5 books for figuring out what to do with the rest of your life.

5 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 five 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 the Art of Simple. But readers everywhere—grads or not—will enjoy these reads on work and career.In honor of the graduates: 5 books for figuring out what to do with the rest of your life

1. The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need by Dan Pink

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.

2. Lean In for Graduates, Sheryl Sandberg

I’m usually not a fan of gift books, but I’ll make an exception for Sandberg’s game-changing bestseller about making the choices necessary for long-term success early in your career. This edition has been updated with specific advice aimed squarely at new college grads.

3. Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, Penelope Trunk

Penelope Trunk dispenses career advice aimed at Generations X and Y at her popular blog (not always work/family safe). Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success is aimed at this 18-40 age range. Trunk focuses on how these generations should actively manage their careers, 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”).  

4. In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition, Hugh Hewitt

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 resumé with extracurricular activities, finding mentors, and forming your character.

Hewitt offers more general life advice than the other books listed here:  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 entering into the adult Christian life.

5. Maybe You Should Fly a Jet!, Dr. Seuss

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 this lesser-known Dr. Seuss classic. 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. These books will help you do just that.

What’s your favorite book for grads, and—if it’s different—your favorite book on figuring out what you want to be when you grow up? 

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  1. Dianna 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!

  3. Pingback: Weekend Reads
  4. Kim Hall says:

    I love Daniel Pink and Dr. Seuss!
    I love to give Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. If the principles are applied, they are immensely life-changing.

  5. Tim says:

    I’d give “A Fly Went By”. It’s all about kicking back in the sun and getting up to take action when necessary. Then it’s got more kicking back. it’s the perfect recipe for life!

  6. Jessica says:

    This isn’t a “figuring out what to do with your life” book, but the best post-graduation book I got was “Life After School. Explained.” by Cap & Compass. It walks through things like leasing your first apartment, filling out 401(k) paperwork, and going to business dinners, with cartoons and simple explanations.

  7. Lesley says:

    I have another book recommendation–and it really is a MUST for new college grads, especially those who have a Christian faith: 101 Secrets for Twenties by Paul Angone. It’s an easy read, funny, with practical advice.

  8. Ginger says:

    My dad gifted me In, But Not Of upon my college graduation, and it really was formative — from books to read to where to live. I’m forever recommending it to young adults.

    In fact, I’ve visited it many times myself just for a quick pep-talk refresher now in my 30’s. I love the short, practical advice.

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