Adult Life Skills: A Primer for Those in Recovery

By George A. Boyd © 2004

Adulthood is a time in your life when

  • You usually move away from your parents’ home
  • You earn your own income through a job
  • You select a partner to share your life with you
  • You may pursue higher education to move into a better-paying career
  • You may join the military to serve your country
  • You develop your own set of beliefs and values
  • You may choose to have children of your own and raise a family.

There are many skills that you will need to function as an adult. These skills for relating to others in a professional and appropriate way and for independent living you usually learn as a teenager.

Sometimes though, because of your family situation, and other people that influence you, you might not learn these skills. Then you move into your 20s and 30s inadequately prepared to adopt the adult role, and you have a miserable and unhappy life.

These are some of the signs that mark a miserable and unhappy life:

  • Depression and mental illness (e.g., you can’t cope with the adult responsibilities and you go off the deep end)
  • Going to jail because of illegal (and dumb) things you do
  • Becoming crippled because you got shot hanging around with questionable friends doing illegal and dumb stuff
  • Getting into a car accident and becoming crippled and disfigured because you thought you’d be cool and thought you’d impress your friends by driving fast while you were drunk or stoned
  • Spending a lot of time in hospitals because of dumb stuff you do
  • Becoming a dope addict or alcoholic (e.g., you find a chemical substitute for life)
  • Losing all friends and being disowned by your parents by becoming a dope addict or alcoholic because you act like a jerk while you’re drunk or stoned
  • Getting into a relationship where you batter your partner or they batter you
  • Can’t get or keep a relationship
  • Conceive children then can’t take care of them, or worse, abuse or neglect them
  • You have children, but the courts keep taking them away from you
  • You have to abandon your children at fire stations or hospitals because you can’t afford to keep them
  • You get horrible diseases because you try to find true love with the wrong people
  • You can’t get or keep a job, or you get fired often and quickly
  • You spend a lot of time on welfare, or unemployment because you have no job skills
  • You are working at slightly above minimum wage at age 30
  • You can’t afford to live away from your parents’ house, where you are still living at age 35

Some of you can relate to these things because (please circle the best answer)

  1. You have been there and done that
  2. You are currently doing these things and are now having a miserable and unhappy life
  3. Some of your friends and relatives have been there and done that
  4. Some of your friends and relatives are currently doing these things and are now having miserable and unhappy lives
  5. Some (most?) of the people in your neighborhood (and your friends and relatives) are going there and doing that and having miserable and unhappy lives
  6. All of the above

When exposed to all of this misery, and surrounded by the wreckage of so many unhappy and broken human lives—perhaps you may wish to consider some other, more positive alternatives for your own (and only) life?

Since much of this misery and human wreckage can be avoided by simply gaining adult skills to relate to other people and to work successfully, would it not behoove you …even as a whim… to do a personal inventory to see if you have these skills?

Categories of Adult Skills

There are nine categories of adult skills that you will inventory. We won't list every skill that exists in that category, but we'll try to list enough of them so you can get a good sense about how well prepared you are to take on the challenges of being an adult, on your own, free and proud. Here are the nine categories:

(1) Environmental skills

(2) Financial skills

(3) Social and civic skills

4) Parenting skills

(5) Employability skills

(6) Friendship/Intimacy skills

(7) Learning/Education skills

(8) Life planning skills

(9) Self-management tools

Adult Skills Inventory

Inventory is a tool to check in with your self. But it only works if you are honest and thorough.

Honest, because if you guess or lie about the skills you've mastered (when you haven't really mastered them), reality is going to shatter your illusions. (When in doubt, the results you get are the measure of your effectiveness).

Thorough, because if you leave out some areas, you will have some rude awakenings when you discover that you forgot some really important stuff.

Are you ready? Strap on your seat belt and let's go! (Ask your self, "do I really know how to do this?" If the answer is yes, put a check on the line in front of the sentence).

Environmental Skills

_____Make your bed

_____Put clothing and clutter away to create an orderly living space

_____Wash the dishes by hand; Wash dishes in a dishwasher

_____Wash clothes by hand and dry in the sun or wash and dry clothes in a washer and dryer

_____Clean bathroom and kitchen sinks and tubs; clean to prevent rust and mildew

_____Clean shades, walls, furniture, shelves, bookcases, and other environmental surfaces

_____Vacuum a carpet

_____Sweep, mop and wax a tile floor; clean a wood floor

_____Remove garbage and trash; recycle renewable items

_____Mow the lawn and do basic weeding and soil preparation for a garden; water plants

_____Clean appliances: refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher

_____Shut off the gas and electricity during an emergency (e.g., earthquake, flood or fire); operate flashlights, lanterns, or kerosene equipment

_____Set up camping equipment; assemble games and sports playing areas; operate a barbecue or grill

_____Do simple electrical repairs: replace a light, remove a switch cover, replace a fuse, or turn on a circuit breaker switch

_____Do simple plumbing repairs: replace a washer, turn off water at a valve, and replace gaskets or floaters in a toilet

_____Do simple carpentry tasks: hang a picture, replace a lock or hinge, or replace worn replace molding or weather stripping

_____Assemble a piece of furniture according to directions

_____Do basic installation and set up of television sets, compact disks, stereos, computers and other electronic equipment; operate that equipment according to directions

_____Wash and wax a car; do basic car maintenance: replace lights, battery, oil, water, windshield fluid and wipers, and transmission fluid

_____Drive a car; drive a stick shift automobile

_____Read a map; find directions to a destination using the Internet

_____Make a grocery list and locate these items in a store

_____Do basic cooking and shopping for food and household items

Financial Life Skills

_____Do a transaction with a business (buy something)

_____Return that item with a receipt

_____Mail something with the right postage

_____Purchase a bus pass

_____Sign a contract obligating you to pay for something over a series of months

_____Make regular payments for an item over time and pay it off

_____Open a checking account

_____Open a savings account

_____Operate a calculator or ten key adding machine; balance a check book

_____Take out a personal loan

_____Obtain credit (get a credit card or line of credit from a bank)

_____Invest your money for retirement or future goals (e.g., IRA, certificate of deposit, stocks or bonds)

_____Make a monthly budget and keep it; keep track of your debts and monthly payments

_____Buy a car

_____Maintain a car and make car payments

_____Rent or lease an apartment

_____Turn on utilities for that apartment (phone, lights, or gas)

_____Purchase items to live in that apartment like a bed, bedding, clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, lamps, cleaning supplies, etc.)

_____Buy a house

_____Purchase items to live in that house (bed, bedding, clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, lamps, cleaning supplies, etc.)

_____Make mortgage and insurance payments

_____Buy life and health insurance for yourself and your family

_____Pay taxes

_____Hire an accountant

_____Hire an investment professional (financial planner, or a stock broker)

_____Hire an attorney

_____File legal paperwork with a court clerk

_____Sue someone in court

_____Make a will to protect your family when you die

_____Make a business plan

_____Raise funds to start a business

_____Start your own business

_____Manage your own business

_____Hire and fire employees

_____File taxes for that business

_____Start a corporation

_____Manage a corporation

_____File regular reports and taxes required for that corporation

Social/Civic Skills

_____Show courtesy and politeness (e.g., saying please and thank you, talking with socially appropriate language, being polite and using good manners)

_____Being well groomed and having an appropriate wardrobe for casual, formal and business use

_____Offer condolences and get well wishes, remembering someone' birthday

_____Apologize to someone

_____Accepting congratulations and praise from other people

_____Graciously accept a gift

_____Deal with disappointment or frustration without having a tantrum, cursing, or being upset

_____Tell clean, inoffensive jokes, and how to have fun in a social situation

_____Know how to play card games, board games, and sports; know how to dance

_____Deal with public embarrassment

_____Accept criticism and correction from a peer or someone in authority

_____Show personal courage by telling the truth

_____Express your opinion in a way that doesn't demean or offend others

_____Obey the laws of your community and country, even when you could break them

_____Exercise your rights as a citizen: voting for the candidates of your choice (are you registered to vote?)

_____Participate in political forums, peaceful protests, or contacting your local, state and national government representatives on behalf of an issue about which you feel strongly

_____Volunteer to help your community or an organization to which you belong (e.g., your school, your religious organization, or a non-profit group)

_____Participate in community organizations on their board of directors

_____Run for a public office in your community, county, state, or nation

Parenting Skills

_____Understanding your child's developmental stages and what behavior is appropriate at each stage

_____Understanding what are a person's physical, emotional, mental, personal, and spiritual needs at each stage of life

_____Understanding what constitutes abuse, neglect, and abandonment in their different forms and making sure that you don't do any of those things in your family

_____Know what to do to care for the needs of an infant (age 0-1)

_____Know what to do to care for the needs of a toddler (age 1-3)

_____Know what to do to care for the needs of a preschooler (age 3-5)

_____Know what to do to care for the needs of school aged child (age 6-10)

_____Knowing what to do to care for the needs of a pre-adolescent (age 11-12)

_____Knowing what to do to care for the needs of an adolescent (age 13-18)

_____Knowing what to do to care for the needs of a young adult (age 19 to 28)

_____Knowing what to do to care for the needs of a dependent or disabled adult

_____Knowing what to do to care for the needs of an elderly person

Employability Skills

_____Have job skills for which an employer would consider hiring you

_____Drive a car or know how to use public transportation to get to work

_____Know how to search for work

_____Develop a résumé and a cover letter

_____Wear appropriate clothing for the job you will be doing (e.g., business attire in an office, uniform in a medical setting, protective work clothes at a construction site, etc.)

_____Know how to answer questions in an interview

_____Arrive on time at the beginning of the day and from lunch and breaks (punctuality)

_____Work your entire shift as scheduled (reliability)

_____Give appropriate notice if you can't come to work due to illness

_____Ask questions if you don't understand what to do

_____Ask for work if you finished the assignment given to you

_____Do your job correctly, quickly, and with professionalism (responsibility)

_____Able to accept supervision and correction from a supervisor

_____Take good care of your customers so they will want to continue to patronize the company for which you work

_____Use persuasion to sell yourself, your ideas, the company's products or services

_____Know how to ask for a raise or apply for a promotion

_____Know how to leave a company to take another job

_____Know how to give a speech or presentation to your co-workers

_____Know how to act as a representative or leader for your work group

_____Become involved on a committee or union activities at work

_____Supervise others in the company

_____Act as a manager within the company

_____Act as a professional consultant to a company

_____Doing strategic planning as part of upper management in the company

_____Running the company (e.g., CEO, Company President or Executive Officer)

Friendship/Intimacy Skills

_____Get to know someone: where they grew up, what they have experienced, what they like and dislike, what their values and goals are, and what they plan to do with their future

_____Help someone who needs your help

_____Listen to another person's feelings and issues

_____Share your feelings with someone

_____Show liking and affection for someone in a non-sexual way

_____Ask for a date

_____Able to initiate romantic behavior and respond appropriately to the other person's expressed limits and preferences

_____Make a commitment to a friend; be there for your friend when he or she needs you

_____Make a commitment to be faithful to a romantic partner, (e.g., going steady, engagement)

_____Proposing marriage

_____Keeping your marriage vows, remaining faithful to your partner and committed to your children

_____Able to support someone when they are in mourning, in pain, and when they are dying

Learning/Education Skills

_____Able to read to understand your assignments, to read the newspaper, and research areas of interest

_____Able to do math sufficient to solve problems in your class, to do what is required on the job, and for personal finances

_____Able to write clearly and appropriately for the audience with whom you wish to communicate; write personal and business letters, essays and poetry; write professionally for publication

_____Able to analyze and use intellectual problem-solving skills to solve problems in your class, on the job and in your personal life

_____Able to study to remember information for tests, for job-related tasks, and for personal interest

_____Able to take notes to facilitate study and research for school, work, or your avocation (e.g., an area of personal interest, a hobby)

_____Able to research for a school paper, a work-project, or for personal interest using a library, books, videos, and the Internet; know how to gather information on any topic that you need

_____Able to present your ideas to others graphically (charts or diagrams), orally (speech or lecture), visually (writing on a blackboard or showing a video), kinesthetically (showing them how to do something), using multi-media (computer presentation, e.g., in PowerPoint™ or Flash™), and lyrically (tell a story or read a poem)

_____Able to edit writing so it uses correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation

_____Able to organize your study time so you can do all that is assigned to you in time for your next class, so you can be ready for tests, project deadlines, and due dates

_____ Able to operate computers to do tasks using word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation, graphics, e-mail and Internet applications

_____Able to teach others a subject you know very well

Life Planning Skills

_____Able to decide what is really important to you in life, set goals to achieve those dreams, and take effective action towards achieving them

_____Able to plan for classes you need to take to achieve your career goals

_____Able to plan for parties and other events you plan to host

_____Able to plan for a wedding

_____Able to develop a career plan detailing how you will advance in your career, what additional education you may need, and what companies you will target for employment, etc.

_____Able to plan for a vacation

_____Able to develop a comprehensive financial plan to address your goals for education, children, major purchases (e.g., house and car), risk or catastrophic events (e.g., insurance), vacation, and retirement

_____Able to develop contingency (backup) plans for when things don’t do as you had planned (e.g., you get laid off from the job, your partner leaves you, you get sick, you can't find a job for a long period of time, etc.)

Self Management Skills

_____Able to care for your self during illness, control diet and lifestyle to maintain optimal health, and know how to exercise to remain fit

_____Able to keep your word, to do what you promise

_____Able to control your anger and restrain yourself from insulting, belittling, or bullying another, or engaging in violence; able to tolerate other's taunting, insults, or teasing without resorting to violence against them

_____Able to forgive someone for a wrong they perpetrated against you; able to let go of your resentments, prejudice, and hatred for others

_____Able to grieve for a loss of someone or something important to you

_____Able to laugh when it is appropriate; to withhold laughter when it is not

_____Able to know what your values are, and stand up for them

_____Able to make a long term commitment, to a financial or legal contract, to a relationship, to an employer, to the military, or to the principles of your religious faith or ethical philosophy

_____Able to know yourself, and not make unrealistic expectations for what you can do or what you can achieve; able to know others well enough so you can make realistic expectations for their behavior and potential achievement

_____Able to set limits for others to let them know what is not acceptable behavior and language in your presence and in your home

_____Able to commit yourself to actualize your human and spiritual potential regardless of the obstacles you may face

_____Able to calm yourself when upset or relax when stressed

_____Able to contact your Higher Power through prayer and meditation

As an adolescent, young adult, or older adult in recovery from a miserable and unhappy life, you may find to your chagrin that you've never learned to do many of these skills. This is your wake up call!

The bad news is that you may already have created a lot of wreckage in your life and in your relationships, and it may take some time to recover from the mess you have created. The good news is that you can and there are people and resources that can help you.

Digging Your Self Out of the Rut and Moving Forward with Your Life

Now that you know what needs work, you can begin today. Identify which of these skills you need to learn and start to acquire them. Here some ideas:

Environmental Skills - (now you understand why your parents kept giving you chores that you resented and hated—it was to prepare you to function independently) find a friend who knows how to do these tasks and ask them for advice. Ask or pay a friend to do them, and watch him or her so you can learn how to do it. Assist your parents, friends or relatives with cleaning and other environmental tasks with an aim to learn how to do them. Read books in the library on how to clean, how to cook, and how to do basic repairs. Additional information is available on these topics on the Internet. You can also volunteer or do paid work with a carpenter, electrician, plumber or auto mechanic to learn some of these skills.

Financial Skills - take classes on economics, the law, accounting, and personal financial planning. Read books on these subjects and go to seminars. Consult with an attorney, lawyer, accountant, stockbroker, or personal financial planner as is appropriate for your situation to help make sound financial and legal decisions. Study business administration in college.

Social/Civic Skills - take a Social Skills training course (Job Corps has this—if you're 16 to 24, you can learn these skills), an assertiveness training course, or human development courses at college. Associate with people who are polite, have good manners, and speak in a respectful and civil way (you may find this will rub off on you and that you can act this way too if you wish). Read books on etiquette. Educate yourself about community and political issues by watching the news. Volunteer in your community. Get involved in your political party, register to vote, and attend community forums.

Employability Skills - Enroll in vocational classes while you are in high school or college to learn skills that will help you get and find a job. There are programs available from your school district, your local Work Source Center, and Federal programs like Job Corps that will help train you for a career and will teach you many of the employability skills. You can also enroll in private vocational training programs. If you have been disabled, you can obtain assistance from your State Vocational Rehabilitation Department. Obtain a job, or a volunteer or intern position to gain valuable work experience. You may be able to learn to drive through your school district, or you can pay for private lessons.

Friendship/Intimacy Skills - you can learn to develop many of these skills by finding a mentor, someone who can model for you how to be a compassionate, considerate, and caring human being. A mentor can be a relative, a wise friend, a co-worker, a teacher, or someone who is a member of your religious faith. You may need counseling or psychotherapy to undo some of the wreckage of your own past, but even deep scars can heal, and you can begin to retrace your way. People can find guidance in this area from self-help groups, and there are recovery groups to assist you if your friendship/intimacy skills have been warped by an addiction. There are also good books on this topic. Your school or college counselor has resources in this area, too.

Learning/Education Skills - Here your school or college counselor has many resources. If you have problems learning a subject, your school can develop a special program for you to help you succeed in this learning skill. There are many good resources available through your library on how to study, and also on-line on the Internet. Make friends with a good student and study with them—you'll learn a lot on how to be a better, more successful student.

Life Planning Skills - You can learn to set goals and plans. There are resource materials available from your school counselor and at your public library. There are private programs that teach life planning skills, like Success Motivation Institute. You can also learn about goal setting and planning on-line on the Internet. You can learn how to do a personal inventory like this one and begin to make changes in areas you want to improve.

Self-Management Skills - This is also an area where a good mentor is invaluable and indispensable. You can obtain counseling or therapy to help you work out issues with anger, grief, resentment, and dysfunctional styles of relating to others. You can learn about caring for your health, diet, and exercise. You can learn how to relax and calm yourself—there are tapes available. There are programs to teach you how to cope with stress. There are yoga and meditation groups, and classes available through your religious organization that teach ways for you to control your reaction to stressful life events.

Now that you've done the inventory, hopefully you know yourself a little better. Day by day you will acquire more of these skills until you are able to function at your best, and you will start having a happy and terrific life like you know you well deserve. Now 'fess up! You do deserve to have your life work, don't you? You can start today to begin building more of the adult skills you need to be successful in your life.