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Adulting Skills


Business people talk about "hard skills" and "soft skills."

Hard skills can be taught with books of instructions—things such as driving a standard shift, using Microsoft Word, or analyzing a blood sample.

Soft skills are such things as showing up on time for work, giving the boss the proper respect, wearing appropriate clothing for the task, and keeping your work area tidy. Many college students figure that the hard skills are all they need, but the hard skills are relatively easy to teach; if you lack soft skills, you will struggle in college and have a lot of trouble finding and keeping a job.

Somewhere in the middle area between these are the adulting skills. People who lack these skills might be able to pass courses, but their time in college will be very difficult. Here are a few you will need—and now is a good time to begin working on them.

  • Doing laundry. Surprised that I put it first? The laundry room is a total mystery to most high school kids, but your mother isn't going to be here to do your laundry. Learn how to do your own. Ask someone.
  • Showering and brushing your teeth. This is mainly a problem for guys. If your hygiene habit is to wait until your mother or girlfriend yells at you, there's a reason people will start avoiding you in the second month of class. Let's put changing your socks and underwear on this list too. There's nothing unmanly about keeping clean, and no amount of body spray will compensate for a lack of hot water and soap.
  • Managing your calendar. You will have at least five different courses, taught by five different instructors who never consult with one another. They won't be yelling at you to get your work done on time either (and your mother isn't here to do the yelling). You need to be ahead of the calendar game, so that two papers due on the same day (which happens to be the day of the big game) will not cause panic.
  • Setting priorities. Everyone will want a piece of you: teachers, coaches, and your romantic partner. Your roommate will want to play cards until 4 AM. Friends will want to go drinking. You shouldn't ditch romance or friendship, but you need to remember that your first A number 1 priority here is being a successful student, and sometimes you need to tell the drinking buddies "Later."
  • Managing money. Invisible money such as the balance on your Eagle Card or the balance on a bank debit card is just too tempting for some students. Get a small notebook and use it to track your running balance. You do not want to run out of money in October just because you like to treat all your friends to pizza every week.
  • Keeping track of your stuff. If you are always losing things, you need to break the habit. When you lose your computer, textbook, Eagle Card, room key, etc., life gets very difficult and expensive. Your answer might be to simplify so there is less to lose. Your answer might be to organize your junk so things do not just land in a heap with all the rest of your possessions.
  • Organizing your living space. If your room at home is a pile of dirty socks, empty pizza boxes, and mysterious collections of grunge, you need to improve your game. You will be living with a roommate who might not appreciate your body odor. You will sometimes need to find—quickly—the assignment sheet and textbook for this afternoon's course. If you accidentally leave your ice cream on your computer keyboard when you go to sleep, disaster awaits you.

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