Essential skills you didn’t learn in college

Everyone learned useful skills in college: How to wire a hotplate without shorting out your room. How to write a 6-page paper in an hour. Life requires a different skillset.

Lee Sang-hak / Yonhap / Reuters / File
High school boys cheer on their college-bound classmates in this 2008 file photo from Chuncheon, Korea. These students undoubtedly learned something from this experience, but it might not be a skill they'll need later in life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this recent WIRED article entitled 7 Essential Skills You Didn’t Learn in College. Among them:

Statistical literacy – the ability to critically interpret presented statistics and sniff out the actual useful information to separate it from the nonsense.
Applied cognition – the ability to evaluate your methods of thinking and processing information and seek out and apply improved methods.
Writing for new forms – the ability to communicate nuanced thought in fewer words (think Twitter’s 140 character limit, for example).
Domestic tech – the ability to make things and repair things at home, from cooking to home repair.

(I particularly liked that last one.)

This article was yet another reminder to me that most of the skills that a person uses in a financially, professionally, and personally successful life are developed outside of a classroom.

In the past, I’ve written about the value of transferable skills, but I thought I’d expand on that by offering up ten more essential skills that aren’t typically taught in college and how you can learn them in your own life.

Money Management 101
How to keep out of debt and spend less than you earn
If more Americans had these simple lessons as part of their life, there would never have been a housing crisis and the economic downturn of 2008 would have been far softer. The fundamental key to money management is to simply spend less than you earn every single month. Part of that involves not overcommitting yourself to future bills – in other words, get sensible mortgages and avoid other debts. It also means learning how to resist the temptation to have all of the material stuff that other people have.

Idea Organization 101
How to organize many ideas to tell a single coherent story
I receive many emails that consist of just a long glob of text with lots of facts and ideas spread throughout. Unfortunately, without a lot of work, those emails are incomprehensible. Using basic strategies for organizing your ideas can make a huge difference in terms of the recipient understanding you and effectively handling your wishes. Key strategies include sticking to only one fact per paragraph, listing all of the facts you want to convey before you start writing, and putting yourself in the shoes of the person receiving the message.

Persuasion 101
How to convince others of your ideas – and understand how others convince you
You don’t persuade others by merely being right on your own terms. You persuade others by making your case clear on their terms. One big part of this is to simply use honey rather than vinegar. Be kind and understanding and leave being judgmental by the wayside.

Personal Growth 101
How to consistently evaluate and improve yourself in every dimension of life
We all succeed in some areas and fail in others. Almost every situation in our lives offers some room for improvement, if only we’re willing to see it and take it. Personal growth requires a willingness to look at our own faults and mistakes and ask ourselves constantly what we can do to improve on those faults in every area of life. It requires that we accept that we’re not perfect and that we can always improve. It also requires us to take action to improve those faults.

Time Management 101
How to organize your time – without over-organizing it
At one extreme, we have people who do no time management at all and seem to just stumble onto whatever task comes next. At the other extreme, some people have every element of their day scheduled down to the five minute mark. There’s a happy, healthy medium that allows freedom while still giving enough structure to make sure we get done the things we need to do. The first step is to keep a calendar. Another step is to constantly keep a “to-do” list going – and constantly add to it as ideas come into our head, writing them down instead of just trying to remember them.

Goal Setting 101
How to set reachable, manageable goals
Goals enable us to work towards something instead of just struggling in a random direction without any real forward motion. A good goal not only specifies where we’re going, but makes it very clear when we’ve reached our goal as well as providing milestones for getting there. Try setting a goal that involves a number so that you can clearly track your progress along the way and can see the impact of your daily choices as you go.

Focus 101
How to eliminate distractions and put your attention on a single matter
How many of you have another web browser or another tab open right now? Is your cell phone on? How about a Twitter client or Facebook? All of these things are distractions that can easily pull you away from whatever task you happen to be working on at the moment.

Public Discourse 101
How to discuss issues without resorting to name-calling
The public arena is filled with incredible viciousness, with people on both sides hurling such hateful terminology at people who merely disagree with them on an issue or two. Discussion and public policy can’t move forward in that state. If more people adopted a more sensible form of public discourse, we could find middle grounds that allow society to move forward. Share the positives of your ideas, not the negatives of other ideas. Don’t resort to name-calling. When criticized, don’t respond with more criticism. Listen (and by that, I don’t mean just wait until your turn to talk).

Marketing Interpretation 101
How to understand how marketing manipulates you in every avenue of life
From politics to what gadgets you want, from the shows you choose to watch to the food you buy at the supermarket, marketing plays a role. The simple ability to figure out what ideas in your head and what ideas spoken by others are actually based on facts or are based on marketing and promotion makes it much easier to cut down to the reality of things, as well as get a grip on your own personal choices and ideas.

Impulse Control 101
How to get a grip on your personal decision-making
All of us are impulsive at times, but impulsiveness can have huge personal and financial costs. The more control you have over your own impulsiveness (including the ability to know when to allow yourself to be impulsive), the more control you have over your finances and your ability to interact positively with the world around you. The easiest tactic is to simply apply a five second rule to each significant decision you make in a day – each item you buy, each thing you agree to, and so on. Just think quickly about the pros and cons of each choice and see how that reshapes your initial impulse.

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