How to Perform 14 Basic Skills, Part 2

by Michael on July 12, 2009 · 0 comments

In case you missed Part 1 of this series, I took it upon myself to fill in what you need to know in order to actually accomplish the first five items in’s 14 Basic Skills All Men Should Possess. It’s all in the spirit of us guys all being in this all together. All of us.

Today we tackle five more items on the list, including a couple that I’d tackle a little differently than prescribed…

Today: how to swim. Tomorrow: how to pee on yourself.

Today: how to swim. Tomorrow: how to pee on yourself. Look out.

6. Balance Your Checkbook

I know, I know, this is math, and math is hard. And a lot of us don’t even use checks anymore, right?

You should nevertheless have an idea at any given time of where your bank account stands, both to ensure you don’t run into overdraft fees and to quickly stop your account from being drained by an identity thief. But there’s a better way than getting out the check ledger and calculator: most banks have online banking, where you can instantly see an approximately-up-to-the-day itemized accounting of your spending. You can even set up online bill pay so you can also avoid late fees from your creditors.

To add a masterful level of control, you can use accounting software like Quicken or an online service like, where you can not only see your itemized transactions but also keep tabs on any investments, credit cards and loans. You can also figure out your net worth (hopefully that’s not too depressing). Mint will even send you e-mail alerts when you go over budget or a spending item looks fishy.

So you don’t have to balance a checkbook, but you do have to be fiscally responsible by regularly monitoring your day-to-day spending. And hang on to your receipts at least until they show up in your statements – how else are you going to tell if that waitress gave herself a little bit of an “extra” tip?

References: If you want to learn to balance a checkbook the old-fashioned way, there’s this tutorial.

7. Cook the Perfect Steak

Now this is a skill. And you’d be surprised at how un-basic it is. The point at which you put the steak on the grill is closer to the end of the process than the beginning. Before that meat touches the heat, anything approaching the superlative “perfect” has gotta be properly prepared:

  1. Buy your steak from a butcher, not pre-packaged from a store. The best cuts will be “marbled” with fat (eat them on your “cheat day”) and ideally will have a ring of fat around the edge (trim it off when the steak is ready to eat – it helps hold the juices in when cooking). Leaner cuts like rib-eye or top sirloin may require a spicier rub or a good BBQ sauce for more flavor. Steaks that are too thick may require oven-baking after you sear them on the grill, unless you like them rare.
  2. Let it sit in the fridge a few days before you cook it, on a plate covered with a paper towel. This helps draw moisture out of the meat.
  3. Do not put the steak on the grill straight from the fridge. The closer it is to room temperature, the better. (This applies to most grilled or fried meats.)
  4. Season your steak! The simplest, most common form is a sea-salt and fresh-ground pepper rub – first coat the steak in a high-smoke-point oil so the ingredients stick, then rub the salt and pepper into the meat.
  5. Make sure you’ve got the grill as hot as possible. This is the primary reason to choose charcoal over gas. You want to sear the steak as quickly as possible.

Now you’re ready to cook the thing. This part is easy, if your grill is hot enough:

  1. Put the steak on the grill.
  2. Don’t mess with it. No poking, no moving it around or lifting it every minute to look at the bottom, no cutting to check for “pinkness.” No flattening to sear it like you once saw someone do on TV.
  3. Turn it over with tongs or a spatula, not the giant sharp fork that came with the grill.
  4. See Step 2. Don’t let your friends mess with it either.
  5. Test for doneness with your finger. The more thoroughly cooked the meat, the firmer it will be.
  6. Remove it from the grill and guard it for at between 5-10 minutes. Don’t let a knife or fork touch the steak until it has rested, or the juices (and flavor) will run out all over the plate and all your careful preparation will be ruined.

There you have it. You’re welcome.

References: To get the ultimate advice, you should go directly to the master of all things grilled, Bobby Flay. He’s got some tips at his web site and at the CBS Early Show page.

8. Swim the Breaststroke

There’s a lot of debate over this: most people learn the crawl (aka the freestyle stroke) and even those who know both tend to favor the crawl as a faster way to swim from Point A to Point B. The breaststroke, however, is an energy-conserving stroke, and has the advantage that novice swimmers don’t even necessarily need to put their face under water to perform it.

As someone who learned to swim only as an adult, I gravitated toward the breaststroke even before I took a lesson. But if I were to fall into the water and had to swim any kind of distance, I would probably use the Elementary Backstroke, which I could do all day if necessary. (Yes, I’m not a strong swimmer, my kick sucks, but I’m working on it.)

All that said, please learn to swim. What stroke doesn’t matter. No one cares if you’re 20 (or 30, or 40) and have to admit you don’t know. Just please learn to not drown if you fall into the water.

Resources: This is one usually better learned from an instructor, although Tim Ferriss (yes, the Four-Hour Work Week guy) swears by the book Total Immersion and the related DVDs. Your local YMCA is the easiest resource for swim classes. Also try your local parks department, and if they have a pool, your fitness club.

9. Write Effectively

This is another obvious one – the better you communicate, the farther you get in life.

I’ve been a professional writer (meaning it’s been my major source of income) for over a decade, and I didn’t need an English major (or even any college-level English, beyond a copy-editing class) to do it. I’ve just always been curious about language, a voracious reader (although not of fiction) and kept my mind open to learn. But if you don’t have that same drive, don’t worry. There are plenty of resources to help you at least get literate enough to get ahead.

But first I’m going to offer one tip that will help you right now: re-read everything you write before you send it.

Re-read and make changes in your papers, e-mails, text messages and tweets. Everything. Even the most experienced writers find errors when they take the time to look back at their work. Writing can always be polished: there’s no such thing as “right.” There is only “bad,” “good” and “great.” You want to at least get to “good.” When things like “I think your wrong” or “take a sneak peak” start bothering you, you’re getting the hang of the English language.

Resources: This page at Princeton’s site offers tips on college-level writing, as well as links to online style guides (a style guide is something that tells you when to use “who” and when to use “whom” instead). offers even more resources.  Want a list of the most common writing errors? There’s a page for that.

10. Dress for the Occasion

Ah, now finally something dear to my heart. This is a much broader topic than we can cover in this article, but fortunately this very site has a category where we’ll help you dress well in all situations. I can also give you some short-form pointers for specific situations:

  • Job interviews: dress at least slightly better than the customary office wardrobe. For example, a high-tech firm’s employees usually wear lots of jeans, khakis, t-shirts and polos. A nice dress shirt and good slacks should be the minimum for interview attire. You can never go wrong with a blue or gray suit, though.
  • Club night: a nice, eye-catching shirt, maybe worn open with a designer t-shirt, interesting cotton pants in a contrasting color, and some leather boots.
  • Funeral: black suit. If you don’t own a black suit and don’t want to buy one, wear whatever you have that’s black (your Nine Inch Nails t-shirt is not appropriate).

Resources: Besides this site, I recommend the process I use myself: read GQ or Details, go window-shopping at Barney’s, then look for cheaper versions of those new styles at Macy’s or Nordstrom Rack (secret: Rack seems to have better styles than the regular Nordstrom stores, perhaps because the middle-of-the-road suburban professionals who shop at Nordy’s won’t buy the edgier clothes).

Well, we’re two-thirds of the way home, and I’ve got instructions for four more skills in Part 3, as well as a final word.

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