There’s no handbook for adult life.
Somehow you’re just supposed to know that you should have more money coming in than going out and you shouldn’t wear a fuzzy orange sweater to a job interview.
We’ve put together our own handbook of sorts for anyone transitioning from their 20s to their 30s, which lists many of the skills you’ll need to survive as an adult in the modern world.
It’s based on the Quora thread, “What are some of the most useful skills to know?” as well as scientific research and expert opinion.
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We can’t promise we’ve outlined every skill, but if you’ve mastered these, you’re off to a good start:
1. Accepting feedback gracefully
“For most of us it is hard to hear how we made a mistake or could have done something better,” writes Quora user Pedram Keyani. “An amazing skill (which you can learn through practice) is to set aside your emotional response in the moment and focus on the information presented to you. Some of it will be valid and some of it invalid but let your brain decide that, not your ego.”
Depending on what kind of feedback you’re receiving, there are different strategies for responding with a cool head. For example, if your boss points out what she thinks is an error and you’re not sure she’s correct, you can say, “I hadn’t thought of that, and I’m going to look into it right away.”
2. Apologizing sincerely
To err is human — but to craft a believable apology isn’t a universal skill.
The apology “needs to be sincere, not qualified, not quantified, and also needs [to] outline how X will not happen again,” Keyani says.
According to one CEO, there’s a six-step strategy for successfully saying you’re sorry:
- Act quickly.
- Apologize in person.
- Explain what happened.
- Show how you are going to avoid the problem in the future.
- Make restitution.
Keyani gives an example of what you might say if you were tardy for an appointment:
“I’m sorry I was late for the meeting. It must have been frustrating because you spent a lot of time preparing and got up early. I did a poor job accounting for traffic and didn’t give myself enough buffer. That is my bad and I’m going to give myself an extra 10 minutes instead of five moving forward.”
3. Managing your time wisely
There will probably never be a time in your life when you aren’t juggling multiple personal and professional priorities. Time-management skills are a must, unless you want to feel constantly frazzled.
Perhaps the most important time-management lesson is that you should stick with one task at a time. Research suggests that multitasking is generally counterproductive because the brain expends energy as it readjusts its focus from one activity to another.
You’d be wise, too, to limit the hours you spend working. Decades ago, Henry Ford discovered that productivity started to decline after employees logged more than 40 hours per week. Other research suggests that, after three weeks, 60-hour workweeks become less productive.
4. Using keyboard shortcuts
“Since most of the work we do nowadays involves computers,” says Arpit Jain, “using keyboard shortcuts definitely gives you an edge and saves you a lot of time.”
Jain posted a list of some of the handiest shortcuts in her Quora answer. For example, simultaneously pressing the “Alt” and “F4” keys when using Microsoft windows lets you close a selected item or program. Keep the list somewhere close to your computer at work to supercharge your productivity.
5. Saying ‘no’ respectfully
Many of us fear the word “no” because we don’t want to let other people down. But when you’re already swamped and your coworker asks you to take an hour to help him with his project report, “yes, of course” might not be the best answer.
“It might sound a cliché, but saying NO when needed can save you lot of time, confusion, guilt, attachment, commitments, stress and other social evils,” writes Yogi Raj.
There’s another Quora thread dedicated to learning how to say “no,” where Eva Glasrud writes, “we routinely overestimate the cost of saying ‘no.'”
According to Glasrud, the best way to muster up the confidence to turn down a request is to recognize that “[t]here are some things you can never have back. Your time, your health, your virtue, your life. Don’t mess around with those things. It’s fine for people to ask — most likely, in their mind, they’re trying to help introduce you to a great person or opportunity or meaningful cause. And it’s just as fine for you to say ‘no.'”
6. Empathizing with others
A number of Quora users mentioned the importance of learning to empathize with other people — to listen to them and try to see things from their perspective.
Psychologists say empathy is a fundamental part of human interaction. In fact, people who lack the ability to empathize and take an interest in other people are often narcissists.
7. Communicating through body language
“Sometimes your body language tells people everything they need to know before you ever open your mouth,” writes Dean Bokhari.
Experts have highlighted specific body language techniques that can make you more likable. For example, don’t break eye contact with your conversation partner, even after they’ve finished speaking. And make sure not to fidget or touch your face too much, which can give the impression that you’re lying or anxious.
You can also read other people’s body language to help figure out what they’re thinking and feeling. For example, if they mirror your body language, the conversation is probably going well. If they smile but there are no crinkles around their eyes, they might be faking it.
8. Making friends in any environment
Mayeesha Tahsin says she thinks of forming relationships as a skill, as opposed to leaving things to chance.
That skill is especially important to develop during young adulthood, once you’re off the college campus, where it’s generally easy to forge close friends.
One way to make friends as a grown-up is to trade confidences. Research suggests that “self disclosure” predicts liking, closeness, and relationship building. Another, surprisingly simple, tactic is to simply spend more time with the people you’d like to befriend. According to the “mere exposure effect,” we tend to like things and people we’re familiar with.
9. Mending your clothes
Button popped off your shirt at work? There’s no need to panic if you’re handy with a needle — which you should be.
“Learn how to stitch that button to your shirt collar or sew back the tear on your sleeve from the edge of the table,” writes Zehra Alvi. “You will save a lot of money by just knowing how to handle that two-centimeter sword.”
10. Speaking a second language
Learning a second language “opens up the mind to an entirely new way of thinking,” says Noe Villela. You’ll notice and appreciate parts of the world you never before experienced.
It’s also possible that learning a new language can make you smarter — though the jury is still out on this issue. Some studies have found that being bilingual can improve cognitive skills, but more recent research disputes these findings.
One of the best ways to learn a new language is through immersion. Get started with this free online tool that replicates the immersion experience.
11. Sticking to a budget
“It’s amazing how many people can’t do the simplest of things — like balance a checkbook, fill out a tax form, make sure that there’s more coming in than going out, [set] aside reserves for contingencies,” writes Miles Fidelman.
Let’s start with “mak[ing] sure that there’s more coming in than going out,” which is essentially about adhering to a budget. We recently rounded up the best budgeting tips from readers who have shared their budgets with Business Insider.
For example, you’ll want to anticipate any major costs in the near future — like if you’re planning to have a kid or go back to school. It’s also wise to set aside an emergency fund with several months’ worth of expenses in case the unexpected occurs.
12. Using basic Photoshop
There’s no need to call in a professional to touch up the headshot you’re posting to your personal website — you can do that yourself, using a few basic Photoshop tools.
“In the professional world few things have helped me more than knowing Photoshop,” says Brad Sanzenbacher.
13. Spending time alone
As an adult, you should be able to spend a full day alone without going crazy for want of social interaction.
Take a tip from Sanzenbacher, whose partner travels often for grad school:
“I approach being alone with a very specific list of things that only I want to do. I go to weird museums, see movies that only I want to see, take mini-road trips, or see bands that only I like.”
If you’re planning to live alone, which many Americans do today, you should accept that you will occasionally feel lonely. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or upset by, but it might be a signal that you should incorporate some more socializing into your daily schedule.
14. Public speaking
You may not ever be required to perform in a Superbowl halftime show, but you’ll almost certainly be tasked with making presentations at work. For that reason, it’s important to hone your public speaking skills.
“[T]he ability to speak confidently to a large mass of people is a skill to be learnt,” writes Ramachandra Bhakta in a since-deleted answer. “It makes a lasting impression and brings you to the notice of several people at once.”
If the mere prospect of walking your coworkers through a Powerpoint gives you nightmares, there are strategies to quell your fear. One research-backed tactic is to reframe your anxiety as excitement, which can make you seem more competent and persuasive.
Several Quora users cited negotiation skills as important for any professional.
If you’re negotiating your salary (which you should do), the best strategy both for getting what you want and still coming off as friendly is to ask for a range including and above your target number. For example, if you’re aiming for a $100,000 salary, you’d suggest a $100,000 to $120,000 salary.
Another trick is to frame your proposal in terms of what you’re giving the other person as opposed to what they’re losing. So instead of saying, “I want $10,000 for my car,” you’d say, “I’ll give you my car for $10,000.”
16. Cooking basic meals
You don’t need to be Julia Child to sustain yourself, or to impress fellow guests at a potluck.
“Know how to cook at least five dishes,” writes Erin Nakano O’Quinn. “These are likely to be dependent upon the culture you live in, but be able to cook at least one vegetarian dish, a breakfast dish, a dish that you can serve to a group of people, a dessert, and a starch. Try to be able to do these without a cookbook, and you can look like a rockstar wherever you go.”
17. Making small talk
Conversation skills always come in handy, whether you’re chatting up cuties at your local bar or networking at a professional conference.
One of the most important rules of making small talk is to demonstrate interest in your conversation partner and let him share information about himself. Another tactic is to flatter your partner, so that she feels better about herself after having spoken to you.
18. Backing up your electronics
Having your phone die or your computer stolen is nerve-wracking enough. Saying goodbye to all your important information with those gadgets is even worse.
Be responsible and back up your data. We’ve rounded up all the tools you’ll need.
19. Asking for help
There’s nothing shameful about asking for a little advice or assistance, especially at work.
In fact, research suggests that soliciting advice can make you look more competent. That’s likely because people feel flattered that you turned to them in the first place.
If you’re looking for general career advice, entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss told Inc., it’s best to ask someone who became successful quickly and against the odds, instead of someone with a more conventional story.
20. Picking up a date
Approaching an attractive stranger and starting a conversation is a terrifying prospect for pretty much every normal person.
But there are ways to reduce both your anxiety and the chance that you’ll come across as a bumbling fool.
One study found that men tend to prefer direct approaches, like “You’re cute — can I buy you a drink?” Women, on the other hand, generally prefer more open-ended questions, like “What do you think of this band?”
Very few people in the study said they preferred standard pick-up lines — so it’s best to avoid those, no matter how clever you think you are.
21. Dressing appropriately for a job interview
We’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but it’s no secret that hiring managers judge job candidates by their appearance.
So avoid wearing too much makeup and definitely don’t show up wearing a hat. Instead, you’ll want to dress relatively conservatively. Even your shoes should be clean and tidy.
The color of your clothes matters, too: According to a CareerBuilder survey, blue and black are the best colors to wear to a job interview, while orange is the worst.
22. Waking up on time
In college, rolling out of bed five minutes before class starts and showing up late because you stopped to get a latte is (sort of) understandable.
In the professional world? Not so much. Pull it together and figure out a personal strategy for getting up and out the door on time.
It really starts with your nighttime routine — so try doing something relaxing like taking a hot shower or meditating before bed.
In the morning, experts generally advise against hitting “snooze” and going back to sleep. Instead, hit the snooze button once and use the time until your alarm goes off again to turn on a lamp and do some light stretching.
23. Giving a good handshake
One poll found that 70% of people don’t feel confident in their ability to give a proper handshake.
But when you meet your company’s CEO for the first time, you don’t want to present her with a limp noodle — especially since a weak handshake suggests that you’re insecure.
The best shaking strategy is to get a good grip, with your elbow nearing a right angle. Be sure to smile and make eye contact as well.
24. Power napping
You’ve heard it a thousand times: Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
But pressing work deadlines, family obligations, and the siren call of your Facebook newsfeed mean that you probably don’t get as much sleep as you need.
Enter the power nap. It’s just 10 minutes long and you sit slightly upright, so that you don’t wake up groggy from a deep sleep. This brief rest period can leave you feeling refreshed and alert.
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