There are all sorts of prescriptions out there for what it takes to be a man. Some of them involve buying things you don’t need: leather wallets and silk ties. Others still require investing in and expanding on your education. If I’ve learned anything about being a man so far, it’s that there are no hard-and-fast rules to manhood. There are, however, some things that every adult male should know that will help him through the business of living his life and being a leader among his peers. This isn’t a list about how to be a man: better writers than I have written novels on the subject and fallen well short of an answer. Think of this as a list that will give you the edge on being a lifelong leader while you’re still figuring it all out. Here are 25 Things Every Man Should Be Able To Do By The Time He’s 25.
25. Start A Fire
Every year we become an increasingly less outdoorsy people, and undestandably so. There isn’t much cause for wilderness survival in the city unless you’ve gotten yourself involved with Occupy Wall Street. We aren’t saying that you should be prepared for a dystopian future, but there is a beauty in being able to separate yourself from modern comforts. Hiking, camping, and enjoying a fire are all part of liberating experience of taking a step away from civilization. If you truly want to get away from it all, not in some manicured resort, but actually put some distance between you and modernity, grab your tent and join the dying breed.
24. Use Basic Tools
Attempting to fix problems around the house before the electrician or plumber gets there is like treating yourself after self-diagnosing on WebMD. There are some problems that crop up in the home that don’t require a professional touch. As such, every man should have a few basic tools around the house to accomplish those simple fixes that you would be embarassed to ask your landlord to do for you. If you know the difference between a Flat Head and a Phillips, and have a good guess as to when to use a screw instead of a nail, you’re probably in the top half of the modern male population.
23. Own a Plant Without Killing It
Not everybody is down with pets. Pet ownership is basically a part-time job you have to pay to do. Plant ownership is a far less intensive commitment. Whether you set up a garden in your backyard or keep a nice houseplant on your desk, it is good to know how to keep a plant green and upright. It forces you to focus, if only for a minute, on something other than the daily grind. Besdies, those things give off oxygen, so thank a plant by not allowing it to wither and die.
22. Enjoy Your Workout
“No pain, no gain” is a fine ethos for the back of high school sports t-shirt, but it isn’t going to motivate you to stick with a workout when life gets in the way. Anyone who tells you that they don’t enjoy working out just hasn’t tried enough different workouts. You may not enjoy the macho atmosphere of the gym. Running long distances might only be something you do when you’re late for work. That’s fine: try swimming, yoga, boxing, basketball, and anything else you can think of until you find a workout that doesn’t feel like a chore.
21. Dress for the Occasion
“Every man should own a suit” is the most tired advice in the world. Let me tell you, if you’re a freelance writer and you show up anywhere in a suit, and you’re not Truman Capote, people will get suspicious. The important thing is to know what to wear for a given occasion. If you don’t know, find the right person to ask. Understand that different jobs, different cities, and different subcultures have different dress codes. No one wears a suit to work in New York City above Wall Street. In some parts of the South, you wear a tie to a job interview at the Dairy Queen. Do your homework.
20. Understand Your Financial Commitments
Stocks aren’t for everybody. You may not yet be at a point where you can stow some money away for retirement. That’s okay, but by 25, you should have a basic understanding of where your money goes. If you can’t articulate why you have the insurance and bank accounts that you have, take an afternoon to brush up on your where your money’s going and why it’s going there.
19. Cook a Proper Meal
No one’s asking you to become a foodie, and Lord knows that we don’t want to see Instagrams of what you make, but by the time you turn 25, you should have one dish that you can call your own. Ideally, this is a dish you can cook for a date, so hot dogs and baked beans may not be the best choice. Also, make sure it’s a dish you enjoy, so you’ll be tempted to make it instead of ordering delivery yet again.
17. Understand How Your Friend Fixed Your Computer
We all have that buddy that we call when things go wrong with our computer. If you are that friend, our condolences. It is important that you don’t treat this friend as a catch all. Ask him how he got that virus off of your computer or worked around your screw up. Know at least a little bit about hard drives, RAM, processors and the like. At the very least, it will save $500 at the Apple Store when you realize that the high-end processor won’t actually make Facebook and Word work any faster. If you learn the easy stuff, your friend is more likely to keep picking up the phone when you have a technology meltdown.
16. Take an Insult Without Starting a Fight
Fighting words don’t have to lead to fighting actions. It’s funny, but in our emasculated culture of pasty, pudgy people starting Internet flame wars, we are always ready to get into a fist fight when someone calls us a douche. Fighting some guy in the Denny’s parking lot isn’t going to magically turn you into William Wallace, so give it a rest. Violence is rarely the answer. Violence at a bar with your friends is pretty much never the answer.
15. Follow A Budget
Everyone overspends. This is America, damn it, and we love us some consumer goods. That doesn’t mean that you should rack up credit card debt and then drop a couple hundred bucks at the bar commiserating with your financially inept friends. Make a budget and stick to it. Even if you have to work in a line item for booze and fruitless lustful adventures, you’ll at least be prepared for your expenditures, even the unnecessary ones.
14. Play A Song on A Musical Instrument
Many of you haven’t picked up a musical instrument since you threw down that clarinet and stormed out of middle school band, never to return. There is something lovely and humbling about returning to music later in life, long after you’ve abandoned the fantasy that you’ll some day sell out stadiums. Also, it never hurts to be able to pull out “Heart and Soul” at parties. Ladies love that jam.
13. Change A Tire
It never hurts to have a AAA card and know a mechanic who’ll give you favorable rates. Even if your boy from high school opened an auto shop, there are still some things you ought to be able to take care of on your own. If you don’t already know how, take an afternoon to learn how to change a tire, jump a car, and look like you know what you’re talking about when a passerby quickly solves some other problem with your car. We all have that fantasy where we help some beautiful woman on the side of the road with car trouble. Be ready to live that fantasy, no matter how unlikely it is that it will actually come to pass.
12. Have A Preferred News Source…And At Least Two Others
If you don’t aspire to write for Politico, then you don’t need to have your Twitter feed teeming with dozens of news outlets, bloggers, and talking heads. To function as a halfway decent citizen, it is important to hear more than one editorial point of view.
11. Avoid Talking About Yourself
It is amazing how many men in their thirties and beyond can’t converse about anything other than themselves. The key is learning not to fill every small pause with more hot air. Focus on listening in conversation. The best part about listening is that you’re learning something new rather than regurgitating old stores you’ve told dozens of times. Every minute you keep your mouth shut is a minute that you aren’t risking embarassment.
10. Appreciate Old Art
Classic art, from aging symphonies to the statues of antiquity to the poets of the past, feels inaccessible at first. If you missed out on art appreciation in college, it might be hard to see the beauty in a faded pots with some pictures of naked dudes on them. You don’t need to start an expensive personal art gallery. You don’t even have to purchase a museum membership. But, digesting art made before your parents were born once or twice a week will slowly provide you with some much needed perspective.
9. Compliment Your Friends
Even the most humanitarian among us struggle with jealous. You can’t help feeling pangs of envy as you watch your peers suceed, but you can stop yourself from letting thse feelings control you. Start by learning how to pay your friends compliments on their achievements. Be there to applaud their best moments and they’ll be there to congratulate you on yours. Better yet, they’ll be there to support you at your worst, when you really need them.
8. Write A Real Letter
It is a safe bet that anyone reading this can compose a simple email conveying information about earnings reports, but competent letter writing is a fading skill. Have you ever seen Ken Burns’s The Civil War? Do you remember the simple elegance and heartfelt emotion conveyed in the love letters written by enlisted men? Farmers who hadn’t finished middle school wrote better than the average college graduate today. We can do better.
7. Tie a Tie
Sure not every occasion calls for one (see No. 21), but mastering the art of expertly tying a tie will come in handy more often than you probably expect. Not sure how to get started? Ask a friend or look up one of the many how-to videos out there. And if you’ve already got a handle on the basics get creative with a half-Windsor or Pratt knot.
6. Relate to Children
The default move of the urban male is “I just don’t like kids.” What they’re really saying is “I’m scared of children.” Kids are great. They are like small adults but far more interesting, far less jaded, and with way cooler toys. If you treat children like adults until they give you a good reason not too, instead of condescending to them with dumbed-down baby-talky chatter, you’ll get along with kids just fine.
5. Respect Opposing Points of View
This isn’t to say that you should accept the facile idea that all problems can be solved by “meeting in the middle,” like some intellectual Benjamin Button. Rather, the idea here is to learn how to understand the roots of viewpoints different from your own. You may disagree with Christian fundamentalists or Yankees fans, but it is important to hone your ability to see how they came to believe what they believe. If you can see the human behind the insufferably stupid viewpoint, life will get immeasurably easier.
4. Enjoy Being Alone
In the perpetually plugged in world we live in today, we are rarely truly alone. If you can’t enjoy being alone with yourself, who else is going to enjoy being around you? It may seem strange to say that being alone takes practice, but the bitter feelings of isolation takes time to overcome if you’re used to having people physically or digitally around at all times. The noise of complete silence is distracting until you get used to it.
3. Have Platonic Female Friends
The boy’s club attitude that so many men cultivate through their college years and beyond is borne of fear. No one expects you to remain friends with former flames (because that never works anyway. You aren’t the exception. Trust.), but it is a good idea for you to make some friends with some of the 99.9 percent of the female population you won’t be taking to bed. Also, if you’re over 25 and still utter the phrase “friendzone” without a dash of irony, don’t be shocked if your dating pool suddenly dries up.
2. Accept Constructive Criticism
Solicit criticism on the things you care most about. Take that script out of the drawer. Bring your muscular buddy with you to the gym to peep your form. Cook for a friend who knows their way around the kitchen. When friends offer unsolicited criticism regarding your behavior, don’t get defensive. Take some time to really think about where the comments are coming from, and if, Heaven forbid, they’re right. think about what you can do to make yourself a better man.
1. Take Advice With a Grain of Salt
Most people don’t know what they’re talking about. If you need proof, just Google around for lists similar to this one. You’ll find people telling you that you need to be able to eat spicy food, in order to be a man, and other things that don’t quite make sense. Check this list published over at Business Insider which purports to instruct on manhood, but really doesn’t provide much substance on how to really become a leader or respectable man, especially around your family and peers . You’ll only be able to discern whether or not advice was any good once you’ve taken it, so be careful what advice you follow.
You may think the same about this list, which is okay. I’m still working on number two, so your criticism is welcome.