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6 “Impossible” Life Skills That Are Much More Doable Than You Think

This article is brought to you by Lingoda.

I harbor a secret disdain for the term “adulting” and all its adjacent catchphrases. When someone claims that they “can’t adult today” or “adulting is hard” in response to being marginally challenged or inconvenienced by any act of responsibility, it makes my teeth itch. This weird noun-to-verb bastardization represents a gross oversimplification of the knowledge and skills of a functional adult and creates an unspoken expectation that if you’re struggling with one of them, you are objectively failing.

In truth, the full breadth of the necessary skills that contribute to a healthy, functional adult life cannot be mastered by the age of 25 or even 45 — and that’s okay! None of us went from zero to calculus overnight. We started with counting our own toes and proceeded to learn increasingly difficult mathematical skills and concepts over the course of 15+ years before tackling partial derivatives. And just as we didn’t expect our five-year-old selves to know the quadratic formula by heart, we shouldn’t expect our young adult selves to become tax savants, master gardeners, and accomplished home chefs the minute we receive our first paychecks.

Every major life skill, no matter how big or impossible it seems, can be learned with steady practice over time. All you need to acquire and even master virtually any new skill is consistency and the ability to appreciate small wins. We’ve partnered with Lingoda, an online language school built for real life, to help you tackle these six “impossible” life skills no matter where you’re starting from:

1. Becoming A “Person Who Works Out”

Just as it’s time to stop using “adult” as a verb, it’s time to stop saying “I’m not a real runner.” It’s a bogus concept defined by bogus criteria. As someone who has been running on and off since the age of twelve, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: In order to be a runner, you don’t need a GPS watch, a heart rate monitor (or any clue what your resting heart rate is), a favorite sports drink powder, high-tech underwear, a race schedule, or expensive shoes.

In order to be a runner, you have to run. That’s it. That is the only criteria.

Better yet, you don’t even have to run far in order to be a runner. And therein lies the real gateway to achieving this and any impossible life skill: start small. If you’ve never really gotten into running, it’s silly to force yourself to run a whole mile on your first shot. That mile will be hell, and that hell (or the flashbacks to high school gym) may be enough to dissuade you from trying again. Try running for five minutes or once around the block instead. Don’t worry about doing it fast. Just get it done. Try it again the next day, and the next. Give yourself a day off. See if you can do six minutes, or twice around the block. Don’t start too hard or too fast. You hopefully have a long and fulfilling fitness journey ahead of you, so don’t burn yourself out in the beginning with high expectations. Begin where you are, and trust that you will get stronger over time.

This principle applies to any exercise regimen you’d like to adopt. Start a ten-minute yoga video or a fifteen-minute bike ride or a one-mile hike or one pushup. If you start too fast, you run the risk of burning yourself out and abandoning your mission. But if you stick to it and embrace the fun of small, steady wins, you can enjoy steady success.

(And if you’re one of those seasoned runners, gym rats, or athletes who mocks, shames, or gatekeeps against newbies, I hope your butt chafes.)

2. Learning A New Language

Of course, the best and fastest way to learn a new language is to fully immerse yourself in it and make peace with the inevitability of a few embarrassing fumbles (ask me about the time I used the wrong article and thus accidentally propositioned my French host father). Unfortunately, even when we’re not under varying degrees of worldwide lockdown, this is not a practical option for most people. Thankfully, there are other ways to develop significant proficiency in a short timeframe.

One way to recreate the immersion experience is to find and commit to regular language groups that involve other human people. Lingoda is a trusted online language school that exposes you to the nuances and rhythms of natural conversation in a way that many apps don’t. Lingoda’s model connects students with native teachers in very small classes, so you can actually engage in conversation with your fellow students. Classes are offered 24/7, so you can schedule your classes around your lunch break, your kids’ bedtime, or any of the other scheduling oddities of quarantine and daily life.

This summer, Lingoda is offering up to 100% cashback on their Super Sprint program: If you attend 30 classes a month for three months and follow their guidelines, 100% of your deposit will be refunded to you. You can also go for the Sprint program at a slightly less intense pace of 15 classes per month for 3 months, and get up to 50% cash back. It’s a potent trifecta: The promise of a returned deposit, the acquisition of significant proficiency, and the accountability of daily classes with real people. 30,000 people have completed successful Sprints over the past two years, many of whom report that their new language skills have helped them secure jobs, experience new cultures, and more.

The next sprint starts on July 1st. You can choose from Spanish, French, German, English, and Business English. Sign up before June 26th to secure your spot and begin a new adventure. There is no entry fee — students can sign up by paying for the first month upfront.

3. Embracing Cooking When You’ve Historically Been Terrible In The Kitchen

Just like you’re not going to go from zero to marathon, you’re not going to go from Takeout Queen to Risotto Master the first time you enter the kitchen. Cooking is not a singular gift but rather a collection of skills, ranging from simple to complex, that you learn and hone over time. Here’s my grab bag of tips for getting started: 

  • Start small. Pick the simplest, least intimidating recipe you can think of. Learn how to make spaghetti or grilled cheese. Give pancakes a try. Embrace soup. You’ll pick up some new skills with everything you make.
  • Cook for yourself first. I know many people are feeding partners and families, but if possible, I recommend being your own first dinner guest. Kitchen failures feel more painful when there’s an audience, and that shame can make it unappealing to try again. But if you’re the only one who suffers when you burn your rice, it’s easier to chalk it up as a learning experience.
  • Pick a recipe that interests you, read all the instructions twice, and then actually follow them as you cook. This is one of the best-kept and frankly stupid secrets of cooking and life in general: You can nail pretty much anything if you just follow the damn directions. I am flabbergasted by people who gripe about recipe flops and admit to blatantly ignoring half the ingredients and half the steps in the same breath. Taking time to read through the recipe means you’re less likely to miss a step, and it’s a great way to develop the evergreen knowledge that will make you a successful home cook. You can go off-book and experiment once you’ve got a solid foundation of knowledge and experience, but when you’re a beginner, just shut up and listen to Samin Nosrat. She knows better. 
  • Embrace multiple learning channels. I personally love cookbooks and picked up most of my skills that way, but there are tons of great cooking shows, YouTube channels, blogs, and other forms of content that will teach you what you need to know. 

4. Breaking Your Gossip Habit

Real talk: Gossip is among my least attractive habits. Hot damn, do I love me some juicy intel on other people’s stupid life decisions. I have been enmeshed in many borderline incestuous communities throughout my teens and twenties that thrived on gossip, dubious alliances, and scandal (looking at you, marching band), and they brought me pain and joy in equal measures. Now that I’m thirty, I’ve taken a slight step back from these emotional mosh pits and devoted more of my relational energy to individuals and small groups, and it has brightened my days considerably.

I’m not going to claim for even a second that I have cured myself of my gossip addiction. Not even close. And frankly, we all need the freedom to indulge in such chatter with our nearest and dearest. The peril comes from building entire friendships or social circles off this behavior. Weaning yourself from the worst of it starts with identifying the major temptors and temptresses around you. You know the ones: the friends who live to gather and sow the seeds of scandal. These people have the sweetest nectar to offer, and they give of it generously, and yet it always leaves you with a two-pronged hangover: the fear that you are a terrible person for engaging heavily in such questionable discourse, and the knowledge that they’re probably saying equally juicy things about you. If these people bring you no value outside of their endless stores of gossip, perhaps it’s time to pull back.

I also find value in identifying patterns in my own gossip preferences. Sometimes we gossip to cover up hurt, jealousy, or insecurity. When you pinpoint the uncomfortable truth behind your gossip mongering, you can work toward addressing the root cause in a way that actually makes you feel better, instead of reapplying the same weak gossip bandaid over and over.

One last note: knowing when to avoid gossip can preserve your pride. I know someone who got skewered by a pretty public betrayal. She would be well within her rights to drag her Judases to kingdom come, yet she has all but refused to comment on the situation outside of a few close friendships. As a result, she emerged from a humiliating situation with her dignity intact. May we all learn from her. 

5. Owning Your Own Mistakes

When I was 23 or 24, I made a mistake at work. It wasn’t a huge one, but it was a careless one that could have been avoided very easily, making it all the more embarrassing. A coworker called me out over email, and I immediately bristled and started crafting a list of weak excuses. But I knew she was right. I was guilty of what happened and had only my own neglectfulness to blame. I deleted my first email — which was, frankly, an embarrassing, childish draft — and wrote a different message. I apologized, fully claimed my wrongdoing, explained my plan for doing better going forward, and hit send. It was one of the scariest emails I’d ever sent. I was nauseous with dread over the possible backlash from my boss, and I was humiliated to admit such a stupid error to a coworker I admired.

I was shocked when my coworker sent back a one-line email thanking and forgiving me. She never mentioned it again, and neither did my boss. Of course, I was on the hook to stick to what I’d promised, but they seemed to think that if I was mature enough to recognize why I messed up, I was mature enough not to do it again.

When you’re willing to take responsibility, people are willing to give you responsibility. If you demonstrate that you can take ownership of every aspect of a project, the good and the bad, it changes the way people see you. You become reliable, self-aware, and capable of more in their eyes. You become a problem solver, not a problem exacerbator.

So here’s how you start. Next time you’re in the wrong — and you will be in the wrong, because you are a human being — try owning it. Whether you left the laundry in the washer for too long, forgot to follow up with a client, or said something hurtful without thinking, just own it. Say you’re sorry and explain how you’ll do better next time. Yes, the first time is the hardest, but it’s so much less painful than an endless volley of weak excuses and growing frustration, and it truly does get easier every time, and. You will be amazed at how much time and heartache you can save and how much respect you can earn by owning up and following through on your promise to do better next time.

6. Becoming A “Person Who Reads”

Adopting the habit of reading seems incredibly intimidating when it’s not already a part of your life. There are exactly two steps to becoming a regular reader:

  • Read books that actually interest you, not what you “should” read. Nothing stalls a reading goal like a staunch commitment to only choosing books that comply with arbitrary designations of quality or necessity, and it’s high time we stop acting like our reading lists determine our value as people. I do not feel bad about the fact that I devour dystopian YA novels like potato chips and will never read Infinite Jest, and neither should you. Whether that’s true crime, literary fiction, fluffy romance novels, celebrity memoirs, vampire everything, or War and Peace, just pick something you truly want to read and release your shame. All reading stimulates your brain, expands your lexicon by exposing you to new language patterns, and gives you a break from screens. So read what you want and let the haters hate.
  • Identify your designated reading time. Don’t assume that you’ll suddenly develop the tendency to pick up your book as the mood strikes you. Build it into your day. Personally, I always read on my lunch break and right before bed, but maybe you like to unwind with thirty minutes of reading when you get home from work or enjoy an audiobook while commuting (anyone who says audiobooks don’t count is a stuffy square). Anchor your reading habit within your day and you’ll stick to it.

*****

What’s true for these skills is true for most skills: The key to success is small, consistent steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day, Beyonce wasn’t born learning to dance like that (in spite of what you might think), and Charlize Theron made her debut in Children of the Corn III. If you want to move the needle on your language-learning journey this summer, be sure to check out Lingoda’s online language school to participate in their Super Sprint program. Whatever “impossible” skill you decide to develop, don’t worry about mastery now or even a year from now. Just take your first step and don’t stop moving.

Maggie Olson is a marketing professional and freelance writer and editor living in northeast Ohio. She is a voracious reader, a meal prep enthusiast, and a yogi/hiker/biker/runner/kayaker. You can follow her vegan cooking and baking adventures on Instagram at @maggieolson or find her on Twitter at @maggiebolson.

Image via Unsplash

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