The following are what I consider to be life skills for everyone that you won’t see in the usual lists floating around the internet. Mastering just a few of these will improve your well-being as they have mine.
If you already know them, teach a friend or if you have kids, teach them. For specifics on how to do any of the following, Google and YouTube are your friends.
Now you might ask, “Why should I listen to an old fool like you? You aren’t famous. You aren’t rich. You’re really a nobody.” I admit I’m old and often foolish and while I may not be rich I am comfortable. As for being a nobody, I’m somebody to the animals I’ve rescued and care for, to the Kid and to the Wife. Their opinions about me matter more to me than the number of readers I have of this blog, Twitter followers or Facebook friends. Besides my advice won’t kill you, unlike Jenny McCarthy’s.
As MM catches in the comments there is no particular rank to these skills. They’re pretty much in the order they came to me, and this being an easily editable blog post, I’ll continue adding to the list. Enjoy!
1. Safely change a flat tire. Nothing screams “Moron!” like driving on the shoulder with a flat-tire, turning a $10 problem into a $200 one. And while I recommend AAA, there’s no reason to call them for a flat unless you are a woman. I’ve driven half a million road miles and have never seen a woman change a flat. Evidently it’s something that men can do that women can’t, like pee standing up (although I have seen women do that.) You’ll know we’ve achieved true equality of the sexes when you see women changing flat tires. Sexist? Yes, but you don’t need much upper body strength to fix a flat.
2. Learn how to do laundry. Hint: Like likes like. Oh, and read the label (if you haven’t cut it out already).
3. Be able to prepare and cook at least one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. The key? The only time you use high heat is to boil water. Everything else cooks best with moderate heat. Always keep a jar of pasta sauce, box of spaghetti and a bag of frozen meatballs on hand. Within 20 minutes you will have dinner for two.
4. Learn how to use a multimeter, specifically how to measure resistance. I’ll admit I’ve used multimeters for a long time but only figured out how to measure resistance last week. It’s like using a hammer for years to pry nails up and then realizing that gee, you can beat them into the wood too. Seriously it was a revelation. Once I learned this I was measuring conductivity of everything in the house. (Tip: Cats are NOT conductive, at least at the amperage contained in your average multimeter.) Bad fuse? You’ll know instantly. Short somewhere? Your multimeter will help you find it.
5. Balance a checkbook. Learn how to handle cash flow, especially when using checks and maintaining a small balance.
6. Floss. Your dental hygienist is right. Flossing makes a big difference. Not only does it keep your teeth clean, it helps maintain your health. And it makes kissing bearable.
7. Learn how to correctly iron a shirt. In today’s casual business environment of “wrinkle-free” shirts and slacks, you might think this is anachronistic. Think again. Even the so-called wrinkle-free shirts look positively frumpy compared to a well-ironed shirt. It’s a small detail that says a lot about you to your colleagues and will be noticed, even if you are a jeans/t-shirt type at heart. Every decent motel contains an ironing board and an iron. If you are traveling on business, use them.
8. Do your own taxes. Using software is okay, but before you go to H&R Block or let your brother who is studying accounting do them for you, do them yourself. Doing so will teach you your relationship to society. You will see learn that the rebate check you receive after you file isn’t a gift: it’s the money taken from you throughout the year that’s leftover after the government takes its cut.
9. Sew a basic stitch. Buttons pop off at inopportune times, and small tears can often be handled with a few stitches. Sewing kits tend to breed in drawers. Learn how to use them.
10. Never run out of gas. If you live in a hurricane prone area it’s a good idea to never fall below half a tank during hurricane season. If you can’t think far enough ahead to avoid running out of gas you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.
11. Learn how to say “No, thanks.” This is one of those general life rules that should be common sense but isn’t. Learning how to say “no” without causing offense or leading to intimidation is one of those skills that once learned can save you from a lot of grief. Is a guy hitting on you wanting to buy you a drink? Say it politely. Are your buddies offering you one for the road? Don’t take it. The boss offering you another project to take on to your overwhelming work load? Say, “Not until I get some bandwidth. As soon as I finish (X project) I’ll be happy to take it on.” No is one of the shortest yet most important words in the English language. Use it to avoid trouble.
12. Make being skeptical instinctive. Everyday we receive more marketing offers than ever before promising us endless opportunities and joy. None of them actually deliver. You are a target, a walking wallet to an assortment of sundry, often shady enterprises. Maintaining your skepticism will help you avoid being scammed.
13. Pay your bills on time. Preferably a couple of days before they are due. Get in the habit and you’ll avoid late fees, collection calls, dings to your credit rating.
14. Safely handle a firearm. Guns are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be surprised at how tasty the tea is once you try a sip. There’s a mystique about guns thanks to the anti-gun media, and it’s one that isn’t based on reality. The reality is that like any tool they have their uses. Knowing your way around a handgun or rifle de-mystifies them. They are tools with a purpose, and just as you wouldn’t think about playing with a running chain-saw (at least while you’re sober) if you treat guns with the same respect you will have nothing to fear from them. As an ex anti-gun person who is now a card-carrying member of the NRA, take my word for it. Even if you decide you do not want a firearm in your house, learning about them will help you make an informed decision.
15. Learn a poem by heart. I’m not sure why it’s important, but trust me, it is. In college I memorized Theodore Roethke’s I Knew a Woman, and every time I recite that poem something stirs deep within me. It’s not meant to be explicable, just experienced. “She moved in circles, and those circles moved.” Delightful!
16. Avoid socializing with emotional vampires. I first saw that term used years ago in a Harlan Ellison book where he recommended this, and experience has taught me the wisdom in this statement. You have to recognize that there are people you can’t save. Often these people don’t want to be saved or merely exist by feeding on the kindness shown to them by their friends and family members. In the end they will suck you dry of your money, your love, or your mental well-being, leaving you a drained corpse while they move on to their next victim. Whether it’s a family member or friend, run don’t walk away from these people and cut them out of your life.
17. Memorize the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Not only does it sound charlie-oscar-oscar-lima when you say it, it also helps people understand you when you’re talking on the phone. I find it ironic that while telephones have improved and become more mobile thanks to the invention of the cell phone and its evolution into the smartphone, call quality hasn’t improved. If anything it’s gotten worse, so knowing the phonetic alphabet will help you order the right item on a website, or help guarantee your name is spelled correctly on a form.
18. Learn how to ride a motorcycle. Yes they are dangerous. According to a UK study motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries compared to cars. According to most motorcyclists though, they are at least 16 times more fun to ride. There is nothing quite like the joy of riding a motorcycle on the open road. A motorcycle makes you feel a part of a landscape instead of feeling apart from it, puts you in it instead of seeing it through panes of safety glass in a steel cocoon. While I wouldn’t dream about using a motorcycle to commute to work with on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, I’m glad I own one for the occasional times when I just want to escape. Oh, and another thing: You can’t multi-task on a motorcycle. Being on a bike forces you to enjoy the moment in a way a car cannot.
19. Keep a pet. Keeping a pet forces you to think about something else besides yourself. If you’ve never had a pet before start with something small and easy like a goldfish and work your way up. Seriously. Don’t immediately adopt that cute Jack Russell you saw outside the Petsmart; you have to work your way up to high maintenance animals like that. Oh, and never pay for a dog or cat unless its to cover spay/neutering or other vet costs. There is no shortage of these animals, and while I recognize that most breeders are decent people who care about animals, the reality is that the shelters are full of animals needing homes.
20. Live in a foreign country. Nothing teaches you about your own country like living outside of it. Sure you’ll learn about your host country, but you will become a window through which others see yours. You’ll be surprised at what they say and think about your country and your people, and you’ll gain a new perspective on what being a citizen of your country means.
21. Learn how to wait. Most of life isn’t exciting and the fact is you will spend a lot of time waiting. There are several kinds of waiting – waiting for the right man/woman to come into your life, waiting for better times… But the waiting I refer to here is of the more mundane variety such as what to do while waiting in line. The next time you are in line at the grocery store watch what others do while they wait. The majority fidget, checking their phones or the headlines on the tabloids. Hardly anyone relaxes or simply observes the world around them. I’ve been told that veteran soldiers become the masters of handling down times like waiting. They’ve been trained to use the free time to rest their minds, even sleep when possible, so that the next time things get exciting they will be mentally alert. When I’m feeling particularly Zen I like to practice mindful meditation, focus on my breathing and allow the world to happen around me as if I were a leaf on a pond. But since I suck at Zen I struggle just like everyone else. Like all of these items on this list I am learning to perfect this skill which isn’t easy to do since my monkey mind is rather gorilla sized.
22. Study a foreign language. As my friend PJ suggests in the comments, this is a life skill worth trying. I stress “trying” because I’ve never come close to speaking a foreign language fluently the way my friends like PJ or the Wife (who’s fluent in several) have done. Learning a foreign language has many benefits, some more obvious than others depending on circumstances. But regardless of what you study you will see the world from a different perspective, even if you never attain fluency. Take Japanese. I never came close to mastering it, but learning the basics of the language taught me some key assumptions. For example, in most cases “I” is never used and is implied. This ambiguity touches upon the cultural trait of the Japanese stressing the group over the individual. The language also relies upon honorofics, for example the “-san”, “-chan” and “-sama” suffixes that portray the rank of the speaker and whom he or she is speaking to. Japanese conveys the social contexts of the speaker and the listener in ways that are impossible or at best archaic in other languages. Think Downton Abbey for a taste in English.
23. Listen to an old person. I know people who met people who had been born into slavery. Others I’ve talked to remember life without indoor plumbing. While waiting for a car repair to finish I once talked to a Vietnam vet who flew psyops over North Vietnam. What’s better than talking to someone about history who’s lived it? For most of our history as a species the only history books we had were our elderly. The only problem with these “books” is that often by the time we need them, they’re gone. It’s a cliche to attack our youth-centric culture, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the frivolity of youth as long as we keep the more important of life’s decisions in the hands of those who appreciate history and the sense of proportion such knowledge brings. Everyone has elders. Get them talking about a particular subject they are interested in, then listen to them. You might learn something.
24. Patronize an unknown artist. Perhaps there’s a street musician you pass by on the way home who is playing music you like. Don’t just toss him a buck; buy his CD if he has one laying out. Visit art fairs and art shows that spring up locally and put some of your hard-earned cash into the hands of a skilled but unknown artist or craftsman. Instead of buying a poster of a dead artist, buy an actual print of a living one. We live in an age of mass production where few things are handcrafted. Even things that were once hand made like prints of the Masters are now mass produced. We are human beings, each crafted through evolution by genetics to be one of a kind. We should celebrate this not hide it behind some cheap prints picked up at Ikea. There are artists in every community who are doing amazing, unique things in their preferred medium. Each piece purchased is guaranteed to be one of a kind and makes more of a personal statement than the same French Cat poster that everyone displays (I admit I used to display it too).
25. Challenge yourself. It might be to do something easy like take a different route home from work, or it can be more difficult like quitting smoking or starting the novel you’ve always wanted to write. The key point here is to force yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that will surprise your friends, your family and ultimately yourself. It really doesn’t matter if you succeed or not, only that you tried. And once you’ve quit smoking, taken that out of the way route home or written that novel, try something else. I’m teaching myself the mathematics behind quantum physics because I’ve reached a point where I feel I need to understand the math in order to understand the physics better. My goal is to someday touch the math describing the collapse of the wave function. That will be enough for me.