How to Live a Competent Life
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How to Live a Competent Life

How do I make something for dinner? How do I sew a button on? I want to put up a bookshelf. I want to order something online. Do you know how to do those things? There are plenty of smart capable people who don't. For the wealthy, it might not matter. Help is only a phone call and a credit card away. For the rest of us, knowing how to do simple repairs, the laundry or personal finances are essential! We don't have the time to wait for (or pay for) someone else to do them. Learn how to live a competent life; it might just lead to simplicity and happiness.

What does living a competent life mean? It means being able to accomplish a relatively small  job without asking someone else to do it. It's actually very liberating to be competent outside of one's workplace. It's not really difficult either. While some people just seem to be naturally competent at daily life, the rest of us can certainly learn. There are enough print and electronic resources on the planet to make anyone a good cook or an absolute genius with a smart phone. It just takes a bit of searching; that in itself is a skill worth acquiring.

Getting started

How does someone get the skillset that leads to a competent life? Start by considering the things you are always wishing you knew how to do (or do better). It's hard to be competent in areas which aren't interesting on a personal basis. However be reasonable about it! There's little point in wishing one were competent at brain surgery without the medical training and background. Instead learn how to do meticulous work on a small scale by making miniatures  for doll houses or train layouts. It's exactly the same need for eye-hand coordination, use of fine tools and detail as any surgery.

List those tasks often relegated to outsiders. That could include simple home repairs or upkeep such as putting up pictures or painting a room. Always keep in mind any physical limitations; someone with bad balance shouldn't be up a ladder for any reason. On the other hand, improving one's balance through dance or exercise classes is always an option.

Managing personal finances is often a real difficulty for many people. A business can afford to hire a professional accountant (and should) but families don't always have the resources for that. Yet keeping track of household expenses can lead to avoiding unnecessary debt and leave more money for university, retirement and just having some fun. As the saying goes: It's not rocket science. Try to imagine some of those rocket scientists ending up with an overdraught at the bank; it does happen. Just keep adding things to the list as they come to mind (often after not being able to do something). It doesn't matter if they are attainable objectives at the moment or not. At some time or another they will be realised.

Make a list

Here is a sample list (in no particular order) someone might make who wants to become competent:

  • how to search the Internet
  • how to buy online safely
  • how to type
  • how to protect identity
  • how to use a smart phone and tablet
  • how to do first aid 
  • how to shop for good fresh food and cook simple meals
  • how to do laundry and simple clothing repairs
  • how to manage personal bank accounts
  • how to do simple home repairs  
  • how to perform simple auto maintenance
  • how to ride and repair a bicycle
  • how to learn a second language
  • how to travel safely and avoid getting lost
  • how to swim
  • how to give a short speech

How many of the things on this list can you do? How many things on the list would you like to be able to do? None of them are out of reach for a healthy adult. None of the items on the list are gender- or age-specific either. Obviously some, such as swimming and first aid, need to be learnt in person. How many things on that list can the author do? All of them (with formal certificates in some cases) and a few more: teach science, play the violin (learnt as an adult), make simple jewellery, write good business letters and act as a medical advocate.

Rank the list

Assign an importance to the items in the skillset list. Learning practical  things needed every day should come before the fun and recreational things. Try to keep a balance, though. Attack one mundane skill (such as keeping a household budget) then learn something fun as a treat. When boredom sets in, there's a tendency to quit learning; ask any teenager about that. If nothing else, learn how to do Internet searches. Mastering that will lead to easy access to more information than anyone can use in a lifetime. Another useful computer skill is typing! Being competent at typing saves a lot of time at the keyboard and could even lead to employment. Obviously what's important will vary from person to person. It will also change over time. That doesn't matter. Ranking the list of skills is just a way to focus and will help in achieving what one really desires.

I've made a list and ranked it; now what?

Having made the list, the only thing left is to go and learn! There are a lot of ways to acquire competence. Asking someone competent for lessons is best. That hands-on experience is essential! Local community colleges (and other institutes of tertiary education) always have free and inexpensive classes in any number of practical subjects. If that's not possible try the Internet (for videos) or the public library. Every library has plenty of books on how to do things. Nearly all topics have a ' how to' book (or DVD). Two popular series are the '... for Dummies' and 'The Complete Idiot's Guides to...' Not every subject is equally well-covered and often there is a distinct lack of photographs but they're not bad.

Leading a competent life isn't really that difficult. It's just a matter of finding the right resources and plunging in. Why pay someone to do something (perhaps badly) that could be done for oneself better, in less time and with less money? Now go out there and get competent!

Here is someone else's competency list for suggestions: http://www.marcandangel.com/2008/06/02/50-things-everyone-should-know-how-to-do/

Main image: A map of the human brain from 'Gray's Anatomy' via Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_brain

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Comments (7)

Interesting concept, title and to-do-list.

This is a well written, informative article just as I always come to expect from you. I voted this up.

Good guidance for competitions in life. Thanks Arri.

Good guide on how to achieve these things.

well done

I like the idea of making a list. Great job here!

Often, cost to learn a new skill is the prohibitive factor but for anyone that worries about how much a new skill costs, -try ignorance. (even costlier!)

Good review. :-)

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