We all have certain skills we’re particularly good at and may have been perfecting since childhood — things like art, cooking or fixing electronic gadgets. But as we age, we become painfully aware of our shortcomings and might decide we want to take up a new hobby and learn new things.
Life tends to get in the way — after all, who has the time to become fluent in a language, learn a new instrument, start performing house repairs, or get certified as a personal trainer? With all the knowledge online though, learning is more accessible than ever. Here are 10 of the most highly-desired skills that you can teach yourself.
Repair just about anything
You might not need to repair anything anymore — maybe you can afford to just pay someone else to do it — but where’s the ingenuity in that? Plus, who wants to waste a bunch of money on simple tasks you can handle on your own? If you’ve adopted the DIY spirit, learning to repair your own stuff is one of the easiest and more rewarding skills you can acquire. It’s especially fruitful because as you learn new things, you can put them to use right away.
So how do you teach yourself? We’ve outlined tons of repairs you can learn on your own to get you started, but if you’re looking for something specific, there’s no shortage of how-to videos available on YouTube. You’ll find everything from home repairs to outdoor repairs, plumbing repairs and even electrical repairs. There will be occasions when you do need to call a professional, as you’re not going to be a master repairperson instantly. But do remember that every time something breaks, it’s an opportunity to learn how to fix it.
Pick up an artistic skill
Although it won’t often earn you the big bucks, artistic skills are highly desired because they provide you with the technical abilities required to create something beautiful. You’re going to have to find your own inspiration and subject matter, but the skill you’ll need is really just a matter of technical aptitude and practice.
Picking up a book of anatomy and drawing different bones and muscles will teach you how to draw people. Drawing grids over photographs can show you basic perspective. Obviously it isn’t as simple as that, but focusing on learning to draw one simple thing, like the petals of a flower or the human hand, will help you learn how it works and get in a reasonable amount of practice. When you’re ready to move on from the basics and start illustrating on your computer, check out some digital painting lessons. Those of you interested in photography can find lessons for that, too.
Whatever you’re looking to learn, just set aside 15-30 minutes every day to practice a very small part of that skill. It’ll take a while to teach yourself how to draw, paint, take better photos, make hamburger sculptures out of clay, or whatever it is you want to do, but breaking the daunting task into pieces and practicing each part slowly will help get you there. Plus, it’s a really nice way to unwind at the end of the day.
Learn to defend yourself
Who likes getting their arse kicked? If you’d prefer to not end up hurt or injured as the result of an unexpected attack, perhaps it’s time to pick up some self-defence skills.
While you’ll probably want to have a partner around to help you out — at least when you want to test your skill — we’ve outlined several self-defence moves that you can learn on your own. Although you will hopefully never need to employ the techniques you acquire, if you do, you’ll increase your chances of coming out of a fight less harmed.
Improve your design skills (or find your sense of style)
Design and style aren’t an exact science, as tastes differ and change as time goes on, but there are a few principles you can pick up that’ll make your work, home, or whatever other area needs an aesthetic boost looking better than average. If we’re talking traditional design, you’ll first want to learn the basics of type and layout. These are skills you can employ in your everyday work to make it look a lot more attractive. This may seem like a nearly-useless skill, because spreadsheets aren’t entering any beauty contests, but when something looks good it can have a greater impact, and that’s always a plus.
If you want to take things a bit further, you can bump those skills up a notch and teach yourself Photoshop. Your aesthetic will be useful when choosing a great wallpaper and creating a clean and organised desktop on your computer. If your home is boring, just follow these guidelines for awesome interior design. You don’t have to be a pro, but learning the basics of design can make your life a lot brighter.
Pick up just about any subject you missed in school
Whether it’s science, finance, maths, humanities, law or anything else, if there’s a course you wish you took in school, you’re not out of luck — you can probably find it online. MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, are a phenomenal way to fill in any gaps in your education. We’ve assembled a lot of information about our favourite online courses, including ones in personal finance — an area in which we could all use a little more knowledge.
What’s great about learning online is that you can take it at your own pace and put in as much time as you can spare each day. You don’t necessarily have to master a subject, either, but learn as much as you need or want to know. While you won’t end up with a degree for your hard work, you will be a little bit smarter — and that’s the most important part.
Build and hack electronic hardware
We love technology, and we love it more when we can make it do pretty much whatever we want. There is almost no end to what you can hack, but getting started does require teaching yourself a few skills. Learning to build a computer is a good place to start. Soldering is especially helpful, and understanding the basics of arduino can help you build some really neat stuff. One of the best ways to get started is to pick a project and learn by doing. If you’re not sure where to start, our DIY tag page can offer a few ideas.
Play a new instrument
Whether you already know how to play an instrument and want to learn something new or are utterly musically inept, you’ll find plenty of resources online to help you teach yourself to play just about anything. If guitar is your thing, you’re in luck — you’d be hard-pressed to not find online lessons. JustinGuitar.com offers over 500, and we’ve rounded up plenty more.
The internet can also teach you piano, drums and even orchestral instruments like the flute and violin. Just as with repair skills, you can find a lot of how-to videos on YouTube.
In addition to the instrument, you’re also going to want to learn a little music theory. We recommend this easy-to-understand resource to get you started. When you’re starting to get good, you can put together a home recording studio on the cheap to start capturing your talent and sharing it with others.
Cook like a pro
With so many recipe sites and how-to videos online, it’s a surprise that everyone isn’t a master chef. There are so many simple things you can learn to vastly improve your culinary skill set quickly, many of which we’ve covered. We’ve written so much on the subject of learning to cook better that this little section isn’t enough to cover it all, but to get you started:
- Read up on how to get excited about cooking for yourself if you need inspiration.
- Learn the essential skills you need to learn to cook that no one ever taught you.
- Move on to The Grown-Up Kitchen, our answer to Cooking 101, where you’ll find easy beginner tips and recipes that’ll have you hosting your first dinner party in no time.
- Peruse our daily tips on Skillet — hacks that will turn anyone into a better cook.
Become fluent in a new language
Learning a new language is at the top of many peoples’ lists of life goals. Fortunately for you, this clever technique offers a way to all but master a new language in a short period of time by teaching yourself. You’ll still have to work hard and put in the minutes every day, but you can come out speaking reasonably well in about half of a year.
Learn to code
Learning to code is not only a great way to create cool apps and tools that you’ll want to use, but also an incredibly marketable skill when trying to get a job. Here’s how to get started:
- Check out the basics of four programming languages
- Or learn web development for free with App Academy
- Try this guide to learning HTML and CSS
- Get started in machine learning and robotics
- Google’s free Grasshopper app is also useful
- Build your own app
- You can even become a deep learning coder in under a year
Most importantly: Have a project you want to work on. Coding lessons can be really boring if you aren’t working toward something, so a “goal project” — even a simple one — can really help you out.
This story was originally published in 2012 and was updated on October 26, 2020 to include new images and meet current Lifehacker style guidelines.