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Helpful Things to Learn About

When I started making a list of things that might be helpful to know about, I was going to call it “Some Things You Should Know,” with the emphasis on should.

But then I realized, wait, if the list consists of true essentials (“shoulds”), that might be a pretty short list—which offers a lesson even without starting the list!

It’s just as important to consider all the things you don’t have to know anything about. In fact, that list might be even more important. You can get by in life without knowing much at all!

For example, I assume that a lot of people would say “You should know something about car and home maintenance.” And I can see the advantages of that! It could be beneficial at times.

It’s just that for me, I know nothing about such things and it’s almost never a problem. If something breaks, I either get someone else to fix it, or it just remains broken. Life goes on.

You could say the same about any number of topics: math, foreign languages, cooking—these are all helpful things to know or skills to have, but are they necessary? Describing something as necessary or mandatory raises the bar quite a bit.

So maybe a better point is that you can build a life around what you know about (or want to know about), and not worry about everything else.

Then we come to things that are helpful to know about. Here is where the true list begins: not essential to living, but useful. Cooking and home maintenance could go on such a list, but I figured it was more accurate to base the list on my own knowledge, therefore leaving off anything I’m clueless about.

I came up with a starting point of nine things, which I present to you below.

  • How to increase your emotional intelligence (EI)

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to recognize and manage your emotions, as well as recognizing and understanding the emotions of others. It’s typically divided into four categories:

Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions and how they affect behavior

Self-regulation: the ability to control one’s own emotions and behavior

Motivation: the ability to use emotions to drive behavior and achieve goals.

Empathy: the ability to understand and respond to the emotions of others

Some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others, but EI can also be developed through practice and learning. Begin with active listening, where you truly take the time to understand someone else’s perspective. What motivates them? What do they want, and what are they afraid of losing?

Mindfulness practices can also help you improve your level of EI. Also, I kind of think life in general is helpful, especially if you encounter some hard things along the way.

  • How to become financially literate

Financial literacy is a lifelong process, and the more you learn, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions about your money.

“Personal finance” is an industry these days, complete with influencers, methods, and—of course—TikTok stars. As I argue from time to time, much of this advice is biased, outdated, or just dumb. If nothing else, it’s advice for the masses, not for individuals who want to do something for themselves.

My new book, Gonzo Capitalism, is all about how money works today. Pick up a copy!

  • How to use a VPN and practice safe internet security

If you’re traveling abroad, or if you ever access public Wifi networks (at coffee shops or wherever), you should definitely know how to browse safely.

Even if you don’t travel much, do you want your internet service provider, the government, and any other number of parties to maintain reports on 100% of your online activity? If not, you need to use a VPN.

I use TunnelBear and Hotspot Shield (no affiliation with either) on my phone and computers. Once in a while, it can make your internet connection slow, but usually I don’t even notice.

  • How to take better photos with your phone

Because smartphones keep getting better and better, this isn’t hard. Turn on the gridlines! Consider perspective. Use the volume button to take the picture. Keep the lens clean.

Editing apps can go a long way, and you probably don’t need 90% of their features. Learn a couple of small things and your photos will be a lot better.

  • How to use AI tools, including Large Language Models (LLMs)

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock (nothing wrong with that…), AI is changing everything. Get an account or join the waiting list at OpenAI. Check out DALL-E or Midjourney to make some cool art.

There are many other tools—these are just the common entry points. Once you start exploring, it’s a major rabbit hole, but also a fun one.

  • How to read beyond the news cycle

One of the best things you can do is read long-form journalism. Many news articles are short and focused on the latest developments, but longer works can provide more in-depth analysis and historical context. Check out LongReads and The Browser for a running list of curated articles. I subscribe to both and read them every week.

I also think it’s helpful to read news from other countries, as well as news and commentary from views that are different from yours. RestofWorld is a great resource.

I’ve been scanning The Righting every few days. It’s a quick way to see what’s being said in some outlets I don’t necessarily want to visit one-by-one.

  • How to use digital currency, including a crypto wallet like MetaMask

Sure, if you’re just buying Bitcoin, you can use Coinbase or another exchange (uh, probably not FTX these days). But if you get into smaller projects or blockchain gaming (I’m a fan) you need a way to interact directly with blockchain.

There’s a lot to learn about this—it’s not nearly as simple as some people claim—but it starts with downloading a digital wallet like MetaMask. Think of it like ApplePay, just … more complicated.

In conjunction with a digital wallet, or even if you’re just keeping crypto funds in an exchange like Coinbase, you should be familiar with stablecoins. USDC and USDT are digital currencies that are tied to the value of the U.S. dollar (at least most of the time). Unlike wire or ACH transfers, which can take a surprisingly long time, transfers between parties take place instantly.

  • Knowledge of basic nutrition, along with a list of foods that are good for you to eat.

The list is helpful because whenever you have a choice that includes food from the list, you simply eat it without thinking about it too much. You can still eat other things, of course, just in smaller portions and/or not as often.

More than just what kinds of foods are good for you, understanding macro ratios is easy to learn and can lead to big improvements, quickly.

  • How to book plane tickets, both in general and also on short notice

This is something that most people do all the time, yet often have no idea where to start. Short version: start with Google Flights, not an online agency like Travelocity or Expedia. From there, it’s usually best to make your actual booking on the airline’s site.

Try to keep enough miles in any airline frequent flyer account to book at least one ticket. That way, when you want to book an award flight, you can check multiple airlines to see what the best deal is depending on route and mileage cost.

Even better, maintain a balance in transferable currency programs (American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, for example) so that you have even more options.

This is especially good for booking flights on short notice. Some airlines increase the mileage cost as paid fares go up, but they don’t always do it consistently, so it’s worth checking.

  • How to learn more about anything you want

Learning is itself an underrated skill. If you know how to learn effectively, you can learn, well, anything!

A couple years ago I realized I hadn’t properly studied the skill of learning, so I spent some time reading books and going through courses that helped me improve.

A post I wrote on that topic, Learning How to Learn, has some good resources that might be helpful.

Finally, it doesn’t really make the list of practical skills in the same category as nutrition and personal finance, but I still think the most important thing you can learn is how to depend on yourself. As I wrote in another post:

Within yourself lies the ability to solve any problem you encounter.

This basic truth is deceptively simple: easy to learn, hard to master. It doesn’t come naturally, yet it can change your life forever once you understand and internalize it.

If you can do that, everything else becomes solvable!

How many of these things do you know about? What would you add to the list?