Written by RJ Firchau
What a time to be alive. Your 20s are an awesome decade. You’re no longer in school, and while you’re certainly close to becoming a full-fledged adult, you can still enjoy the freedom that comes with having fewer responsibilities to tie you down. But, just because you’re out of school and you’ve got a shiny new Bachelor degree hanging on your wall doesn’t mean that you’ve got everything figured out. There’s still much to learn, and it’s especially hard to do so when you don’t have a professor to teach or a textbook to read. No, you’re on your own. And finding the motivation to keep on practicing and pushing yourself to new limits can be tenuous, especially when it’s so easy to just laze around, eat takeout, and watch Netflix day-in and day-out. But if you keep falling into an unproductive routine, time will sneak up on you, and all of a sudden 30 will roll around and you’ll have nothing to show for it. To help you navigate the gray area between college and marriage or a stable career, here are 15 life skills every 20-something should master. From soft skills to help you get ahead, to practical knowledge like learning how to cook for yourself, these 15 skills will help set you up for the long haul, and by the time you’re 30, you’ll be better for it.
1. How to Start an Interesting Conversation
In the age of social media and conversations mitigated by 140-character limits, it’s admittedly harder than ever to strike up a sincere conversation face-to-face. That, coupled with the inevitable fear of being awkward or saying the wrong thing, makes talking to people a serious challenge. But a friendly conversation with a stranger could lead to a new friend, an addition to your network, or even a business connection that could impact your entire life! But you’ll never know until you try. So, you know, get out there and say “hey” every once in a while. And please, don’t talk about the weather.
2. How to Practice Table Manners
Your 20s will be full of meal-centric events, whether it’s getting together with an old friend over brunch, going on a first date, or having an interview over coffee. Take the time to learn and be aware of your bad table manners, if you have any, and fix them.
3. How to Deal with Rejection
From coping with a breakup, to getting turned down by a company you really wanted to work for, your 20s will be rife with rejections big and small. It’s a tough pill to swallow when something doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to, but it’s up to you to make the best out of situations like these. Practice resilience, keep your head up high, and move forward. Otherwise, you’ll always be hung up on the past.
4. How to Learn after You’re Done with School
It’s a relief when you’re finally done with school, but you should never stop learning and searching for ways to grow. A dormant mind creates a dormant life, and the last thing you should want is to stop growing before you’ve barely begun. Read a book, keep up with the news, and always seek for ways to go above and beyond at your job. The more you learn, the more fulfilled you’ll feel, and the more opportunities you could create for yourself.
5. How to Budget
Take a few minutes one day to record your take-home pay, your set monthly expenses, and your fluid monthly expenses to track where your income is going, and what you can put into things like savings accounts and 401Ks. Being able to budget, have your finances in order, and have a solid credit history will set you up for things like buying a car, investing, and owning a house. Maybe these things seem daunting, but it’s never too early to start preparing.
6. How to Give Your All to Your Job
Our generation is constantly criticized for having short attention spans and always wanting what’s “bigger and better” without actually putting in the work it takes to get there. Even if you’re working at a just-trying-to-pay-the-bills sort of job, start learning how to work hard and develop good habits as an employee. Anticipate what it’ll take to get ahead, give your all, and take responsibility when you mess up.
7. How to Make (and Order) a Proper Cocktail
Gone are the days (we hope) of walking up to a bar and ordering a Mind Eraser. If you don’t like scotch or appreciate the cutting mouthfeel of a good whiskey, now’s the time to learn. Start ordering your drink like a real man, and learn how to make a few of them, too.
8. How to Make Other People Feel Important
Now that you’re out of school, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that it’s no longer all about you. And that’s fine! Learn how to make other people feel important, and how to be happy for others and share in their success. Keep up with other people’s’ lives (even if it means taking notes or writing down things you talked about the last time you saw each other), let them know when something they did was phenomenal, and avoid making comparisons or belittling the success of others. Karma is a, well, you know.
9. How to Learn Skills Outside of Your 9-to-5
Break the habit of work, eat, sleep, repeat while you’re still young. Like we’ve already said, the learning shouldn’t stop when you graduate. And further, your work shouldn’t stop when the clock strikes 5. Commit to learning something outside of, or complementary to, your line of work. Learn how to code, pick up a new language, or invest in a new hobby (Hiking? Fishing? Making ships in bottles??) and vouch to stick with it. You never know if it will grow into a passion (or even a career pivot!) unless you give it a go.
10. How to Learn from Your Parents
For lack of a better way to say it, your parents won’t be around forever. Spend more time talking to them, being with them, and learning from them while you can. If your parents have traditions—maybe a holiday regimen or a recipe that’s been passed down for generations—now is the time to learn them.
11. How to Know when Enough is Enough
There’s a fine line between sticking something out and not giving up too easily (be it your job, your significant other, or your roommate), and knowing when to throw in the towel. Your time is valuable. Know when to respect yourself and change what doesn’t suit you.
12. How to Drive Stick
A lot of the coolest cars are made with a standard transmission. Driving stick seems to be a novelty and a dying art form these days, so why not learn? It might come in handy one day, and at the very least, it’ll make you cooler.
13. How to Present Yourself Properly
Dress your best, whether you’re going to the grocery store or a big-time interview. And, on top of that, make sure your act is as good as your suit. Be polite, be engaged in your surroundings, and know how to do subtle things like give a firm handshake. You never know who you’ll meet.
14. How to be a Good Public Speaker
No, you don’t have to get on stage and give a Ted Talk, but you should spend your 20s learning how to stand up in front of a group of people, speak, and do it well. If it freaks you out, fake it till you make it. From business presentations to giving a toast at your best friend’s wedding, you never know when speaking confidently will come in handy (and it will).
15. How to Cook
Don’t rely on your mom, your girlfriend, or your roommate to feed you. Be self-sufficient and learn how to cook a dish or two. Start with the basics, like properly cooked eggs, chicken and rice, and boiling pasta. Knowing how to cook for yourself is impressive and will help save you money in the long run.
Now, get out there and be a twentysomething that future you will be proud of.