The shirt method is basically a principle of mine that confirms that anybody can be an expert in any field as long as they put some time and effort into it. Sounds easy, but let me explain in detail.
A year ago, when I moved to the Netherlands, I had no job, no income, and no money. I literally had 500 pesos (28 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 wasn’t earning loads of money, but I had a decent salary for the average Mexican. I didn’t depend on anybody. I was paying my own bills, and that is just how I wanted to roll in the Netherlands. But it happened that being a teacher in Mexico is not as easy as being a teacher in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, you need so much more preparation to be able to teach. You need more degrees and courses and they prefer to hire native English speakers. Moreover, you need 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, so that I could help my partner pay for expenses and become a bit financially free. Well, the first thing I came up with was cleaning. I immediately advertised my services on social media, and people started writing to me! So I started working as a cleaner, asking for 7 euro an hour (very cheap) because I thought I wasn’t so good at it.
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. What the heck I was thinking! I had never ironed a shirt in my life. So I panicked. What if I burn a shirt? What if they don’t like how I iron? What if it takes me ages to complete the task? I didn’t even know how to place the shirt on the ironing board. I had no idea what to do, to be honest. So I went on YouTube and watched a tutorial on how to iron a shirt; these days people make tutorials on everything. Believe me, everything. You don’t know how to clean your fridge? Go to YouTube. You don’t know how to use a lift? Go to YouTube. So 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 told my client, “I have to be honest, ironing is not something I am good at. Actually, I had to watch a YouTube tutorial last night 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 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? Perhaps you think you are not a good cook. But who knows? Maybe you are a damn creative in the kitchen. So forget about the “I’m not good at that” label, and just go and do it. Take the opportunity to learn to do it, and then you’ll become good at it. Not only good but great!
Once I learned to stop labeling myself, I began accepting more cleaning jobs, most of which included ironing. I then started to charge more, and even began to enjoy doing it. Ironing became easy peasy. I found it kind of relaxing, I could play my favorite music, and the best ideas sometimes came to me when ironing.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
This is perhaps the most important rule of all. It doesn’t matter whether you dedicate ten minutes or thirty minutes a day – as long as you are consistent at it, you will be good at it. You can be good at anything you set your mind to. You can be a world class photographer, a yoga instructor, a writer, a pianist, you name it. Just go and practice your craft every day for however many minutes you want.
Depending on what you are trying to improve or be good at, it might take some time for you to develop certain skills. However, without even realizing it, you’ll soon be a badass at it. Nowadays, it only takes me three minutes to iron a shirt. But it took me over a year to be skillful at this.
3. Schedule it.
Just as you would schedule a meeting with your friends, a coffee with your girlfriend, or a dinner with your parents, schedule your “new to develop task”. Set an alarm, write it on your calendar, and be committed to it. Or just like you spend ten minutes (and be honest, it’s probably more) scrolling down on Facebook, invest some time to work on the badass “(insert profession here)” you want to be.
Look, I can certainly say I became the best cleaner and ironer in town. But I now know I can be the best at whatever I want to be. I just need to apply the shirt method to other aspects of my life. If I want to be fluent in other languages, all I have to do is dedicate myself to it until I master it.
To conclude this article, I have a little exercise for you. Write a list of all the things you would like to do, but you think you’re not good at. Start by writing “I am”. I am a writer, I am a teacher, I am a dancer, etc. Give yourself permission to be whatever you want to be.
“It is a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.” Elizabeth Gilbert on Big Magic.