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The Most Useful Skills I've Learned

    1. Cooking

    In college, once I moved off-campus, I had to fend for myself in getting food. I was faced with the decision to either 1) eat fast food for every meal, or 2) buy groceries and cook for myself. Being health-conscious, I decided to learn to cook for myself. I bought a cookbook and began teaching myself to cook.

    I would first pick a recipe, often chosen at random, and then go buy the ingredients. The first time I cooked with each recipe, I would follow the directions exactly. Then if it turned out okay, I would make my own tweaks in future iterations. I would often choose recipes using main ingredients I had never worked with before so I could learn new cooking techniques.

    Today, twenty years later, people always tell me I should open a restaurant. My kids prefer my cooking over eating out.

    2. Physics

    Every once in awhile, you get a teacher or professor who just inspires you, and it changes your life forever. When I was in high school in New Jersey in the mid-90's, I had one such teacher. My science teacher, Mr. Benedict, was a fun guy. He loved to joke, tell stories, and demonstrate physics in class. One time he swung a bucket of water over his head to demonstrate centrifugal force. He once posited that if the whole class were launched into space, over a long period of time, the gravity of our dead bodies would eventually cause all of us to clump together (yes, this was the mid-90's, before it became not okay to talk about dead students).

    The physics I learned in that class and future physics classes really influenced how I think of the world. With physics knowledge, I could look at various things around me and determine if it was safe or unsafe. I could understand why taking your eyes off the road for even two seconds while driving on the highway was dangerous, yet roller coasters are completely safe. I could understand how cutting vegetables one way could get my fingers sliced off, while cutting them another way was completely safe.

    When you understand the basic physics at work in the world, like inertia, gravity, acceleration, friction, centrifugal force, dipolar forces, electricity, etc., you can avoid a lot of physical dangers that other people might not see.

    3. Touch Typing

    I took a touch typing class in eighth grade, years before I even became interested in computers. It would become one of the most useful classes I have ever taken. I can type at about a hundred words per minute, and it has probably saved me hundreds of hours of time by now. If you have to type a lot, whether for work or in emailing your friends, you owe it to yourself to learn touch typing.

    4. Martial Arts

    Martial arts is so much more than learning to fight. The discipline and physical conditioning you learn will benefit you for a lifetime. I spent ten years of my life practicing various martial arts including Tae Kwon Do, Cuong Nhu, and Kendo. Through much practice, eventually you will surprise yourself with the feats your body can perform. And when you see yourself doing seemingly superhuman things, it really boosts your confidence to achieve goals you never thought possible.

    5. Statistics

    I've always been fascinated with statistics, particularly for analyzing baseball players. Yes, it can be a very dry topic, but everyone should at least learn the basics. When you start observing the world through the lens of probabilities and risk, you start to make better decisions. You can then sort for yourself whether certain risks are worth taking or not.

    In 2003, I was living in Taiwan on a scholarship to study the Chinese language. Then SARS broke out (SARS is basically COVID version 1.0). The streets were empty. Entire hospitals were locked down. People were dying. My mom saw the news and begged me to come home. But I looked at the numbers, and statistically speaking, it was more likely that I would die in a road accident than by SARS. I stayed in Taiwan and never regretted it.

    6. Reading and Writing

    Well, duh. You might think this is a dumb one to add to the list because it's so obvious, but most people don't make any conscious effort to read and write. Or they practice one and not the other.

    Reading and writing go hand in hand. To be a good reader, you should write. To be a good writer, you should read. Setting time aside to practice reading and writing is one of the most important skills I've learned. If you can read, you can learn anything. If you can write, you can turn your random thoughts into well-formed ideas, ready for execution.

    7. Investing

    My late father-in-law got me started investing by loaning me some money to invest for him. He was a former vice president for a large S&P 500 corporation, but his biggest regret was not learning to invest sooner. If he had learned to invest sooner, he would have retired much earlier and enjoyed life much more.

    Investing is not day trading. It's a long-term, lifelong habit. It's almost like planting your money in a garden. Some seeds will be duds, many will disappoint, but a few will grow to be highly productive cash crops.

    Don't save your money in the bank. Learn to invest it so you can retire early and enjoy life more.

    8. Computer Programming

    I got interested in computers late. I got my first computer in 1995. It had Windows 95 on it. We installed AOL on it and got on the internet. Then in 1997, I was accepted to college, but had no idea what I wanted to do. Maybe chemical engineering, because I did well in AP Chemistry. But in the summer of 1997, I found out that it didn't take any special machinery to create your own software. I bought a book on C++ that came with a Borland C++ compiler and spent my summer learning programming on my own. By the time I left for college in 1997, I resolved to change my major from "undecided" to "computer science."

    Although I don't do much coding anymore, the knowledge of how computers work and how to program them helps me a lot every day. Like most people these days, I use my computer every day. Knowing exactly what your computer is doing while you're using it allows you to take advantage of the power of computers, while steering clear of the risks.

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