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18 Things Every 18-Year-Old Should Know How to Do

18 things to know when you're 18
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As the oldest of three, I am probably the most stereotypical Big Sister that ever existed. Overachiever? Check. Fiercely independent? Check. Bossy AF? Check. Being older than my siblings, I also served as a babysitter, homework helper, advice-giver, and basically a third parent. So, while I was 12 going on 25, they relied on my parents and me to do literally everything for them. And for much longer than is socially acceptable — yes, I do take partial responsibility for that. But, now that they’re grown, I think it’s finally time to cut that cord.

While part of me wishes you could stay my cute little red-headed munchkins forever, I kind of have my own life to live, so I’m going to need you guys to grow up and act like the adults that you officially are.

To them and all other young adults everywhere, here is my advice to you. You may not have everything figured out yet, but if you at least know how to do these things, and you just might turn out alright.

1. Talk to Strangers

I know, I know, this goes against everything your parents instilled in you from a young age — but I promise, walking up and asking a Walmart employee where to find the light bulbs isn’t going to get you kidnapped (not to mention it’s infinitely better — and faster — than walking the entire perimeter of the store because you’re too afraid to ask).

2. Make a Doctor’s Appointment

Unfortunately, there comes a time in your life when your parents legally can’t speak on your behalf anymore. That time comes the day you turn 18, and you’re a legal adult. So put on your big girl panties and start making your own appointments — and no, this doesn’t mean you should just never make an appointment again because suffering from a fever sounds better than picking up the phone.

3. Send an Email (That’s Grammatically Correct)

Emailing might not be “cool” anymore, but it’s still widely used by most professional companies — and college professors. So if you don’t know how to effectively send a clear, respectful, and polite email, then your professors and/or employers will notice.

4. Remember Important Dates

Your grandma’s birthday? Father’s Day? Your parents’ anniversary? Mark ‘em down in your planner (and if you don’t have one of those, get one). And when those days roll around, pick up your phone and call the people who love you and tell them how much they mean to you. If it’s an occasion that requires a card or a gift, then you’re officially expected to figure that out on your own (though you may consider a customizable challenge coin!) The days of simply signing your name to the card or taking credit for the gift your parents (or older sister) picked out are over.

5. Apply for a Job (and Land It)

If you don’t have a resume already, make one. And lucky for you, we even have some templates to get you started. Once you have a resume, applying for a job is actually pretty simple, but it can be overwhelming if you’ve never gone through the process. Job applications ask for lots of information about yourself, some of which you may not even know. If you’re completely lost and have no idea how to answer certain questions, it’s okay to call up your mom and ask. It’s not okay, however, to dump it on her lap and expect her to do it for you.

But applying for the job is only half the battle. You’ve also got to dress and act like a respectable adult and go in there and nail your interview. Anyone can sound good on paper, but it takes real maturity to follow through and present yourself as a viable and deserving candidate for the job.

6. Have Your Own Bank Account

Once you land that job, you’re going to need somewhere to deposit your first paycheck. If your only experience with a bank account thus far is swiping the credit card that your parents pay for, then it’s time for you to take responsibility for your own finances. If your parents still let you keep that credit card, great — but you should still have the money you make go into your own bank account so you can gain a new understanding (and appreciation) for the value of a dollar.

7. Manage Your Money

If you’re living on your own, you’re going to have bills to pay or at least groceries to buy if you live in a dorm or you’re lucky enough to have parents who are still helping you out. You might think you’re living the dream by surviving off of midnight Taco Bell runs and double-shot frappuccinos. However, you’ll soon learn that your shiny new bank account isn’t a bottomless pot of gold. Think about what happens when you blow all your money on coffee and quesadillas and have nothing left to pay for deodorant and toothpaste. Or worse, your electricity bill?

I know this word is cringe, but you’re going to have to make a budget. And stick to it. You don’t want to be the person who’s constantly borrowing money. Your friends and parents will get tired of that really quickly. Get your shit together enough to make ends meet.

8. Ask for Help

This is a lesson that I struggled to learn because (shocker) I was a bit of a know-it-all at 18. I started counting down the days to being on my own when I was 15. No way was I ever going to admit that I needed help. But what someone should have told me is: Yes, you’re a legal adult now. But that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically expected to know everything. You don’t want to continually fall flat on your face because you refuse to ask for help from anyone, ever. If you’re lucky, you’ve got dozens of “real” adults who you can turn to for everything from “How do you cook chicken?” to “What’s a W-2 and what am I supposed to do with it?” Take advantage of the resources and wisdom provided to you by others’ failures. That way, you’ll never have to learn the hard way.

9. Google Something

With that being said, there are still plenty of things you can and should be able to figure out on your own. Everyone knows how to type something into Google, but it’s even more important to know how to find reliable answers instead of just clicking the first link you see and counting that as “research.” If you’re wondering if chocolate really is bad for dogs, you probably shouldn’t listen to the Yahoo Answers commenter from 7 years ago who says it’s perfectly fine.

10. Admit When You’re Wrong

Once again, this was a hard lesson for me to learn at 18 — and to be perfectly honest, I’m still learning it at 24. But this is probably one of the most important things on this list. A decade from now, you’ll look back on your 18-year-old self and shake your head at how naive you were and how stubbornly you defended opinions on things you knew nothing about. Humble yourself, and recognize that you aren’t perfect. You’re going to screw up every now and then. And that’s okay, as long as you own it and learn from it.

11. Apologize

Sometimes it’s enough just to admit you were wrong about something. Other times you may find yourself in a situation where you hurt someone you care about. This may be intentional or unintentional. When that happens, a sincere, honest apology is the only thing that can mend the situation. Even if you feel like you did nothing wrong, knowing how and when to apologize is a life skill. It’ll take you far, both in your personal and professional relationships.

12. Know Your Way Around the Town You Live In

I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years with my nose in a book. So, when I turned 16 and started driving, I had absolutely no idea how to get anywhere because I never paid any attention to what was going on outside the car window. Feeling lost isn’t fun, and not to mention it can be dangerous if you break down, lose cell service, or end up in a bad part of town. Even if you have a GPS to rely on for direction, you should always be paying attention to street names, landmarks, and other signifiers that could help if you ever need to find your way home.

13. Read a Map (Yes, an Actual Map, Not GPS)

When you’re traveling outside of the city you live in, you still need to be able to find your way around. And if your travel is outside of the U.S., or if you find yourself with a dead phone or no cell service, then your GPS isn’t going to do you much good. Good old-fashioned paper maps might seem outdated. However, if you know how to read one, you’ll always be able to count on getting yourself from point A to point B no matter where you are or what unfortunate circumstances you find yourself in.

14. Vote (and Understand Who/What You’re Voting For)

Not only is voting your right as soon as you turn 18, but it’s also your civic duty. But, with great power comes great responsibility. Don’t take it lightly. Before you set foot in the voting booth, make sure you understand who you’re supporting and what they stand for, understand which issues you’re voting for or against, and understand how the voting process works for local, state, and national issues.

15. Manage Your Time

Most 18-year-olds are either beginning college or starting their career. No matter which category you fall into, you’re probably going to feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions. Figure out how to prioritize tasks. Balance work, school, friends, family, etc. It is essential at this time in your life. You’ll find yourself constantly torn between what you want to do and what you need to do, so by either using a planner or keeping a million to-do lists, give yourself some solid structure to fall back on when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

16. Say No

You can’t do everything. And if you try, you’ll inevitably disappoint someone. Sometimes you have to say no to things you want in favor of things you need. But you have to learn how to say no to things you don’t even want or need to do. Otherwise, you’re going to end up disappointing yourself. If you know that working an extra shift is going to prevent you from studying for a test, then tell your boss you can’t do it. Tell your friends you’ll catch them next time if you don’t want to go out because you’re tired and would rather have a night to yourself. If you don’t want to go on another date with that guy, tell him you’re just not that into him. Your time is valuable, so you should spend it the way you want and need to spend it.

17. Fail

In high school, I got straight A’s without even trying. So, you can imagine how shocked I was when I received my very first B in my freshman year of college after studying harder than I’d ever studied before. Obviously, this is a weak example of “failing,” — but the truth is even the smallest of setbacks can feel like the end of the world if your whole life has been smooth sailing up until this point. How you deal with those failures, big or small, is what defines you as a person. You can either choose to get frustrated and point the blame at anyone but yourself, or you can accept responsibility for your mistakes and imperfections and learn from every obstacle that stands in the way of your success.

18. Keep Trying

Failing with grace isn’t easy, but picking yourself back up and trying again is even harder. When you’re new to this whole adult thing, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture and know what you’re ultimately working towards. Also, it makes it easier to give up when your goal isn’t easily achievable. But developing your own self-motivation and determination is how you get through the rough days and what makes the day you finally succeed really worth it. Being willing to work for something long-term and earn it is a great mindset. Not expecting everything to be handed to you is what will make you stand out, especially from every other 18-year-old who’s chasing the same dream as you.

Follow Christine on Instagram: @christinemassey | Twitter: @christine0022

Last modified on April 3rd, 2023

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