8 Things Everyone Must Know How To Do

Let’s get one thing straight: I am amongst the least wise and mature people I know, and if left to my own devices, I would probably have all the know-how and cunning of the little semi-born kangaroo baby that blindly crawls around to find its mother’s pouch. However, I have been lucky enough to have parents that forced me to learn useful things against my will, as well as situations that have left me in tears at the last minute, swearing to myself that next time, I would come prepared. Though I’m still very much in the process of mastering them myself, I at least know what they are. (I hope.)

1. How to drive a manual car.

Let me tell you, learning how to drive on a 4-speed 1994 Toyota Tercel with no air conditioning in the jock-strap-esque humidity of Maryland in the summer is less than ideal. But even in more temperate climates, you will probably spend the first few weeks/months simply dropping the clutch and lurching forward uncomfortably while whoever was unfortunate enough to have to be stuck teaching you claws into the sides of their seats and bemoans their poor gear box. However, once you make it through the awful trial period of doing everything in your limited power to ruin the machine, you’re pretty much golden from there on out. There will be few, if any, cars you can’t drive more or less immediately, and you won’t be left being the derpy American if you go abroad and need to get somewhere that even the socialist tentacles of European public transportation have not yet reached. The entire world makes fun of the States for not having been brought up learning how to actually drive actual cars — we lean more towards the side of go-carts with television screens in the middle of the steering wheel — and it’s unfortunate. We’re a smart people, we owe it to ourselves to learn what it driving really is.

2. How to make minor sewing repairs.

Have you ever found yourself, in an inconvenient or embarrassing moment, realizing that there was a tear in your jacket or a button suspiciously missing from your shirt? If you haven’t, I commend you for buying only the most resilient and durable of clothes, and never snagging your sleeve/pant leg against one of the myriad pointy things we walk by in our daily routines. For the rest of us, though, there have been several uncomfortable realizations that whatever we were wearing or planning to wear now looks significantly less professional/civilized, while simultaneously being reminded as to exactly why we can’t have nice things. But this shouldn’t be the end of the world! We should be able to understand that sewing a button back on, or mending a fallen hem, is amongst the easiest tasks we can take on in a day. If you can poke a pointy thing through a soft thing a few times in a row (heh), you already know how to use a needle and thread. Watch an instructional video, read a guidebook, find any old lady on the street — learning how couldn’t be easier. You shouldn’t have to shuffle shamefully back to your mother to fix your things. You are a grown-ass adult now, time to learn how to replace a button.

3. How to change a tire.

I’m not even going to lie here, I know how to change one in theory. I’ve read about it several times and even watched a few YouTube videos. I’ve had several men, ranging from gawky to burly, do it in front of me and even explain what lug nuts are (aside from hilarious sounding). However, leave me on the side of the road with a sad little flat and some cold rain pouring on me, and I’ll likely just sob quietly as I go through my contacts looking for someone to come help me out. If you manage to get this one down to a science, I tip my hat to you. You’re a better grown-up than I’ll ever be.

4. How to break up with some dignity.

Most of us have had to break the news, at some point in our lives, that things just aren’t working out with that person we used to love so much. It’s extremely uncomfortable, and can often be dragged out over enormous periods of time because we’re just too spineless to suck it up and rip the emotional band-aid off. But even worse than the Breakup That Lasts Twice As Long As The Relationship is the breakup that shows absolutely no respect to the dumpee, or to the relationship itself. If you’ve ever been broken up with via email, text, finding out about a budding new romance, hearing from someone else that they want to break up with you, Facebook relationship status, IM, or complete lack of communication for an extended period of time, you know how much that sh-t blows. Though it’s still awful to have someone sit you down and be like, “You no longer interest me on an emotional, physical, or intellectual level, and I will enjoy life more without you” — or something along those lines — it’s infinitely better than having someone slink off into the night and not even have to deal with your rage/tears/flatware-throwing. We owe it to each other as humans — especially humans who at one point cuddled post-coitus — to give each other the truth and accept whatever reaction there might be. It may not be fun, but it’s definitely what an adult would do.

5. How to do some basic cooking.

For some reason, I have a lot of friends — male and female — who openly pride themselves on not knowing how to cook anything. “I use my kitchen for liquor storage,” they’ll say. “I spend all my money going out to eat.” “I can’t even boil water.” And don’t get me wrong, I know that cooking is far from being everyone’s thing. There are some people who love to do it, for whom cooking is a hobby, an art, something to take endless pictures of and put it on every single social media platform because what do I wanna see more than Instagram pictures of a bowl of rice?! NOTHING. Anyway, for many people, it’s just a means to an end, and I get that. But still, how pathetic is it if you take pride in not being able to get at least a boiled egg from the refrigerator to your stomach? How can someone f-ck up cooking pasta? Don’t you realize that you are going to be amongst the first to get picked off in the zombie apocalypse?!?! You should have at least a minimal understanding of what food is and how it goes from the wilderness to your mouth. You should have a few basic dishes that can always be made in a pinch, and that prevent you from spending 1/3rd of your income at Chipotle and Chinese restaurants. You should be aware of more ingredients than “the sweat of someone else’s hard work.” I feel like it would just be better for society in general, don’t you?

6. How to apologize.

Perhaps the hardest on this list, as it’s so ingrained in our pride to do not want to, we have to get over ourselves just the tiniest bit and be able to own up to our transgressions. We all struggle with it, but when we’re looking at someone else’s apology objectively, we can understand that saying “I’m sorry you were hurt,” “I’m sorry you were upset,” or “I’m sorry for expressing myself, I’ll shut up in the future,” are the linguistic equivalent of making a raspberry and running in the other direction. How satisfying is it when someone truly feels remorse for what they did, learns from it, and expresses sincere contrition over what happened? It’s basically a moral orgasm. We could all benefit from doing it more — and meaning it.

7. How to write a professional email.

I think one of the most shocking things about entering the professional world is often how un-adult it can be. When we’re kids, or even still in school, the world of offices and emails and handshakes and suits seems so foreign and distinguished, everyone participating in it seems a class of human that has gone through an extra phase of evolution. Then you actually arrive in it yourself and realize that people your parents’ age are putting emoticons in business emails and including more exclamation points than a 13-year-old girl describing her first kiss over AIM. There is just a huge disconnect, it seems, for many people as to how to put exactly what they’re trying to say in as pleasant, professional, and inoffensive a tone as possible. So many are the times that I find myself thinking of the sign off to use and whether or not what I’m saying made me sound like as much of an asshole as I actually am, or successfully covering it up with enough extra words. There should be a seminar we all can take that will teach us the difference between “Best” and “Regards” as well as when, if ever, it’s cool to use a smiley face. We should just be on the same page once and for all, and leave the true humiliation for when we accidentally end a business call with “love you.”

8. How to make a budget.

I wish that this came into practice as easily as it comes to mind. I’m pretty sure we all know that we need to spend less than we make, think about the future, and make the most out of the money we have. Knowing just the basics about money, savings, interest, retirement, investment, or even how to balance a check book (things that you never learn in high school, of course, because you’re too busy taking standardized tests full of information you’ll literally never see again in your life), would make a huge difference for pretty much everyone. It’s shocking the amount of us who really just live paycheck-to-paycheck (even if we don’t have to), or pay almost no attention to what we’re taking in vs. what we’re spending. Some of us barely even look at our accounts regularly, unless we’ve gone on a particularly brutal spending spree of late. But it seems that so many of our problems would magically melt away if we were able to maybe draft up an Excel spreadsheet or two, talk to our bank representative occasionally, and manage to put a little aside every month. Or, you know, whatever. Let’s just go to brunch. TC mark

image – Emerson Library

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    sounds like “things men should know to be considered a man” 

    • Gracie

      How about, “things women should know so they don’t fulfill sexist gender stereotypes.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

        stop pigeonholing women! 

      • Olivia

        “Things adults should know how to do in order to be mature, self-sufficient humans regardless of gender”

      • Gracie

        how about “Things men are expected to know, and women are not expected to know so that said men can validate their masculinity by ‘saving the day.'” 

    • lolwut

      This is a stupid statement. The article is basically “Things people of any gender should know how to do to be considered a minimally skilled person” because gender has nothing to do with basic human ability. Stop wasting your time and our collective human consciousness by contemplating your manhood. (Hint, if you have to contemplate it while leaving stupid comments on a web-article, there’s probably not a lot of manhood to contemplate in the first place.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

        why are you incensed by a ‘stupid comment on a web-article’ because frankly, that’s what it is 

  • Anonymous

    Apology = moral orgasm.


  • jess

    ” things that you never learn in high school, of course, because you’re too busy taking standardized tests full of information you’ll literally never see again in your life” HELL YES

  • Anonymous

    I’m almost there, I just need to learn how to change a tire and make a budget!

  • http://twitter.com/alalalex alex

    The picture for this is misleading. Why is “How to be a Pro at Library Hide & Seek” not on here?

    • http://www.grownunknown.com/ Jessica Blankenship

      Once upon a time, people learned how to do things from books.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VYDVROKY4PUBOKUHB3QF42FH2Y Paul S

    I got 7/8. I never knew anyone who had a car with a manual transmission, so I never had the opportunity to learn to drive a stick.

  • USMC Jay

    wow! an actual article about reality and not crying about some sort of insecurity/neuroticism. This is an article for the masses. This new generation of People have no pride in improving themselves/self sufficiency. Just “self esteem” building and therapy, WTF?!

    • Olivia

      Brother, that’s what Thought Catalog is for.

    • Michaelwg

      “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” —John Keating. (Dead Poets Society)
      If you want how-to books, i’m sure your local barnes and noble is filled with “How to be an accountant for dummies” etc.  i’m sure.

  • Anaf.

    I know how to change a tire, I’ve done it by helping multiple drivers. But it’s almost impossible to not feel like a pathetic weak girl when trying to change a tire, the stupid lug nuts are virtually impossible for a woman to get off when they’ve been put on by an air-wrench. The most important advice I can give to anyone is when getting a tire put on in a shop, ask for them to put them on without an air-wrench because it could definitely save you time, frustration, and possibly being put in a dangerous situation!!

    • Marco Gutierrez

      A lot of people have this problem. I have to get someone around 200lbs to jump up and down on the star wrench to get my last tire off.

  • http://jfwhite.org/ James

    Fairly confident I do all these things. Go me!!!!!

  • http://raymondthimmes.com/ Raymond Thimmes

    Forever number 8

  • Anonymous

    I do know how to make a budget. I make them all the time. Now sticking to them..? That’s another matter entirely. :-/

  • Maggie Trudeau

    I usually adore your articles, but the tip about the stick shift was a little too condescending for my taste. Knowing how to drive stick isn’t necessary unless you plan on spending a lot of time in Europe. Europe has the worst cars, I doubt they have much room to make fun of us “derpy” (nice word) Americans for driving automatics when you consider what they’re working with. 

    • Anonymous

      But there are still many people who drive stick shift in America, as well as many kinds of cars and trucks which are mostly available in manual. What if you had to borrow someone’s car, or drive it back for them, and it was a manual? There could be any number of circumstances where it’s useful, I think. The fact that driving a car in most countries outside America would be tough is true, as well, but it’s not the only reason to learn.

      With this kind of thing, I think, it’s better safe than sorry. It only takes a bit of effort to learn, and then you know it’ll never be a problem! 

      And thanks for the compliment. :)

      • Maggie Trudeau

        I appreciate your response. You are right, I have been in instances where I wished I could drive stick. But I just didn’t appreciate the jab at Americans…living in France, I’ve heard way too many I suppose. 

    • You've Heard Of Ferrari Right?

      Europe has the worst cars? I just don’t even know what to say to that.

      • Maggie Trudeau

        Come to Europe, I implore you. Exports != the average car here. 


        Honey, I’m in Europe. I don’t know anyone who drives an American car. Nor a smart car. European cars are the best made cars in the world. Which is why Volkswagen are the most profitable car company in the world!

    • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

      Ferrari. Alfa Romeo. Audi. Volkswagen. BMW. Mercedes-Benz. Maserati. Lamborghini. Porsche. 

      All of these car brands are European. And all, bar none, are more fun being driven with a manual gearbox. Some models you can’t even get with an automatic.

      • Maggie Trudeau

        Yes because everyone in Europe drives a Ferrari, or even an Audi. The cars in France are complete shit, sorry. Most of them are ten year old smart cars that would get totaled in an accident with a mailbox. 

      • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

        …and how is that not fun?

        No, but, for serious. I’ve driven Citroens and Renaults and even the odd Peugeot, and the only thing that made them decently driveable is a manual gearbox, partly because their automatic rev changes are terrible.

    • Candis Jean

      Reasons to learn to drive stick: because your friend is trashed at the bar, you don’t have cab fare, and his car is stick shift. Or. Your roommate gets drop kicked in the face, has a broken nose and you have to drive his car to the hospital… and his car is stick shift. Or, there is a zombie apocalypse and all you can find is an f*ing stick shift. 
      As an American, who only drives automatic, I have to agree with this first point. 

    • Guest

      Europe has the worst cars? You must be a woman.

      • Anonymous

        Psshh guest, sit. My mother made sure me and all my siblings learned manual before auto. And I’ve known since elementary school to always go with the [toyota] over the [buick]. Just hearing/seeing the names Ford and Lincoln puts my brain on red flag alert. I can’t be the only woman who wasn’t born with a monkey wrench in her hand but still knows wtf’s up. Long live imported. Long live the stick shift.

    • Heather

      If Europe has the “worst cars”, how come more and more Americans are buying Landrovers, BMWs, Audis and Mercedes? Because they’re much better quality than the shoddy crap that GM produces.

  • Chris

    Swimming.  Swimming is not on this list, likely because in Annapolis EVERYONE KNOWS HOW TO SWIM, BECAUSE IT IS IMPORTANT.  The end.

  • http://lifeasacynic.blogspot.com/ synical

    Where I’m from, everyone is required to know how to drive stick in their driving lessons… at least, until you pass the test. You don’t learn how to drive an automatic transmission, that’s just a privilege you get after you get your licence. I thought it’s just a skill you need to have if you’re a contestant on The Amazing Race.

    I also theoretically know how to change a tyre, except that I don’t have the upper body strength and don’t weigh nearly 300 lbs to do anything to the lug nuts that have been screwed on pneumatically at the mechanic’s.

    • Chris

      Of course you don’t weigh 300 lbs, that’s what the long lever bar is for… but I guess you only trust it when you’ve used it

  • Michaelwg

    “If you can poke a pointy thing through a soft thing a few times in a row (heh), you already know how to use a needle and thread” The skill level in these two activities are in no way connected, I assure you.
    As for surviving the zombie apocalypse, rule #1 is cardio. I don’t think cooking pasta breaks the top 10. Not that cooking is not a great skill to have, it’s just not as good as the “Double Tap” in Zombieland.

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  • Bleh

    boring and judgey.

  • Elfwitthering

    It was very boring. Lol

    • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

      Why are you lol-ing then?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EFOMW25VTRALGRXFWKT4OX3PBI Aus

    I successfully changed a tire out of necessity the first time. Drunk.

  • About to be berated

    Is it just me or is thoughtcatalog overrun with cynical and relatively unnecessary remarks? I commend you portraying a different view, really guys, but even that requires that you remain aware that the people reading this aren’t taking it as all-holy-word. It’s like taking the onion as straight news coverage. 

    As far as the professional email goes- you nailed it. Coming from a government job, I can assure you that some emails I’ve received are embarrassing at best. But being that I’m temporary, I don’t feel I’m exactly in the position to comment. 

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  • http://twitter.com/gypzAndy AndreaCarmona

    I can do 6 out 8! Yay! I think that’s good for now.

  • http://twitter.com/shrmla S.

    European cars rock. And do the Japanese ones. My dad had a Mazda (manual) for 23 years. 1st car I learnt to drive in. Mum had a Fiat.

    Anyway, 6.5 out of 8. I say .5 because I have changed a Tyre on my own. with instructions. So yea. On my own with instructions. Something like that.

    I’m terrible at a budget. No idea how to do balance sheets, hate it with a passion, am rubbish at maths. Seriously. But I do know where my $ goes to. And I can’t say I’m broke. So I guess I’m ok.

    Good list.

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