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How To Learn and Use Abilities To Create Wealth

Defining Abilities

We all have abilities and we all have more abilities than we think. Being able to speak and read a language is an ability. Being able to cook, clean, use the internet, use a shovel, show up to work on time, drive a car, and use a smartphone are all abilities. Many of your abilities you may not think of as abilities because they seem so basic, but they may actually be very useful. Many immigrants to the U.S. don’t speak English, but are able to use their other abilities like cooking, cleaning, or manual labor to make money.

The abilities that individuals need are based on the family business model the individual intends to use. For instance, if you want to work as a car mechanic, there is no need to learn how to be a lawyer, and vice versa. In a family, there are no hard rules about what specific abilities each person needs; however, parents often specialize in making money or doing things to save money while children specialize in preparing to make money and helping around the house.
My mom’s family were potato farmers. My grandpa farmed, maintained equipment, managed the finances, and kept the house in good repair. He focused primarily on making money for the family. My grandma made food and clothing, maintained the house, birthed animals, helped in the fields when needed and took care of the children. Her efforts focused mostly on making sure the family was healthy and saving money. My mom and her siblings went to school and worked alongside her parents, learning and helping along the way.

My parents followed a similar model, except my dad worked at a university instead of farming, and my mom bought clothes because it was cheaper than making them. My parents required all their children to learn how to cook, clean, do housework, and do yard work. I appreciated having these abilities when I moved out of the house, so I require my children to develop these abilities as well.

Abilities can become more or less useful as society changes. For instance, my grandmother was a great seamstress. As a teenager and young adult, her sewing abilities got her multiple jobs. As a mother, she saved money by making most of the clothes for her family. My mom also sews; however, she didn’t make a lot of our clothes because clothes became so inexpensive. By contrast, when my dad was in college there was no computer science major because there were so few computers in the world. As computers started to become more common, he learned how to program computers and did it his whole career. Knowing what abilities to develop can be tricky, but having broad social connections can help families and individuals discern what abilities will be more or less valuable in the future.

You can use all three types of resources to develop abilities. You can use financial resources to pay a teacher, social resources to connect you with a teacher, or human resources in the form of time and persistence to learn an ability by yourself. Learning from a teacher can be a faster learning method, and the teacher can help you avoid common problems. Having a teacher often requires financial resources, which may not always be possible for the family. Using social resources in the form of family or social connections may help you find someone to teach you for free or at a discount. Either way, learning from others builds social connections that can help get you connected into careers. You can also learn from books, online videos, and online courses. This can be free or low cost, and can easily fit into any schedule.
There are many ways to learn abilities for free. You can learn by spending time with, listening to, and watching people who have the abilities you want to learn. If you spend time talking with or observing welders, you learn a lot about how welders think and what their problems are. If you spend time reading or watching educational material, you’ll learn how people think and how they chose to live their lives. However, if you spend time reading or watching cartoons, you’ll probably learn very little, if anything, that is valuable.

One of the easiest ways to figure out what to learn is by researching successful people and seeing what they do with their time. If there are family members or social connections you want to emulate, talk to those people to get a deeper understanding of what they do and how they think. If you don’t have any people you want to emulate in your family or social groups, you can research successful people on the internet or read books about them.
Of course, you can also consider college or a trade school to help you gain abilities. College or trade schools help you access multiple teachers in a focused career field. Going to college has been correlated with higher income levels; however, a college degree does not guarantee a high income level. You can earn a degree with little or no debt at a good state college if you apply for scholarships, grants, student jobs, or other financial aid. If you get student loans to attend an expensive college, you may be paying off student debt for many years to come. If you choose a major that only prepares you for low-paying jobs, you will have a hard time paying off student loans and surviving financially. College represents a significant investment of human resources (time) and financial resources (money). Talk with family members, college-educated friends, and college counselors as you consider what college to attend, what majors to consider, and how to pay for college.

Mike Rowe of the television show Dirty Jobs says, “Don’t rule out a community college or a trade school.” Community colleges cost less than universities and tend to focus on more useful degrees. Most certifications at a trade school cost a fraction of what college costs. Many skilled workers in construction or service trades have more job opportunities and get higher salaries than college graduates do.


Investing to Gain Abilities

There are really three main strategies to develop new abilities: apprenticeship, self-education, and book/online learning. All learning needs to include some type of usage component or it won’t be retained very well. When looking for ability development, where possible, talk to people who have achieved what you are trying to achieve and ask them what they did and why they did it. There is no shortage of ways to upgrade your abilities; however, many people aren’t aware of all of the different opportunities.

Apprenticeship is when you find someone who will help you learn something by working with them and seeing how they do things. This type of learning is very common in the construction and engineering trades because they are working on complex systems and there are so many different challenges they encounter that no book could ever cover them all. As you learn the new abilities, it is therefore useful to have someone more experienced around to deal with the odd problems and explain how they thought through and solved the problems. Colleges and technical schools offer programs to help build abilities through hands-on learning and help you get apprenticeships. Many programs have delayed payments or even free tuition if you stay in the profession for a set amount of time. Some companies offer employee development opportunities where they will pay for college, certification programs, or other training options, so if you are working, make sure to talk with your manager or HR department to see what resources are available.

Book/online learning has gone from very expensive and dated to now being extremely cheap and cutting edge. There are so many courses, blogs, books, podcasts, vlogs, and some newer virtual reality options, that you can learn almost any ability at little or no cost. I’ve used websites like Coursera, edX, MasterClass, Udemy, Udacity, and YouTube as teaching tools for myself, my family, and my friends. 

Self-education often occurs when there is no one that has done what you are trying to do. Self-taught learning can really be summed up to a mentality of learning through failure, often when trying to accomplish something specific. For instance, there was no blueprint for Elon Musk to follow when trying to make a rocket that lands itself, and there were multiple failures that helped SpaceX learn how to do it successfully. One warning: do not confuse self-education with refusing to learn everything you can from existing sources. For instance, Elon Musk read books and talked with people about physics and existing rocket technology, then experimented and tested to figure out how to move into new areas of engineering; he didn’t ignore everything that had been done before him and try to do it all from scratch. Self-education is a more project-based learning where you have something you want to create, whereas courses often have you solve problems or create something that is used only as a learning tool, such as solving math problems or writing a book report.

Ability Investing Quick Guide

  • Look online for options to learn abilities that you want.
  • Ask people in your network how to learn the ability you want.
  • Find institutions (universities, technical schools, etc.) that will teach the skills you are looking for.
  • Partner with someone that has the ability, so you can develop abilities in other areas.