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I Don’t Know How To Do Anything

I’m 21 years old. I don’t know how to do anything.

Well let me clarify that — I don’t know how to do ‘real life’ stuff. Sure there are technically things I can do (i.e. take the derivative of things, illegally download music, use a credit card but not understand the statement). But it’s the frequently overlooked little tasks in life that I’m realizing must make me look like an alien from outer space. Heck, I bet even aliens would make fun of me. They’d be all like, “really bro, you don’t know to operate an oven?” Honestly, if not for the likes of ‘Yahoo Answers and eHow,’ I would literally be dead by now. And I do mean literally. Like at some point I probably would have bought potatoes, realized I have no idea how to prepare potatoes, and then my head would have exploded and I’d be dead.

Is it a generational thing? My parents seem to know how to do stuff. Some of my friends can do some things, but most of them also seem to not know how to do stuff. Is it because of robots? Is it because of China? Or is it neither of those things? I don’t know, but what I do know is that my peers and I can’t do squat, except actually squat, we do like to exercise which I guess is good.

I recently had to mail some documents (yeah I’m kind of a big deal, I occasionally mail DOCUMENTS) to someone, and I was genuinely baffled. Sure, I knew the post office would be involved, but in what capacity? Could I do this virtually? Would I have to communicate with another human being, like, in the flesh (bleh)? Do stamps still exist or did Barry Obama get rid of those? Would I need to create a login and password? At that moment, while watching a TV show on my computer I realized, HOLY CRAP I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO MAIL A LETTER!

Epilogue to that story, the documents did eventually get mailed and among other things, I now know what a ‘fixed-rate, pre-paid envelope is as far as the US Postal Service is concerned #GetAtMe. However the whole situation did reveal something bigger: I graduate college this year and will subsequently be unleashed into the ‘real world’ where I will presumably be expected to understand how to get from the entrance of the airport all the way to the airplane without asking any questions. With crying no longer an option, I need to start learning how to do things, real things, right now.

But hey, this shouldn’t be a wake up call for just me. I’m talking to YOU other people my age who don’t know how to do things! If I had a nickel for every time I overheard a person my age on the phone asking his or her mother how to deposit a check or operate a thermostat I would have SO MANY NICKELS! Now granted I get that writing checks is a pretty archaic art-form and successfully adjusting a thermostat is annoyingly complex, but I feel like when my parents were my age they never would’ve even asked the question.

I imagine all of this not-knowing-how-to-do-stuff can play out in a number of ways, which also happen to work as a fantastic plot to a movie. (Spielberg if you’re reading this hit me up on LinkedIn because I’m very professional and I got ideas.)

Scenario 1 involves my peers and I becoming full-blown adults who don’t understand how to pay rent or register to vote or disinfect a wound and our society crumbles as we know it.

Scenario 2 involves robots developing much faster than expected and before we know it the robots just do everything for us and it will be sad, but ultimately irrelevant that we can’t do anything ourselves because the robots will just do everything. But have you seen I Am Legend? Let’s just say I’m not fond of scenario 2.

Scenario 3 involves China doing everything for us, taking all our money, and eventually our robots (NOT OUR ROBOTS!)

Scenario 4 involves us becoming proactive and learning how to do things so we can become fully functional members of society.

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  • Amalia Pantazi

    Hey Daniel! I’m 22 and I think it’s natural for those of us who have been privileged to live with a functional family and with parents who took care of us – which is unfortunately, not granted- to not know how to do real life things. I liked your articles and have two obsevations to make.
    A) Nothing worng with asking questions. Questions are good, they help us, they make the people that we ask feel important and they can be an opportunity to meet someone *wink*. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong or shameful about asking people to help you when you need help.
    B) The only way to actually learn to do things is to be obliged to them on our own and that necessarily involves a little desperation along the way. But this whole I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing process, the asking around while loathing ourself and cursing our ignorance under our breath, and a few mistakes, too, if you please, are the only way for us to actually learn.
    I think we all learn life as we go and that’s cool.
    Cheers! x

    • Kat Camden

      “I think it’s natural for those of us who have been privileged to live with a functional family and with parents who took care of us – which is unfortunately, not granted- to not know how to do real life things. ”

      What?! If you were privileged to live with a functional family, they would have made sure you knew how to cook and operate a washing machine by the age of 18!

      • Susan Costa Galvin

        Exactly. I had a wonderfully “functional” family — my parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in June — but I was also taught how to take care of myself. I was not only taught how to do these things, but expected to do them for myself. By 9 I was cleaning bathrooms and sorting laundry, and ,making dinner occasionally by junior high. As a teenager I was expected to help with all the chores,, change the oil in my car, and work to buy my own gas. We are teaching our own children the same way. The goal of parenting is to prepare your children to live independently by the time they’re 18, by gradually increasing responsibility each year. I left for college at 17 and never lived at home again after that. I am grateful I was raised that way, and my parents are two of my best friends now.

        • Frances Locke

          This is exactly how I was raised. I think the ability to raise a well-adjusted, knowledgeable child should be the number one sign of a functional family. I find it so messed up that so many parents just blindly do everything for their kids and don’t expect them to learn anything. I do the same things you mentioned for my kids and I’ve literally had other parents say that I am being a bad mom. Why, because I expect my 9 year old to learn some life skills? Taking out the trash and cleaning her room is torture now? lol.

      • Kristen Haynie

        I agree! The point of parenting isn’t to take care of your children and do everything for them, it’s to raise fully functional adults. I’m 23, and I knew how to do the things I needed to do by the time I was in high school. My mom would make sure I was tagging along and learning something while she was cooking/cleaning/washing laundry/etc. Daniel, I’m so glad you’re asking questions about these things and making an effort to learn! I see sooo many young people these days shrugging and muttering “eh, whatever” when they don’t know how to do something. Then they walk away and leave it undone. I find this attitude highly disturbing.

    • Amalia Pantazi

      I don’t think I made myself clear. I write of those who were privileged to have grown up in a family with both parents to give their care, meaning simply that there are people who go through a very rough childhood, who face serious domestic problems and are forced to take on responsibilities too early. These responsibilities that I write about are not cooking and doing laundry or cleaning one’s room. I consider it goes without saying that every sufficiently grown person can do such things and take care of themselves, and I definately do not think that parents taking care of their children means parents doing everything for their children. It’s probably my fault for not clarifying, but ‘real life things’ in my mind are not household chores and basic self-care, but activities and procedures closer to Daniel’s example of mailing documents, like opening a bank account, or doing some sort of transaction in a public service, or looking for the right characteristics in order to rent an appartment, or filling in a tax return for the first time.

  • Shalaka Salian

    Hi Daniel!! I can’t tell you how much I relate to your post. I’m going to graduate in few months and it kinda scares me that I still don’t know how to cook or operate a washing machine. I do get this feeling too, where I think that my parents might have never had any problem with depositing checks in the bank or posting documents via mail. I mean they have been knowing that for forever right? But there is this thing they keep telling me all the time that nobody was born knowing everything. You learn when the time is right. I get that. But, I’m just pure lazy to go to kitchen and stand beside my mum and learn cooking. Any ideas on how to cope up with that?

    • Frances Locke

      I taught myself how to cook on the internet. I recommend starting with your absolute favorite dishes, so you will be excited to learn. It’s a lot easier than it looks, I went from super simple things to more complex recipes pretty fast and I was shocked at how things usually turned out right (I was expecting a lot of messed up food, lol).

  • Frances Locke

    I think it has something to do with baby boomers and GenXers and the huge difference in attitude they had about parenting from their parents. I am only a few years older than you but I was raised by my greatest generation era grandparents and I was certainly taught how to balance a check book and mail a document before I went off to college.

    Most of my friends and classmates struggled with these little things. Of course I didn’t know everything (gran wasn’t much of a cook and we ate out much of the time) and when I needed to learn something the internet was a valuable resource. I literally taught myself how to cook via the internet, and also how to change my oil and do a number of things I wasn’t taught at home. You’re definitely not hopeless, you just need to research the holy hell out of everything, lol.

    I recommend learning how to do the basics before graduating (and definitely before moving in with a partner or even a roommate). Knowing how to wash your clothes and dishes, take out the trash (and on what nights to put it out!), vacuum and keep your space tidy is so important and will help you later in life.

    You’re hilarious, this piece genuinely made me laugh out loud (I”m kind of a big deal, lol!). Good Luck!

  • Erin Kate Archer

    hey I’m 21 too & I endorse this message !

  • Zoe Moorman

    I think we need to let ourselves make mistakes. A lot of young people I know seem to be constantly asking questions in the fear of doing something wrong (which amounts to A Big Deal somehow?), and while asking questions is EXCELLENT and I LOVE IT, things like cooking, cleaning, adjusting a thermostat and mowing the lawn can all be learned with a little trial and error if you have no one to turn to (or are just feeling whimsical) (I feel whimsical a lot). I’ve grilled pizza, put laundry on without any powder, and sat in a freezing house for two days because I turned down the thermostat too low in a bid to save on bills – and let’s just say I’ve learned never to do any of those things again! So try it out! Worst case scenario, you have some burnt food or have to do something again, but you always have a hilarious story.

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