3 High Impact Skills to Learn to Thrive in 2021

Danny Forest


Illustration by the author

Since 2018, it’s been my tradition to write the skills I anticipate to be the most important for the next year. This year, as you can imagine, the skills are a little different. All over the world, radical shifts are happening in massive sectors like healthcare and education. The world as we knew it is gone.

And so, we must adapt. At first, to survive, but then to thrive again. The skills in this article are not surface-level skills. 2021 calls for a reinvention for all of us. I’ve done it many times in the past and I’ll do it again this year. Throughout the article, I’ll sprinkle the advice with both evidence and life lessons I’ve learned.

Do you want to make 2021 better? Let’s get to it!

Note: List ordered in descending order of importance.

Skill #3: Decision-making

“You miss every shot you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky

Have you ever seen someone thrive by not making decisions? Me neither.

Thriving people make decisions and own those decisions. If the decision ends up being bad, they acknowledge it, learn the lesson, and move on. They don’t delve into the past, they make new and improved decisions.

How many decisions did you not make in 2020? What was the cost of not making those decisions? For many people, it cost relationships, money, and sadly, sometimes lives.

On the flip side, how many bad decisions have you made in 2020? Again, what was the cost of making those decisions? Likely about the same cost, right? See, decision-making is a skill you can perfect. As you’ve seen this year, you can survive by not making decisions or making bad ones. But can you thrive?

It’s arguable, but my vote goes for “no”. Look at the people who are still thriving today. Outside the little bit of luck they got, isn’t it true that they made good decisions?

Skill #2: Adaptability

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin

I debated very hard about making this the most important one on the list. My current conclusion is that adaptability is the most important skill to learn this decade (and likely this century), but in the short-term, productivity is more important to thrive in 2021.

We have thrived as a species because we’ve adapted faster than other species. The 21st century is testing our adaptability like never before and only those who can adapt to the rapid changes can truly thrive.

At the moment of writing this, we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic. All over the world, people are losing their jobs. Specialists have an especially hard time. The school system’s diploma is showing signs of weakness. Those who have mastered a branch of skills at school and can’t work because of the pandemic are struggling to find ways to make money.

Polymaths, and even jack-of-all-trades, adapted and found new ways to generate revenues. But it’s certainly not all about money.

Those who can adapt do not panic when their situation changes. They can analyze the situation and try something different. They don’t sit around and mope. They find solutions.

The 21st century is going to throw curveballs like never before. Job disruptions will happen on all fronts. According to a study by two Oxford researchers, Carl Benedict Frey and Michael A. Osborne, by 2033, 47 percent of US jobs will be at high risk of disruption by computer algorithms.

Those who can’t adapt will be left behind.

The knowledge gap between “classes” of people will be wider than it ever was. According to Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus, it will even come to create a new “unworking” class. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

In the twenty-first century, we might witness the creation of a massive new unworking class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power, and glory of society. This “useless” class will not be merely unemployed — it will be unemployable.

Your hard skills of today will not save you from this harsh reality. Even the soft skills I and other experts promote might become irrelevant, but one thing won’t: being adaptable.

Skill #1: Productivity

“There’s nothing so useless as doing effectively that which should not be done at all.” — Peter Drucker

I rank this the most important skill to thrive in 2021. Now that everyone’s searching for employment, guess who will take the highly coveted jobs? Right, those who get things done.

What productivity is not is doing a lot of things. Productivity is about effectiveness and efficiency in two areas: time and energy. Many forget the latter. I’ll cover both equally in this article.

Many people think they’re productive, but that’s rarely the case. When I chat with coaching clients about their habits and schedule, I can always find improvements to do. Most of the time, we’re talking about significant improvements both in terms of time and energy.

I still remember my first-ever mentee having close to zero energy. He was from India and had the guts to reach out to me and ask for help. It turns out, a few months later, I was moving to India in the exact city he was living in.

He couldn’t find the girl of his dreams. He was stressed at work. He watched “success porn” on YouTube for instant motivation, but when it came time to taking action, he didn’t have the energy and felt like he also didn’t have the time.

Of course, all that was in his mind.

And boy is it hard to rewire someone’s brain! I have no pretence that I can do that with you reading this article, but I’ll try anyway!

So, during my time in India, I already saw improvement, but his productivity was still fairly low. A year later, he got it. He found his groove, managed his time and energy better, and found a leadership position in a startup he liked.

And another year later, a few months back, he told me he’s getting married and starting his own company. I had a call with him and he was a different man. He had this glow in his eyes and immense energy and passion.

That’s a productive person in action!

Most people start from the same level my first mentee started. Trust me, there is a path to reaching his level. It’s not an easy path, but I hope this article will help.

After all, being productive is one of the best ways to thrive in a world dominated by procrastination.


2021 doesn’t have to suck as 2020 did.

Sure, the pandemic situation is very likely to stay for a little while longer, but now that you’ve accepted that, you can make good decisions about how to move forward.

I hope you now understand how important it is to learn to become more adaptable. There are many ways to do it, but it starts with taking action on things that are uncomfortable for you.

And above all, I hope you’ll get better at managing your time and energy — the foundation of productivity. The world is getting more and more competitive. If you don’t want to be left out, you have to stop procrastinating, make the best of your 24 hours daily, and be sure to remain high in energy.

If you learn these three skills, I have no doubt you can thrive in 2021.

You can do this!

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