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Essential skills every adult should know

Do you ever feel like an adult? To be honest, I don’t. I only ever remember the fact that I’m an adult when someone asks me how old I am. I sometimes wonder, do I really have what it takes to be a fully-functioning adult? I had no idea how to measure my so-called ‘adultness’ and felt rather baffled. So, I resorted to finding some answers the only way I know how; the Internet.

I went on Google and typed ‘essential skills every adult should know’ and there were tons of lists online, compiled and curated to feed my insecurities of being an incompetent adult. As I looked through list after list, I noticed a few repeat offenders. There are a few skills I’m cautiously confident about, but the others, not so much.

Let’s dive right in, here are the top 5 skills that caught my eye:

1. Cooking

I’m not a great cook, but this is certainly something I enjoy doing. I think it’s important to have a few simple dishes in our repertoire. As we grow older, we begin to realise that eating out and food delivery can be pretty pricey. Being able to buy affordable produce and cook simple meals can really help us to save more in the long-run.

My story with cooking starts with chicken curry. An odd place to start, I know, but it has been a lifelong love affair for me. I love chicken curry, in fact, it was my nickname back in college. It was also one of the first few dishes I learnt how to make from my mum. I’ve made it a gazillion times now and along the way, I’ve learnt more about what works and what doesn’t. My chicken curry is far from perfect, but it’s comfort food in my book.

My only advice here would be to cook what you love eating and cook it repeatedly. Over time, you get more comfortable making your signature dish and you begin to add your own flourishes to it.

2. Money management

If I could go back in time, I’d have some advice for my younger self: put some money aside every month and start investing! I’m relatively risk-averse, and so I assumed investing wasn’t really my game. But I’ve since learnt that we can’t afford to miss out on the potential returns investing our money can provide. There are loads of investment options available out there, it’s just a matter of choosing one that’s right for you. On that note, do check out my monthly series on investment to learn more about different investment options (don’t mind the shameless advertising).

Another money matter that makes most adults cringe is filing taxes, ugh. If you’re filing for the first time, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Check out how you can sign up for e-filing online. You probably need to visit a nearby income tax office for your first time login.

  • Your employer usually provides an annual salary statement for tax purposes. This basically summarises your salary earnings for the past year and includes useful details that you can refer to when you’re filling up your income tax form.

If you’re a regular taxpayer, the only advice I can offer (as I too am no expert) is this: check out whether you’re eligible for any tax relief that reduces your taxable income and file a copy of all relevant receipts. Click here for a list of tax relief offered to Malaysian taxpayers. Just a reminder, the deadline for personal income tax filing in Malaysia is coming up in June!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Taxes can be tricky and annoying; come filing season, I’m always calling my dad to clarify on things I don’t understand. There are truly no stupid questions and even if there are, trust me, I’ve asked them all.

3. Making small talk or conversation with others

I’m an awkward turtle so this can be quite a challenge for me. Thankfully, a quick online search returned some promising results on this front. suggests being more interested. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be interesting, so why not relax a little and be interested instead? Ask questions and listen to what our new-found acquaintance has got to say.

Another suggestion is to use something in your environment as a conversation starter. I find this particularly useful; if I notice someone wearing an interesting piece of jewellery or beautiful clothing, I compliment them and this usually kick-starts a conversation. “Oh, thanks! I got it from…” or “Oh, thanks! It’s my grandmother’s watch. She comes from a long line of witches and wizards, and she actually won it in a duel at Hogwarts.” Fine, the conversation might not start out that interesting, but it could help to break the ice.

4. Dressing appropriately for a job interview

Quite a number of lists I came across online mentioned something or rather about interviews: being able to ace an interview, articulate your thoughts and ideas well, write a good resume and cover letter, etc. As I scrolled the web, I came across one item in particular that caught my eye: dressing appropriately for a job interview.

My first response was to chuckle and then, I realised “Holy smokes! I definitely don’t have this skill!” I’ve always been rather confused about what to wear for job interviews. I can’t say that I’m proud of all my choices; there are certainly ones that I wish I could do-over. I always go for clothes that fit well and look formal, but I usually don’t give much thought to the colours I wear. Apparently they can make a difference too!

Career Builder, an American employment site, surveyed recruiters across different industries and here’s what they found:

  • The most recommended colour is blue which is said to inspire confidence. Coincidentally, this is the colour I was wearing when I attended the interview for my very first job!

  • Black conveys leadership which is suitable if you’re looking to land a management position.

  • Red comes across as assertive which is great in fields such as sales and law.

  • White sends the message that you're organised and detail-oriented.

  • Avoid brown. Apparently it conveys the message that the interviewee is old-fashioned.

  • Orange is apparently the worst colour to wear! For some reason, recruiters associated the colour with someone unprofessional.

  • Purple and yellow may be bright, bold colours that we tend to avoid for interviews, but it could be a good choice for creative fields.

Alright, now armed with this knowledge, I figured I‘d put my wardrobe to the test and create a lookbook of sorts. I’m no fashion blogger, but I’ve not dressed up in a looooong time, so please indulge me as I strike a pose or two!

A simple dress and blazer, take #1.
A simple dress and blazer, take #2.
A red and white number.
Hmm...maybe not orange? I kind of liked this one though!
Brown, animal print, and mermaid-ish skirt. Err...that's a lot going on.
Definitely not! Can you tell that I'm missing the beach?

5. Backing up your data

I found this interesting skill on multiple lists across the Internet. Initially, I was sceptical, this is a must-know skill for adults? Really? But slowly I began to realise that we live in a world where a lot of our important documents, communications, and pictures are stored on digital devices. Knowing how to back this up systematically and not losing anything valuable is probably a modern-day skill we all ought to learn.

I struggled with this for many years. Only recently have I made the effort to organise and back up my valuable digital assets. Platforms such as Google Photos have really been a game-changer for me. I used to store all my photos on my phone and eventually, I get that much-dreaded notification that my storage is full. Then, I frantically transfer everything to my laptop into disorganised folders with no hope of finding anything I need quickly ever again. Since I started using Google Photos, however, it’s become easier than ever to back up my photos and clear storage on my phone. Plus, I can find the photos I need at lightning speed!

When it comes to organising digital clutter, my email inbox was certainly crying out for help. I was that person who would sometimes have 400+ unread emails in her inbox and all my important emails were drowning in a sea of marketing and phishing stuff. Sometime last year, I decided enough was enough! I began organising my inbox and gosh, it was a far more difficult task than I had anticipated. I started by creating folders for regular, important emails I receive like my credit card statements and investment-related updates. Then, I started the painstaking process of sorting through hundreds of emails.

Over the years, I’ve engaged photographers to cover family events and sometimes, they send me a Google Drive link to access the photos. I’d see them, admire the photos, and convince myself that I’ll sort it out later. So as I organised my emails, I realised that one particular Google Drive folder that was shared with me a few years ago had been deleted. I felt awful about this; this was completely on me. Three years is a dang long time and I should have downloaded and organised those photos earlier.

Sometimes, I think I take my digital assets for granted. “Yea, it’s there. I’ll get to it later.” But they too can decay into nothingness and disappear. That experience taught me a valuable lesson on timeliness and the importance of backing up your data. Since then, I’ve been trying to stay on top of my emails; sorting them out into folders every two days or so.


It was fun to reflect and read up on the skills listed above, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg we call adulting. Truth is, no one list could possibly compile all of what it means to be an adult because it means different things to different people. You can be serious and no-nonsense or bubbly and light-hearted; neither makes you more or less of an adult. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what it means to be an adult: I wonder if I should have done things differently in my life, I measure myself against other people, and I always, always sell myself short. I guess what I’m trying to say is…there’s only one thing you truly need going into adulthood. Accepting yourself and knowing you are enough. The rest of it, we can learn together along the way.


Hi there!

About Me Pic.jpg

Hi, I’m Vidhya. I’m a freelance writer and millennial who often struggles with adulthood.

Join me as I explore all things adulting!

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