The Shirt Method: How to Learn a New Skill

man adjusting cufflinks
Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

The Shirt Method is basically a principle of mine that confirms that anybody can learn a new skill and be an expert in any field, as long as they put some time and effort into it. It might sound easy, but let me explain in detail.

A few years ago, I moved to the Netherlands with 500 pesos (25 dollars) in my wallet and zero pesos in my bank account. That said, I wasn’t too worried since I was living with my boyfriend and he was paying for our basic needs.

However, I am a person who likes to be independent. The same week I arrived, I began looking for job opportunities. Back in my hometown, I used to be an English teacher. I thought I could find a job in my field, but it just so happened that in order to be able to teach in the Netherlands, I had to have a decent level of Dutch, which I didn’t have.

I then began to contemplate what other types of things I could work on that would give me a steady income every month. Well, the first thing I came up with was cleaning. I immediately advertised my services on Facebook groups, and people started writing to me. So I started working as a cleaner, asking for €7 an hour.

One day, one of my clients asked me to do a little bit of ironing for her. She wanted me to iron her husband’s shirts, and without even thinking, I told her I could do it. But later I realized that I didn’t even know how to place a shirt on an ironing board. So I panicked. What if I burn a shirt?

So naturally, I went on YouTube and watched a tutorial on how to iron a shirt. These days people make tutorials on everything. You don’t know how to clean your oven? Go to YouTube. You don’t know how to use a lift? Go to YouTube. YouTube practically saved my ass. I only had to watch one video, and that video gave me the confidence I needed to iron my first shirt.

The next day, I came clean and told my client that ironing was not something I was good at. I even told her that I had to watch a YouTube tutorial the night before to prepare for it. But she just laughed and said, “No worries. You’ll get good at it.”

In my first hour, I ironed five shirts (12 minutes for each shirt). I was proud of my work. The shirts looked fine, and I didn’t burn anything. I was just happy to be able to do something that I used to think I wasn’t good at. Which takes me to the first rule of the Shirt Method:

1. Stop Labeling Yourself

We often tend to avoid doing certain things because we think we are not good at them. This is because we label ourselves. Perhaps you think you are not a good dancer, but hey! Have you ever given it a try? Or maybe you think you are not a good cook. But who knows? You could be super creative in the kitchen. So forget about the “I’m not good at that” label, and take the opportunity to learn to do it.

Once I learned to stop labeling myself, I began accepting more cleaning jobs, most of which included ironing. I even started to charge more.

2. Schedule It

Just as you would schedule a meeting with your friends, or coffee with your girlfriend, schedule your new skill. Or just like you spend ten minutes (and be honest, it’s probably more) scrolling down on Facebook, invest some time to learn the skills needed to land your dream job.

Create pockets of time for your creativity. Set an alarm, write it on your calendar, and be committed to it. Click To Tweet

I can certainly say I became a pro ironer. But I know that I can apply the shirt method to other aspects of my life as well.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

This is perhaps the most important rule of all. It doesn’t matter whether you dedicate five minutes or thirty minutes to your craft each day. As long as you are consistent, you will improve at it. And without even realizing it, you’ll soon master it.

Nowadays, it only takes me three minutes to iron a shirt. But it took me over a year of practice to be skillful at this.

“It is a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.” Elizabeth Gilbert on Big Magic.

4. Keep Yourself Accountable

Tell the world you’re learning a new skill by posting it on social media. This way you’ll be more likely to commit to it. You can also encourage your followers to start learning a new craft with you. This way you can motivate each other when it comes to your goals.

Another way to find accountability buddies is via Facebook groups. Just type your interests on the Facebook search bar, then click on groups, and you’ll find a list of groups with like-minded people.

**This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase through one of my links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

5. Take an Online Course

These days we can have access to education from the comfort of our homes! Some of my favorite online learning platforms are CreativeLive, Coursera, FutureLearn, edx, and Skillshare.

I also didn’t know how to use Photoshop and just thinking about learning how to use it overwhelmed me. But once I dived into a couple of online courses, I got the hang of it. Now, it’s an essential tool in my illustration business. I use it to digitize my illustrations and sell my artwork.

To wrap things up, I have a little exercise for you. Write a list of some of the things you think you’re not good at and explore them one at a time. Choose a learning platform, select a relevant course, and give yourself permission to start learning how to do it. And don’t forget to schedule it on your calendar!



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Author: Jessica Araus

Jessica Araus is a mixed media artist and illustrator living in the Netherlands.

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