In Honor of the Graduates: 4 Books for Figuring Out What to Do With the Rest of Your Life

It’s graduation season, and in honor of all the new graduates, here are four excellent guides to figuring out to do with the rest of your life.

But first, a caveat.  Books are not the greatest graduation gift. If you’d like a gift for a grad, try these recommendations at simplemom. But readers everywhere–grads or no–will enjoy these reads on work and career.

If you just have to give a book as a graduation gift, make it The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need by Dan Pink.  This pithy career guide is written in the Japanese comic book style manga–so you know they’ll read it.  Johnny Bunko is about navigating the workplace to find satisfying, meaningful work.

Pink’s 6 maxims for workplace success aren’t revolutionary (well, maybe #1–”there is no plan”–is iconoclastic) but the story-driven comic will get your attention, and make each lesson stick.

Or you could go with Penelope Trunk, who dispenses career advice aimed at Generations X and Y at her popular blog (not always work/family safe).  Her book Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success is aimed at this 18-40 age range, because the old rules of success just don’t work for them.  If the Boomers were all about getting ahead and getting rich, the American Dream of Gens X and Y is all about flexibility and self-fulfillment.  Trunk focuses on this age group’s journey to career success–and how to actively manage it, all the way from starter job to dream job.

I love this book for its practical advice on schooling (don’t short extracurriculars), getting a job (“There are stupid questions, so don’t ask them”), and finding truly meaningful work (“Forget the soul search; just do something“).  And it’s optimistic pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps tone:  she believes you can learn from anyone, anywhere–and tells you how to do it

Hugh Hewitt’s In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition is an excellent choice for the younger graduate.  Hewitt writes with high school graduates and college entrants in mind, covering topics such as choosing college courses, building your resume with extracurricular activities, finding mentors and forming your character.

Hewitt is heavier on general life advice than the above books:  don’t get a tattoo, do study history, don’t go deeply in debt.  I like this book because of its specific, practical advice I’ve not encountered elsewhere:

  • “When you graduate, move to one of the three major cities.”
  • “Do not obtain your graduate degree from the same university as your B.A.”
  • “Avoid courses where the reading list is dominated by titles published within the last three decades.”

This book is targeted to a Christian audience, and contains chapters on choosing a church and the obligations of a believer.  But readers don’t have to agree with Hewitt’s religion to get a lot out of this practical book.

When I graduated in the ’90s, Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was a clever, quirky pick for the new graduate.  No longer. This classic has been marketed to death–don’t even think about buying this (unfairly) tired-out book for your graduate.  Instead, try another Dr. Seuss classic:  Maybe You Should Fly a Jet! It’s out of print, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find a copy–and it’s well worth it.  (Warning:  brace yourself for a terrible ending.  It’s worth reading anyway.)

Books may not be at the top of the graduates’ wish lists, but we can all enjoy dreaming about what we want to be when we grow up–and these books will help you do just that.

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  1. says

    Well, shoot! Now I’m embarrassed! Not only did I give a book, but I gave The Places You’ll Go!


    The Hugh Hewitt one jumps out at me from this list …

    • Anne says

      Dianna–this cracks me up!! Dr. Seuss is a popular choice, for sure! (Hey, everybody does need one copy!)

      FYI our friendly local library has Hugh Hewitt :)

  2. Alice says

    I LOVE your blog–it’s my new “go to first” site in the morning! Coincidentally, I needed a graduation present for the daughter of a good friends of ours, and Johnny Bunko, the Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need is our gift of choice! I’m skimming it as fast as I can before I wrap it up–the advice is terrific, and in the comic book format that you talked about! Thanks for the great tips!

    • Anne says

      Wow! Thanks, Dan! I first had the pleasure of hearing you interview Malcolm Gladwell at the Kentucky Author Forum several years ago, and have been a fan of yours ever since!


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