Mad skillz
December 26, 2012 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I want suggestions for new skills to learn. What are the best and/or most practical skills that you have acquired in life? What did you find was worth really taking the time to master? I am equally interested in short and long term skill sets.
posted by corn_bread to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 122 users marked this as a favorite
Long term: foreign languages, absolutely.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:44 PM on December 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Touch typing - learned it when I was 30. Mario Teaches Typing FTW!
posted by NoraCharles at 7:47 PM on December 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

So I don't LIKE doing DIY stuff or car repair stuff or any of that. I will gladly pay the nice man $40 so I can sit in a nice air conditioned space watching TV while he gets all dirty under my car or while he wrestles with the dishwasher that has mysteriously stopped working.

However, learning to do basic home repair/DIY-type tasks and basic car repair tasks is incredibly useful in a pinch or even to know when you're being bullshitted by the guy you're paying to do it for you so you don't have to.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:49 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Touch typing.

Cooking methods (saute, braise, etc.), which led to being able to cook pretty much anything from a pantry/fridge. Knife skills go along with this and are crucial to enjoyment in the kitchen.

Mending clothes (patching a hole, sewing on a button, fixing a hem).

Basic first aid.
posted by cooker girl at 7:51 PM on December 26, 2012

How to interact with a dog.
posted by HuronBob at 7:55 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Crocheting or knitting.

Fun, very useful, cheap, and life-long. Its also one of those skills that once you master the different stitches, you can go for a long time without doing them but put the materials back in your hand and pop! You've got a new slouchy hat. Also, you can multitask and watch movies, listen to podcasts, ebooks, etc. and you can take it with you anywhere! Planes, cars, camping, etc. Some people I know are sly and bring their knitting or crochet to class. My teachers let this because some people learn better when their hands are active or they can concentrate more. Also you can make stuff and donate it or gift it! :)
posted by fuzzysoft at 7:55 PM on December 26, 2012

Word and Excel. I have gotten many office jobs just by having proficiency in these two programs, plus I use Excel for tons of stuff in my personal life including my budget, planning & keeping track of various things, etc.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:55 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Basic First Aid and cpr.

it is nice to have a plan for emergencies, even if that plan is "find someone more qualified"
posted by larthegreat at 7:57 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Basic home repair stuff. You can pick up a bunch of old books on plumbing, weatherizing, electric work, yard care and hvac for like $5 a pop at half priced books. With just an ounce of curiosity you can fix pretty much anything.
posted by sanka at 7:57 PM on December 26, 2012

I, too, say "touch typing". My mother made me take a summer school course in typing when I was 12, and I have gotten more use out of that course than any other I have ever taken, in high school or college or professional education.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:03 PM on December 26, 2012

Knowing your body - strenuous physical activities now will show you the limits of your body and how to address them. If you do, I guarantee that your mobility and enjoyment of life now, but also when you're older will *greatly* improve.

So: Climbing? Yoga? Gymnastics? Body-weight strength? Capoeira?

Take your pick. Truly life changing.
posted by Riton at 8:15 PM on December 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I learned how to knit in the last year, and I love it. Aside from being fun and creative and allowing me to make my own unique clothing items - as well as special gifts for others - it has improved my focus in general. It requires relatively intense concentration to avoid messing up, but for something that can be so repetitive it is very enjoyable.
posted by wondermouse at 8:26 PM on December 26, 2012

I'd add another agreement to people who've said cooking - especially knife skills, baking, sewing/mending, and touch typing.

Knowing both android/iOS and PC/Mac are also good skills.

Organisational techniques - both digital and analog. Filing, arranging, sorting, etc.

Giving manicures - sounds stupid, but helpful if you have any women in your life. Or men who like pretty nails.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:30 PM on December 26, 2012

feeling comfortable biking in a big city
learning a few recipes by heart (pan cakes, french toast, pizza)
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:36 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Saying "no" to people without providing an explanation.

It took awhile to master but it is easily one of the most useful skills I have.
posted by corey flood at 8:43 PM on December 26, 2012 [19 favorites]

This is practical if you have kids or are around kids. Learn a few basic magic tricks and basic card tricks. My kids, 10 years later still ask about certain tricks. (Also, have a joke ready for either a kid or an adult. Being able to tell a simple joke on demand goes a long way.)

Learning to tie a bow tie and different regular tie knots has come in handy.

Learn to mix drinks. Anyone can mix a scotch and soda, but knowing what goes in a Mai Tai and how to make it will make you the hit of many a party.

Learn to tie various knots. It is a skill that comes in handy way more than you will realize until you know how to tie them.

Learn to say "No" gracefully, forcefully and at awkward times. This is a life skill that is probably the most important one I know besides basic manners.

Learn to handle a firearm. I know this is not popular, but you don't need to own a gun to be able to use one. Go to a range. Rent a gun. Get a lesson in how to use it and how to clean it. This isn't the place to debate guns, but the knowledge of how to use one is an important skill.

Learn to play an instrument like guitar or harmonica. Something you can play a few chords on to sing to kids or sing while hanging with friends around a campfire.

Learn to repair small engines such as snowblower or lawn mower.

Get comfortable with power tools. Learn the safe protocols of working with a table saw, a chain saw or a drill press, etc.

Take a driving course to learn technique in both evasive driving (get away from bad guys) and to learn to drive in snow, rain, and all conditions. My time on a skid pad is one of the best spent money I ever laid out. (Also learn to drive a standard car. You learn a lot about driving in general by doing it and it can come in handy. My first time driving a standard was in an emergency. I had to drive my girlfriend's ex-boyfriend's pickup when she cut herself cooking while we were living out in the country. Although I do think her screaming instructions at me was a help in distracting her from the fact her finger was sort of hanging there, it would have been much better if I knew what I was doing.)

Learn a little bit about wine. Enough to order at a restaurant.

Learn to ask. Too many people are afraid to ask. Being able to say, "Will you help me?" is a great head start in life.

I also suggest you learn to sign. Knowing ASL (or any sign language) will be very rewarding and helpful. It may only come into play once or twice in your life, but read this story for a great reason to do so.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:54 PM on December 26, 2012 [17 favorites]

Shorthand. Taught myself this in grad school to take efficient notes in class, and I still use it in the workplace during meetings. Makes it easy for me to note key things said while focused as a listener because I take notes so fast.

I also enjoy reading literature for pleasure and the shorthand makes it easy for me to jot little ideas or reactions down as I read without taking me out of the text for too long.

And as an added bonus, pretty much nobody else can decipher my handwriting!
posted by Philemon at 8:58 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Robert Heinlein: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly."
posted by bricoleur at 9:10 PM on December 26, 2012 [10 favorites]

posted by bac at 9:15 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

How to open a bottle of wine, ideally with the classic "waiter's friend" type corkscrew. Yes, it's useful to be able to open a wine elegantly in your dining room with a fancy opener and sniff the cork and look all classy, but when you're off in some out-of-the-way place camping and your friend produces a bottle of wine but no way to open it except some guy's swiss army knife, nothing beats being able to just whip the cork out as if it's nothing. Even (especially?) if you don't drink wine.
posted by aimedwander at 9:23 PM on December 26, 2012

If you live in the US (as you appear to), I'd say there are few skills as across-the-board valuable as being professionally proficient in both Spanish and English.
posted by threeants at 12:02 AM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Languages, bread, knots. Nice mix of long-term, medium term and short term there. All come in very handy, with nice feelings of accomplishment, too.
posted by smoke at 12:24 AM on December 27, 2012

Agree with basic first aid and CPR (you can take a 1 day class at Red Cross) but also add on baby CPR and first aid. One time a baby choked on a biscuit right in front of me and my training kicked in instantly.
posted by dottiechang at 12:25 AM on December 27, 2012

- Woodworking, with the associated skills in using power tools, hand tools, and general shop management, even when the "shop" is just a dedicated room in the basement

- Boxing and jiu-jitsu; both have kept me in passable shape into my 30s, and I know that while I will never be a professional fighter, I can handle myself in nearly any situation

- SQL, C, Javascript, and C#. Not something I use daily, as I am a sales guy, but being able to whip together a simple program in any variety of languages/environments is helpful, and more so, I can generally see through a problem because I have a passable understanding of things like relational databases, systems programming, web-based scripting, and .NET/managed frameworks.

- How to fire a gun. Again, rarely used, but I'm not afraid of firearms, nor am I bought into their mystique. They are now just tools.

- Wilderness navigation/hiking/back-country camping.
posted by ellF at 4:08 AM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Learning how to grab a Linux distro and burn it to CD helped me salvage a computer with busted Windows for a kid. Neither of us do much with the command line, but we both appreciated being able to word process, play games and watch YouTube on a computer most people we know would've trashed.

I usually drive an automatic, but I can drive my partner's standard well enough now.

I wish I knew more about plumbing, because it's painful to pay $125 for a clog I could have handled myself with the right equipment.
posted by dragonplayer at 6:05 AM on December 27, 2012

posted by flabdablet at 7:30 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Swimming. Riding a bicycle. What to be aware of in cities and how to get around in them. What to be aware of in remote areas or wilderness and how to move through them. How to operate and maintain the things you use for transporting yourself about.

Learn to drive a standard in case anyone suddenly offers to let you drive their fancy sports car. Learn to drive one because it's fun, and learn how to do it well. If you do need that skill in an emergency, you might be driving an old and balky car, or driving on sand, or going uphill from a stop.

But the very best skill I've learned is how to identify what the problem is that I'm trying to solve, if it's a problem that actually needs to be fixed, and what to do about it.
posted by yohko at 7:42 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Touch typing is also the most useful class I ever took in high school and, since I'm paid to talk to machines all day, it's a skill I use all the time. I'M USING IT RIGHT NOW, IN FACT.

I don't actually know how I learned to troubleshoot, but the general ability to troubleshoot translates into an ability to fix things I don't actually know much about using basic techniques like "what is the problem we are trying to solve? okay, what do we expect to happen and what is happening instead - what changed? break it down into little steps - where in the path do things stop doing what we think they should?"

Lately (which is to say "off and on over the past few years"), I've been working on mindfulness - sometimes via meditating or journaling or whatever. Finding out what's going on under the hood in my brain is helpful, and I think it's making a big difference in my happiness and my ability to detangle what is often a gordian knot in my brain.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:59 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Touch typing is also the most useful class I ever took in high school and, since I'm paid to talk to machines all day, it's a skill I use all the time. I'M USING IT RIGHT NOW, IN FACT.

Word, word, wordy, McWord. Touch Typing. The only useful thing I ever got out of High School.

Spanish (and any other language you can cram in there)

Microsoft Office Suite, but especially Excel. If you can do Excel, you will ALWAYS have a job.

Mastering a popular piece of software is also a pretty handy thing to have. I'm a Admin, but knowing MySQL, or Oracle is pretty great too.

Driving and navigation, with a paper map. So freaking useful.

Using transit maps in foreign countries is a good thing.

I also agree with household repairs. You should be able to replace the flapper in your toilet, wire an electrical socket or light switch (and test to be sure they're right before turning the power back on,) and fix the lock on the front door.

A martial art is fun.

Driving stick shift, you never know when you'll need it. It takes 2 minutes to learn, and about a year to master.

Knowing when to keep your mouth shut, the MOST useful skill. Only took me about 45 years.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:50 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

For me, it's learning to squat and deadlift. I know I have already saved myself thousands of dollars in future medical cost by keeping myself fit. I don't believe there actually any "useless" skills to learn, all skills will eventually be useful, you just need to find a way to use it.

I don't want to reinvent the wheels, there already a lot of smart people on the internet that have already answered your question. Rtheone from reddit gave most comprehensive answer to your question that I have ever seen. Also check out I need a badass skills from old AskMe.

Now what is your excuse?
posted by Carius at 9:28 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by empath at 9:36 AM on December 27, 2012

Mindfulness meditation. Learning to spend time alone, quietly, without a book or anything else to occupy my attention, without feeling bored or twitchy or desperate for distraction.
posted by Lexica at 9:56 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tai chi
posted by tuesdayschild at 5:03 PM on December 27, 2012

Games. Poker, chess, go.
posted by callmejay at 5:45 PM on December 27, 2012

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