Adulting has its perks, no doubt: paychecks in the bank, decorating your own rental, buying real furniture, to name a few. But it's also a time of growth, change—and yes, plenty of responsibility (ugh). Things like setting up a retirement account, figuring out a career trajectory, or planning for future offspring are critical life skills that will set us up for the rest of our lives.
Whether you've just finished school or are a seasoned careerist, this checklist can be your starter guide through the never-ending uncertainty and newfound freedom of adulthood. If you haven't practiced these essential life skills on the reg, better late than never!
01. Sticking to a Frugal Budget
We all need to manage our finances wisely. Even if your financial situation lets you live comfortably or spend luxuriously, it’s best to live below your means. This prepares you to tighten your wallet should the need arise. Setting a strict budget forces you to analyze your earnings and spending habits. Healthy money management will also help you strategically save for a long-term investment or splurge, like your dream vacation.
02. Conversing with a Stranger
Master the art of small talk. This is a skill you’ll need for many situations involving meeting new people, both on awkward first dates and awkward networking events. Already a natural at striking up a casual conversation? Practice steering small talk it into meaningful conversation. This includes focusing on drawing out the other person and learning how to engage personalities and networking styles that are different from your own.
03. Traveling by Yourself
More often than not, we travel with company: friends, family, significant others, coworkers, and so on. But traveling solo pushes you to plan independently and not just tag along for the ride. It can be intimidating to explore a new place by yourself, but growing comfortable spending time alone and in silence is something we all need from time to time to deeply reflect upon ourselves.
04. Negotiating a Raise
Know your own professional worth. When you allow an employer to take your talents and skills for granted, you are hurting yourself and your prospects. Understanding the price dynamics of your industry or market takes some research, intuition, guts, and gall. Don’t back down from opportunities to get paid fairly by meeting with your boss or at a performance review.
05. Sewing a Button and Mending a Hem
Sewing has become somewhat of a lost art. You don’t need expert-level skills, but learn the basics like sewing a button and mending a hem. Inevitably, buttons pop off and hems rip, usually when it’s least convenient. It’s easier than you think, and you won’t need to spend the time or money it takes for a tailor to fix or replace it with something new.
06. Making a Habit of Unplugging Daily
All day long, we’re surrounded by digital devices that definitely help us, but also distract us. Earlier this year, Business Insider published a sort of exposé on how Silicon Valley execs (like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates) carefully limit how much time their children spend with technology, which tells us that they know its affect on our minds. Train yourself to consciously unplug daily, and even do it for extended periods of time. It’s important for our health, productivity, and creativity to take a break. Put away your phone during your commute or read a book before bed instead of catching up on your favorite show or scrolling through social media. It can wait, but your well-being won't.
07. Being Comfortable Around Children
Not everyone is naturally a 'kiddie” sort of person, so don't worry if you aren't. The important thing to remember about kids is that they have no concept of trying to be cool, fun, or any of those other social complications that adults have. Children are honest, straight to the point, and can see through insincerity. Regardless of whether you plan on having children of your own or being the “world's best aunt,” spending time with these little mentors will teach you patience and authenticity—character traits that will serve you in every aspect of your adult life. Offering to babysit or just hang out with kids can be trying, but it also gives you a new perspective (and a few laughs). Enter your thirties feeling confident and comfortable around youngins.
08. Coping With and Rising Above Setbacks
You’ve likely already come across some setbacks or failures throughout your life. We all react differently to personal challenges, so it’s key to learn how you naturally respond and practice the best coping mechanisms to dealing with stressors. Sometimes we can’t do it alone, turning to a therapist or trusted mentor can give you the help you need to stop or prevent unhealthy patterns.
09. Mastering a Signature Dish or Meal
Pick a dessert, drink, meal, or other treat to practice and perfect. Not all of us excel in the kitchen, but we can learn to make something within our culinary means. Choose at least a few of your favorite recipes to refine so you'll always have something in your back pocket ready for guests, friends, and family.
10. Receiving and Giving Critical Feedback with Grace
Feedback is an unavoidable part of any workplace. Whether you’re giving or receiving it, do so clearly, constructively and courteously. View it as a collaborative conversation rather than someone delivering "bad news." You will find that others will appreciate your honesty and kindness, resulting in positive professional relationships.
11. Knowing Your Work-Life Balance Limits
Keep yourself from falling into a workaholic lifestyle centered around a culture of busyness by setting clear boundaries for your personal and professional lives. Learn to prioritize your activities and involvement in business and play. Put each piece in its rightful place, making time for what you need to stay happy, healthy, and productive.
12. Ending a Relationship Kindly and Clearly
This is one of the toughest skills, but it leads to a great deal of personal growth. Avoid messy breakups by being straightforward and conscientious when you end a relationship. It’s important to learn when and how to tactfully cut off non-romantic relationships, too. Uncertainty is torturous post-breakup. Is it over forever? Or is there still hope? Don’t leave a trace of doubt about your intentions.
It’s not doomsday if you reach your thirtieth birthday and don’t totally own these twelve skills—many of us in our thirties and forties are still mastering them. But becoming our best selves is always a work in progress. Using your energy and time well now sets you up to thrive in your thirties and beyond.