful. But, the reason I wanted to write a post about this, is because you can literally change your life by learning a new skill, whether you are changing your future or your mental health. The thing that is most needed for a happy life is doing what you love.
I am a typical self-learner. I love to learn new things, but I like to do it at my own pace, without anyone evaluating me. In the past years, I learned to play several instruments, I learned to use Photoshop, Illustrator and Blender, I learned how to plaster my own walls, how to draw, how to use a sewing machine, how to crochet, how to program in C#, how to use HTML, CSS and PHP, and probably more that I don’t remember right now. Sometimes with a bit of help from someone else but practically without any lessons. And all of these things made my life better in their own way. It is actually the reason why I’m now writing a blog, instead of doing something that doesn’t make me happy. And no, you cannot become a doctor without a 6-year training, but you can literally turn any skill into a job if you want to.
I came up with over 20 skills that you can learn on your own and often for free. They can change your life for the better! You could literally start today.
Play an instrument
One of the things that bring me an insane amount of joy is making music. I play the piano, guitar, violin, a bit of flute, and I sing. Mostly in my living room when I’m alone because of my performance anxiety, but that’s ok! I started playing the violin when I was six, but I could never really come along because I was very bad at reading sheet music. I am not dyslexic, but for some reason, sheet music is not my friend. Maybe it’s because I find it so much easier to repeat something or just come up with it myself.
Anyway. Some people like to read their music from a sheet, and others like to improvise or play their own version. There is nothing wrong with any of them, and for both ways of making music, there are a lot of learning sources. Buy a second-hand instrument on Ebay and just start! And check out this awesome chick and be motivated.
Two things that are very popular these days are cooking and baking. In the Netherlands we have a tv channel entirely dedicated to food. If cooking is already something you like, you can easily get better at it by really studying cultures, herbs, ingredients and preparation, in other words, by studying gastronomy and experimenting the shit out of it. If your dishes are really something special, you could start a catering business. Or you can just make a lot of friends by making them awesome food. The same goes for baking; experiment with all kinds of different versions, create your own recipes, or practice with decorating cakes. Make your friends awesome bakings, or start a business and make all kinds of pastries on demand.
Dance dance dance
Do you like to dance? You would not be the first one who could audition for SYTYCD as a self-taught dancer. Don’t tell anyone, but this is actually on my list; I’m trying to learn how to shuffle and glide. Learning how to learn a specific dance move is sooper fun, especially when you do it with others. And it’s also good for your health and coordination!
Let’s move on to the division of crafts. Ever heard of Etsy? Since Etsy, there are thousands of people who now do what they love for a living! You could do that too, or you could make awesome stuff to hang on your wall and have a great time making it. Being creative is super beneficial for your brain!!
A few years ago, I started drawing. I was in a sucky place mentally and I just wanted to distract myself with something peaceful. I got a box of very nice pencils from a dear friend who I helped with graphic design, and this was the start of something great. It turned out my drawing skills were quite alright! After 2 or 3 drawings, I wanted to make a portrait. I picked a random girl with a cute face and started. I made it with graphite pencils and I was actually impressed with myself for once. It actually looked like a photo and it was nice to find something I’m good at.
I’ve only made a few drawings since, and I hardly ever finished something. I think that is because I need mental space for it, and I haven’t had that in a long time. Also, perfectionism is a bitch, and faces are hard to get exactly right. So, maybe soon! 😊 But back to you guys! Drawing is fun! And painting is as well. I think painting gives a bit more space to express yourself, and paint easier lends itself for abstraction because of the awesome characteristics of it. But both are extremely calming and it’s good for your brains.
Another fun thing to do: hand lettering! Not much is needed to create an inspiring piece of art that you can hang on your wall, give to others as a gift, or put up on Etsy. Some find it easier to do than drawing, because we all know how to make letters, and you can’t really make a weird letter. If you think drawing isn’t your thing, give this a try!
All things textile
Knitting and crocheting are not hard to master and fun to do. It takes quite some time and is therefore not as lucrative as other crafts, but you can make some AWESOME stuff with it. Look at this post to see what my BF made me. If you have never done either of them before, I recommend you start with crocheting. It’s easy from the first row and you can stop anywhere you want and continue anywhere you want. Also, every kind of stitch is based on the same principle.
Sewing is a bit different. You can make fun stuff by sewing by hand, but the real deal really is a profession. If this is something you like, you could consider joining a sewing class, because being a seamstress or taylor is an actual job. Or, you can get your sewing machine (or your mum’s, like I did), and try shit until you create something you can actually wear. Learning how to sew like a professional takes quite some time, but it doesn’t take that much effort to create something fun. Pinterest is your friend!
Play with clay
Polymer clay is pure magic. Just Google polymer clay and you know what I mean. You can make jewelry, beads, pendants, magnets, keychains, tiny versions of everything, and all kinds of decorative stuff. You can even wrap polymer clay around a wine glass. It is just very fun to do and super relaxing.
Jewelry making is something that you can do on different levels. You can make jewelry with metal thread, pliers and beads, you can make earrings from polymer clay, you can wrap metal thread around gemstones, or you can go hardcore and learn how to forge gold and silver. You could create your own style and sell it as hand made jewelry. For now, watch this pretty and wise woman as she makes a beautiful ring from scratch.
Make stunning flower arrangements
Arranging flowers, also known as floral design, is more than putting some flowers in a vase. There is a reason why people hire other people to make their wedding arrangements, and ‘ikebana’, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, goes back thousands of years. A pretty flower arrangement can transform your house, and oh, this is also a job! Don’t know what to do with your life and love flowers? Here ya go! (And look! 😍)
Let’s move on to digital stuff! Also a department I LOVE. Computers are limitless. Whether you’re making digital art or software, you can literally make everything! And digital stuff has one advantage over physical stuff: you can make something once and sell it a zillion times.
Digital graphic arts
My favorite Adobe programs are Photoshop and Illustrator. I started using them about 10 years ago and just tried and tried and tried. I helped a lot of people with making invitations, logo’s, websites, editing pictures, and so on. To this day I still discover new features and tricks. To make the things I want, I need both of them.
I use Photoshop to edit photos and make all kinds of things from scratch by using basic shapes and brushes. I use Illustrator to make complicated shapes from scratch. With Illustrator you can trace (for example your own) drawings or photos, by sculpting clean lines. You can digitalize your art, but very neat and pretty. With Illustrator you create vectors. Unlike Photoshop, which uses pixels. A vector uses ratios and doesn’t have pixels until you export it as pixels. So you could create a banner and have it printed out as big as you want, and it will still look smooth.
The Adobe Creative Suite is a bit expensive, but for me it’s totally worth it. For about everything you see on my website, I used it. You need Photoshop and/or Illustrator skills when you are a graphic designer, a photographer, a website designer, an illustrator, and so on. Long story short: these are very valuable skills.
Master a useful computer program
There is a lot of other software that is useful to master. Think about Excel (which can do a lot more than making lists or calculating simple sums), Adobe InDesign (can create posters, flyers, brochures, newspapers), Adobe After Effects (can make animations, edit video’s and add amazing effects), AutoCAD (lets you make 2D and 3D designs for architecture and construction), Blender (lets you make 3D graphics and animations) and WordPress (used to make this website). Blender and WordPress are open source (meaning everyone can add functions to it), and therefore *drums….* FREE!
I never heard of Blender until I wanted it to make 3D animations for my first ballet recital. I just downloaded it and started. At first it looks very complicated, but you just have to get used to it. Blender is fricking amazing. Think of any fantasy scene that could never exist in real life, and you can create it with Blender as if it is a photo. Not kidding. WordPress is an online tool for making any kind of website. You can start with a template or you can start from scratch, and you can tweak the hell out of your CSS, which brings me to the next skill: coding!! (But first check out this insane Blender scene which, to be clear, isn’t real, it’s all digital.)
Learn how to code
About a year ago, I found out that I wanted to code for a living. To become a C# programmer, I first had to practice on my own. Thanks to my bro who is also a programmer, I soon got the hang of the basics. Programming is not just one thing, you can use it in numerous ways to create all kinds of different things. I started with algorithms to make simple applications, and if you want to learn how to code, I recommend you start there as well. There are a few great websites to learn how to code in various languages.
Learn how to make websites
So making websites isn’t what it used to be. If you want to make a website these days, you can’t just throw in some pictures and text anymore. You’ll have to deal with responsiveness (making it adaptable for different devices) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and aesthetics are more important than ever before. Also, you’re not dealing with just HTML anymore. Now you also need PHP if you want to make something nice.
However, the thing that makes website-making so complicated is also the thing that makes it frickin’ awesome! SO much is possible these days and you can really make magical stuff! And a lot is open source. People will always need websites and being able to make them is a powerful skill. You can also learn how to build assets and templates, create awesome things, and sell them online. And if you want to start a new business, you’ll need a website. Get creative and make it yourself!
Become a photographer
The next one is photography. To make nice pictures, you need skills. Besides knowing how to use the settings on your camera, photography is all about being able to see the world with different eyes and capturing a mood by knowing how to record it. Light and composition are everything.
My friend Frank is an amazing photographer. He can make a picture of a turd and it will still look amazing. And then there’s photoshop. Photoshop can do magic when it comes to pictures. Check out this (second) Instagram account of Mark Singerman, where he shows his before and afters. And check out this wizard’s Facebook page, for example. And the video below of Jessica Kobeissi who clicks a few times and nails every picture.
The thing is though, if you want to be a serious photographer, you need a serious camera and those are expensive. For the post about my house, I used our Canon 7D. It’s an oldie, but it’s still much better than my (also awesome) Galaxy S9+ camera. However, if you really want to get into it, it’s worth it! (But there are tips for making stunning pictures with your phone!)
From frozen images to moving images. Making videos is something my husband did for a while. He made all kinds of video’s, like animations, short films, video’s for companies, countdowns, advertisement, and so on. Making video’s is so broad that you actually cannot compare on way of making video’s with another. You can make youtube video’s that are interesting to a certain target audience, you can make nice shots and put them on Istock, you can make promotion video’s for others, you can become a filmmaker, or you can animate images with all kinds of software. And of course you can combine them.
Learn a new language
On to something completely different: learning a new language! For my previous job, I worked with a lot of languages, and I studied their structures. Languages are insanely interesting. A while ago, I met some English tourists on a canal tour. We talked a little, and switched to the English audio commentary on our headphones so we could hear what they heard. The tourists were stunned by the fact that we understood English as if it was our mother language. Of course they know almost everyone speaks English, but they suddenly realized that speaking another language is really something. And so did I. Most English-speaking people don’t speak another language because there is no need to learn another one. And I don’t think I would have if I was born in an English-speaking country.
I love the fact that I can write and think in Dutch and English, because it gives a whole extra dimension to my thoughts. This article states that bilingual subjects in the linked study were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years later than monolingual subjects, on average. That’s huge! Learning a new language increases connections in your brain, so it’s incredibly powerful. Also, it will definitely help you to make new friends!
Become a writer
You can write! Have you ever read a book that made you forget everything around you? Now that’s written by a good writer. And let me tell you: writing is hard! When I went to uni, I first had to learn how to write. A writing style totally defines the feeling that you get when you read something. You can write a message in a thousand different ways and every version will have a different effect on the reader. In my opinion, a good writer is someone who can affect the readers’ mind. This applies to every kind of text, actually; whether it’s a blog post, a story, an article, a diary, a poem, a song, a letter.
I find sharing something I wrote just as hard as sharing something I drew, especially when it’s about a subject that affects me. Writing is revealing something of your bare mind. It can be liberating and therapeutic for this exact reason. When I kept a diary, I also noticed that I got better at expressing my thoughts, I could think deeper about a subject, and it just benefitted my thinking in general. I literally experienced that my brain improved!
Learning how to decorate homes is a great skill. A home totally influences your mood. Tidiness, colors, placement and overall ambiance can make you feel bad, happy, calm, nervous. When I watch something like Extreme Home Makeover, I can be amazed at how this can totally transform a house and the way people feel. No wonder that this is a thing people do for a living! You can either change your own home into a peaceful palace, or you can create your own business and style houses of others, or give advise.
The last thing on my list is teaching a skill to others. This can range from a video for kids about multiplication, to a make-up tutorial on youtube, to teaching others about the stock market. This can be a long-term project, as people expect you to master the topic. So, it has to be something you are good at or you know much about, or you will have to study the subject yourself first. Maybe you know a better way to explain something, or maybe you know how to make others understand a complicated topic. Maybe you can clarify it with an animation or through an entirely different approach. Let go of boundaries and be creative!
And that is my list! Brains love learning and they are made to do it. You can do amazing things when you go for it! Don’t forget that everything takes time. Don’t give up and I promise you that your persistence will be rewarded. Do you know another great skill to learn that I didn’t mention? Leave it in the comments below!
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