Illustration by Lilli

When Lara Croft: Tomb Raider came out, I was blown away. Not only was it one of the first PG-13 movies I had ever seen (yes), but I quickly sensed that here was a cinematic masterpiece. It was everything I had ever wanted in a movie. It had Angelina Jolie playing a wealthy heiress in a very tight cat suit. She had endless amounts of time. She had expensive gadgets. She had a mission. I wanted to be her.

I went to see the movie four times in the theater (after the first time with friends, I went by myself to be alone with Lara), but you know what my favorite part was? It wasn’t watching the high-kicking action shots. It wasn’t even the close-ups of that gun strapped to Lara’s bronzed thigh. No. My favorite part was when Lara lands unexpectedly on a raft floating down the river in Cambodia. Not only is she not surprised, but she casually greets the fisherman manning the raft and speaks to him for a minute in perfect, fluent Khmer.

I was so impressed. Now there is someone who is prepared for life, I thought. Lara Croft spoke the native language of Cambodia. Of course she did. She’d spent years learning it just in case it ever came in handy. And what do you know—she needed her random language skills when she least expected it.

That’s how I wanted to be: prepared for anything, like Lara Croft. I wanted to be strong and confident in odd situations, to not lose my head when things got tough.

And things do get tough! Even when (unbelievably) you don’t end up being a tomb raider with piles of money, there are some Life Skills that are really, seriously helpful to have under your belt. You never know when you’re going to need them.

I can think of tons of Life Skills you’d be real happy to have at random times (starting a fire in the woods without matches, changing a car tire, figuring out if a mushroom is poisonous), but here are nine major Life Skills, in no particular order, that my friends and I agreed that we’ve randomly needed in our college-and-beyond lives so far:

1. Haggling

Haggling is what happens when you want to buy something, and you suspect (or know) the price stated isn’t set in stone. Together, you and the merchant reach a bargain. In lots of countries, haggling is a normal way of doing business, and totally expected in places like outdoor markets and tourist-frequented shops, but in the U.S., it’s sometimes harder to tell when the price listed is the actual price.

You can almost always haggle in situations where it’s just you and a person selling something, whether it’s a garage sale or a person offering a couch on Craigslist, but some surprising places where haggling is acceptable are: mall kiosks (those weird stands in malls where they sell sunglasses or amber jewelry) and antique or vintage stores. You can often get a much better deal if you’re willing to just try haggling.

Sometimes the merchant will let you. Sometimes not. But it never hurts to try.

But how to haggle? Well! Once you’ve found what you want, don’t let the seller see how interested you are. This is the most important thing. No matter how amazing that gold sequined tube top from the ’70s is, no matter if your hands are actually shaking with excitement…act bored. A merchant would much rather make a sale today for a little less than it says on the price tag than let you walk off and not make the sale at all. But if he/she knows how much you want it, the price will be set in stone.

If there isn’t a price tag at all, say, “So, this tube top…I don’t see a price. How much is it?” Or, if there is a price tag, say in a bored tone, “This is a cute tube top. Oh, it’s $60.” When the merchant says, “It’s $60,” make a vague, noncommittal noise, like “ahh” and then go idly look at some other stuff. Then come back to the sequined tube top. Say, “I really like this tube top, but it’s a bit more than I can spend today. I could give you ___ for it.” Make ___ the amount you’d like to get this tube top for in a fair world. Don’t make it absurdly low, like $20. I find that a figure around 75% works well. Say, in this case, $45.

The merchant will then either (a) say firmly, “No, I’m sorry, the price is set,” or (b) realize she is dealing with a shrewd customer, and raise her eyebrows for a second before saying, “Mmm. No. I might be able to give it to you for $55.” Then you meet her in the middle, and say, “How ’bout $50? I could maybe do $50.” She’ll probably agree, and you will have saved $10 and she will have made a sale on a gold sequined tube top from the ’70s that she’s had in her store for months. Haggling takes just a few seconds, and everybody wins!

2. Introducing Someone Well

At some point, you’ll have to do introductions that don’t go like this: “Everybody, this is Kim. Kim, this is everybody.” Sooner or later, you are going to need to introduce someone you want to impress to someone who is important to you, or introduce two people who you are certain would loooove each other, and the way you introduce them matters!

Introduce these two people with old-fashioned, 1950s-party-hostess style and grace. Include something personal, non-superficial, and interesting about each person when you do it, and act like they’re the two most important and fascinating people in the world.

No: “Jenny, this is Matt. He loves blondes with big boobs. Matt, this is Jenny. She has blonde hair…and you can see the rest hahahha.”

Yes: “Jenny, this is Matt. Matt has a black belt in karate, but he won’t show you any moves unless you really beg him. And Matt, this is Jenny; she’s one of the funniest people I know—we were actually just talking about what happened to her at the calculus finals on Friday. OK so Jenny, what happened?”

BOOM! They have two possible conversation topics, they’re both fascinating…and you quietly excuse yourself, you Grand Puppet Master of Matchmaking.

3. Really Apologizing

We all screw up, and when we do, the way we apologize is important. Now, no one has to accept your apology—that’s their right. But! No matter how sorry you are, you can make things a hundred times worse by using one single word: IF. Watch!

You didn’t invite your less-popular-but-very-good friend to your house for a sleepover on purpose, because more-popular girls are coming and they think she’s weird. You tried to hide it, because you know not inviting your friend is an assy thing to do, but she found out and now she’s pissed and not speaking to you.

Bad apology: “I’m sorry if you feel left out, or like I didn’t want you there or something.”

Look at you! You’re not sorry! Look at that if! You’re basically blaming her for feeling the way that you made her feel. “I’m sorry if you…” is a shit apology. You’re sorry? BE SORRY. Don’t blame the other person or use sneaky words like if to shift things around to sound like you’re not really to blame. Apologies involving the if word tend to turn into major fights, because one person believes they are trying to make amends, and the other person doesn’t hear any actual sorry-ness.

Good apology (always happens in person, btw): “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to my house. That was a shitty thing to do. I won’t do that to you again. I understand if you’re still mad at me.”

Look at all those I words. You did the bad thing, you take the blame. Nice!

4. Swimming

Well, duh. I only bring up knowing how to swim because one of my friends quietly admitted to me last year that she didn’t want to come to the lake because she couldn’t swim. I was completely shocked—what did she mean she couldn’t swim? She was 24 years old! But my friend told me that she never had swimming lessons and never lived near water, so she had never learned. Which happens to lots of people, it turns out.

But—but—what if she got pushed in a pool? What if she fell off a boat? What if she lost her balance on a boardwalk? Water is everywhere! I grabbed her hand. “I will teach you,” I said fiercely. We spent about a week in the shallow end of the pool at her gym, and she learned to swim. No one drowns on my watch.

5. Throwing a Punch

Sad but true: someday, you might need to hit someone. There have definitely been times in my life (hi, college) that I needed to get a boy off me, like right then, and I wish I would have known how to throw a good punch to make him see things my way. Now, I’m not saying go pick some fights, or punch someone for insulting your mother, but knowing how to throw a punch that means business is a good skill to have under your survival belt. I mean, make no mistake: please try to not fight. Get away; run from fighting if you can. We’re not talking fighting for the sake of fighting. We’re talking a good punch to stop some fighting, or to get yourself the hell away from someone who is physically all up in your business.

When throwing a punch:

• Use the hand you write with.

• Make a fist with your thumb outside, not tucked inside. If it’s tucked inside your fist, when you punch someone, you might break your thumb. The thumb goes across your fingers, not on the side.

• Don’t be like in the movies—don’t aim for the face. Face punches don’t usually stop people, and you can miss when they duck their head or break your hand on their jaw. If you want to get away quickly, or end a fight, aim for the chest, or the ribs. If you really want to do some damage, e.g., you’re being attacked, aim for the throat, which will make it hard for your attacker to breathe for a hot minute.

• When you punch, you want to aim and hit with your first two knuckles. Not the flats of your fingers, and not your ring or pinky knuckles, which can break more easily. You can use your weight, if you’re on your feet, to add wallop, and spring into a punch with your feet and torso.

• When the person is momentarily distracted by either pain, or being winded, or the fact that you, a girl, hit them—run away. Which leads us to…

6. Running a Mile

Running for one mile isn’t so bad. And it isn’t the exact distance that’s important—what’s important is being able to run for several minutes without having to stop and pant for breath. So, practice until you can do this. Run! Catch that bus that’s pulling away from the corner! Catch the lady who left her wallet on the counter two minutes ago! Catch your cat after she slips out the front door! Get away from a big scary dude who’s harassing you! Run, dammit, run!

7. Tipping Properly

Tipping is easy. Tipping makes service people love you. (Did you know that waitresses, bartenders, and most coffee-shop workers make minimum wage? They live off their tips.) Tipping ensures you’ll get great service next time and is good-ass karma. People remember good tippers. Plus it’s effing classy.

So: Whom do you tip? You tip people who are doing something personal for you. (That being said, you don’t need to tip your gynecologist. Wokka wokka wokka.) The people you tip are: Waitresses. Baristas. Hairstylists. Manicurists, taxi drivers, valet drivers, hotel concierges, and anyone who touches your luggage, ever, whether it’s a shuttle driver or the guy at the airport who loads your bags outside so you don’t have to wait in line.

How much do you tip? Waitresses: 15-20% of the total bill. An easy way to do it is this: If the bill is $30.05, take 10%, which is $3 (move the decimal point one number to the left), and double that. Ta-da! The (generous and unexpected-from-a-young-person) tip is $6. If you can’t afford to tip the standard going rate, you shouldn’t go out. Or you should go somewhere you don’t have to tip. Period.

Coffee-shop baristas: $1 per espresso drink. These people remember who tips and who doesn’t, I promise you.

If someone has done something extraordinarily nice, like let you sit at your table for super long after you’re done eating without giving you attitude, or picked you and your wet dog up in their taxi, or broken a sweat in any way, give them more than 20%: 25% is good.

Everyone else gets 10-15%. Wheeee doesn’t everyone just love to help you?

8. Making One Delicious, Adult Meal

I can’t cook. I really can’t. Not only that: I am not interested in ever learning to cook, and I don’t care what anyone says about it. However! When I really need to impress someone, e.g., I HAVE A DATE WHO IS COMING OVER FOR DINNER AND SHE DOESN’T KNOW ME WELL ENOUGH TO THINK MY NONCOOKING IS ADORABLE, I make my patented Roasted Chicken Impressive Meal.

Here you go!

1. Buy a whole rotisserie chicken in the deli section at the grocery store. Also buy broccoli and three large Idaho potatoes.

2. Go home. Take the roasted chicken out of the plastic container it comes in, throw the container away (hide evidence), and put the chicken on an oven-safe plate. Set the oven to 250 degrees, and pop the chicken in. (We’re just keeping it warm, crisping it a li’l, and also making it look like we made the chicken.)

3. Wash the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Put the chunks into a pot of boiling water. Wait about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft, and then drain them. Mash up the pieces with a big spoon or whip them in the pot with an eggbeater (way more fun), and add a little bit of milk, some salt, and some butter, until the potatoes taste like mashed potatoes. Keep tasting until it tastes right.

4. Wash the broccoli and cut it into bite-size pieces. Put the broccoli into a pot of boiling water, and put a lid on it. Let the broccoli sit in the boiling water until it’s bright green, and you can easily bite through a piece.

5. Take the chicken out of the oven, put it on the table as your Impressive Chicken Centerpiece, and dish up the broccoli and mashed potatoes on two plates.

6. Act casual, like you do this all the time, and it’s really nothing. SOON YOUR DATE WILL BE HOPELESSLY IN LOVE WITH YOU.

(If you and/or your date is a vegetarian, buy a package of pasta, a jar of pasta sauce, an onion, and some fresh garlic. Boil two servings of pasta, according to the instructions on the package. While the pasta is cooking, heat up a big glug of olive oil in a small to medium pot, then add half a diced onion and a thinly sliced clove of garlic to it. If you have red pepper flakes in the house, add a shake or two of those. If you have access to red wine, add a splash of that, too. [The alcohol in the wine will evaporate in the cooking, and adding all this stuff will make it seem like you made the whole entire sauce.] The heat should be on the low end of medium. When the onions become kinda see-through, add a cup or two of store-bought sauce to the pot. At this point your pasta will probably be done—take it off the heat and drain it. When you see steam coming off the sauce, add the warm pasta to it, and give everything a minute or two to become friends. Turn off the heat and add grated parmesan cheese, or skip that step if you or she/he is a vegan. Serve this with the broccoli described above.)

And finally…

9. Scaling a Fence

Sometimes, you just have to. Let’s not dwell on why.

First, tuck in any jewelry. Tie your hair back so it doesn’t get in your eyes. Fence-climbing is all about toeholds. If it’s a chain-link fence, you’re in luck. Just stick your toes into the holes and clamber up like a monkey. If it’s a high chain-link fence, don’t look at the ground—just focus on your hands and footholds. When you get to the top, gently ease your legs over (make sure your pants don’t get caught!), hook your toes in on the other side and climb down. If, however, it’s a chain-link fence that looks like this or this, abandon all plans to climb the fence. That’s razor wire, possibly electric razor wire, and razor wire doesn’t play around.

If the fence is brick or stone, again: look for toeholds, the little ledges or edges that stick out slightly so you can put your foot on ’em. These are some of the easiest fences to climb, because the tops tend to be flat and inviting. When you get to the top, though, you usually have to jump.

If the fence is tall, metal, and has pointy spikes at the top, like a city park fence, well, that fence is just begging to be climbed, isn’t it? Except you usually can’t. Metal fences look easy and then are deceptively difficult to scale without getting hurt. Believe me, I’ve tested this again and again. (I like sunset picnics in old, grand cemeteries.) Don’t climb this fence. Walk around the perimeter until you find another way in. (There is always another way in.)

If the fence is wooden, get a friend to give you a boost to the top, or climb onto something nearby to get closer to the top. And hey: watch for dogs, OK? ♦