A degree is a powerful tool for your career. It represents cutting-edge academic training. It also serves as a certificate to earn the attention of recruiters.

However, many other talents, experiences, and abilities are just as critical to living life as possessing a college education. Here are several essential life skills you want to have in your toolbelt to carry you through the college experience — and the rest of life itself.

1. Learn to self-motivate

In a poll by High Point University (HPU), 500 C-Level executives of major corporations reported their hiring experiences and what was consistently lacking in candidates. It’s interesting to note that just 11% of those asked responded that technical skills were an issue. In contrast, 38% said a lack of motivational skills was one of the main reasons new hires fail.

This severe lack of motivation is a life skill you can’t teach through lectures or assignments. It requires self-awareness. Individuals must practice identifying a lack of motivation. From there, they must take steps to discover the root of the issue and address it.

It’s okay to feel lethargic, distracted, and even bored at times. The problem is when it impacts your performance at work. So make sure to sharpen your motivational skills if you want to succeed from one end of your career to the other.

2. Improve your time management

Your ability to manage your time is one of the critical factors that will define your success or failure throughout life. Those who are always late almost always miss out on opportunities. Even if they have incredible technical skills, a tardy reputation will frustrate managers and employers to no end, as well.

You can start improving your time management skills while you’re in college. Make sure to get to class on time. Turn in assignments before the due date. If you commit to something or are going to meet someone, make it a priority.

On top of that, take the time to create and keep up on your calendars and to-do lists. These can help you track your commitments.

Remote work has made time management particularly critical. When you don’t have to be to work at a specific time of the day, or you have a boss looking over your shoulder, it can be hard to manage your time. Those who can do so with aplomb will naturally stand out.

3. Stay organized, too

Your time is not the only thing you want to manage throughout life. Staying organized, in general, is a powerful life skill that can take you from a surviving attitude to a thriving one.

Organization doesn’t have to equate to cleanliness. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of people who have their own “systems” of organization that don’t look particularly neat. That said, make sure you’re genuinely staying organized over time and aren’t just using your unique method of organization as an excuse to let things get chaotic.

Letting things get chaotic obviously applies to your physical possessions — but let’s use digital organization as a more poignant example. It’s easy to let your desktop get cluttered with downloads. Likewise, your phone’s home screen can become littered with apps. If you don’t take the time to maintain your digital hygiene, you will become unorganized.

From managing your laundry to compartmentalizing your digital documentation, organization can streamline your activities. In addition, it has the power to help you come across as a professional and pulled-together individual.

4. Hone your emotional intelligence

The High Point University (HPU) poll (referenced above) also identified emotional intelligence as a skill often lacking in new hires.

Emotional intelligence (or EI for short) is “the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others,” according to Psychology Today. It goes on to highlight specific life skills that makeup EI, including:

  • Emotional awareness: Being aware of and identifying your own emotions at any given moment.
  • Harnessing emotions: Utilizing your feeling and emotions and applying them to critical thinking, problem-solving and other constructive activities is important.
  • Regulating emotions: Managing your own emotional state. Of course, you can’t control others’ feelings and emotions — but you don’t have to use inflammatory language and actions that can make things worse for everyone around you. Instead, you can be a calming, positive force for good.

Emotional intelligence is a subtle art. In other words, emotional intelligence is sometimes a “situational skill” that you will likely fail at occasionally. However, as you become more aware of how you react to the world and how it reacts to you — emotional intelligence can be treated as a life skill that you continue to work on from the moment you step foot on campus until the day you retire from the workforce.

5. Develop your communication skills

We live in an era defined by communication. From social media to text messaging, email to phone calls, there are many ways to communicate with those around us. And yet, communication remains a critical weak point in most professional activities.

According to Salesforce, 86% of executives “identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business.” Put another way, nearly all leaders are well aware that communication and the ability to work together are essential ingredients for success.

If you want to succeed in life, you need to learn how to communicate effectively. This starts with basic things like active listening — that is, actually giving your full attention to a speaker and reflecting what you heard back to them. In addition, it’s important to apply things like emotional intelligence to your communicative efforts.

Mastering the art of communication is a life skill that doesn’t come easy. Those who do manage to develop that ability, though, can avoid friction, dodge many unpleasant situations, and improve their overall ability to work with others.

6. Keep up on your budget

The ability (or inability) to manage your money can significantly impact your life. For example, no matter how successful you might be in your career, if you can’t keep track of your income and expenses, financial pressure will follow.

The good news is that you don’t have to become a financial guru to guard against that possibility. All you need to do is practice some basic money-management principles, starting with creating a budget.

Take the time to add up your income. Calculate your expenses. Consider things like debt management and creating a rainy day fund.

Once your budget is in place, update it on a consistent basis. For example, if you get a new job, review your budget. If you get married, rework your budget for two people.

Staying on top of your budget doesn’t just offer monetary value. It also eases financial pressure and helps you do things like save for unexpected expenses or retirement.

7. Learn to stoke your creativity

It’s easy to feel creative in specific moments and circumstances throughout life. But maintaining your creative output, no matter the situation, is a life skill.

Fortunately, there are many ways to boost creativity. For instance, sometimes, the easiest way to stoke your imagination is by taking a break from what you’re doing. Walking in nature is another popular way to disconnect from feelings of stress and overwhelm to recharge your creative batteries.

Every person is creative in their own way. The important thing is identifying the unique ways you can stoke your creativity — even when you aren’t feeling up to it.

8. Be decisive

Decisiveness comes easy to some people. For most individuals, though, making decisions can be challenging. At times, it can even be paralyzing.

Learning how to make effective decisions is a life skill that will help you navigate the many twists and turns of your college and career paths. This starts by improving your confidence in yourself.

Study your strengths and weaknesses. Work on your emotional intelligence. Prioritize positivity. As you become more confident, look for situations where you can exercise that confidence by making thoughtful yet decisive decisions. Over time, your ability will grow until you can face the most crippling determinations with a calm, collected mindset.

Looking beyond your degree

Many things factor into a successful life. While a degree gives you technical expertise and a leg-up in the workplace, it shouldn’t be the primary factor.

Critical life skills like communication and keeping a budget are also crucial in helping you maintain your sanity throughout the ups and downs of life. In addition, nuanced soft skills, like the ability to stay motivated no matter your circumstances, can help you stand out.

So, evaluate your life and consider where your life skills are lacking. Then, identify the areas that can be improved to complement your technical skills as you work your way through college and the career that awaits you on the other side of your education.

Use Your Life Skills to Build the Best Life Possible

You do not need to be fearful of the life you are building as you enter college. Instead, keep thinking and identifying areas in your life where you want to grow and change. With this excellent life skill — you will not just survive your life — you will thrive in it — and that means satisfaction and happiness as you move through college and beyond.

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