For the graduates: 11 books for figuring out what to do with the rest of your life

For the graduates: 11 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 eleven excellent guides to figuring out what to do with the rest of your life, and how to do it.

Readers everywhere—grads or not—will enjoy these good reads on work, career, relationships, personal growth, and living the good life—whatever that means to you.

New graduate or not, we can all enjoy dreaming about what we want to be when we grow up. These books will help you do just that.

Series: Books for figuring out what to do with the rest of your life
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Author:
For years, Cheryl Strayed wrote an advice column for TheRumpus.net called "Dear Sugar." Strayed wrote anonymously—to her readers she was only "Sugar"—and she answered likewise anonymous letters about love and romance, grief and loss, money and family troubles. To call these "columns" seems to sell them short: these are beautiful, heartfelt, brutally honest essays that go in directions you don't expect. Strayed is compassionate with her letter writers, giving them gentle advice while not pulling any punches, but says her real mission isn't to tell them what they "should" do. Instead, she tries to reveal a third way by either presenting a perspective that those who write can't see on their own, or to complexly hash out what's really going on in their life and situation. This has a hefty f-bomb count and triggers galore, but it's too good to leave out. More info →
The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure

Author:
Author Rachel Friedman surprises herself by doing something out of character: on a whim, she buys a ticket to Ireland (where she's never been), makes friends with an adventurous Aussie, and packs in four months of adventures she never expected to take. Whether you're traveling to find yourself or would rather read about someone else doing it, this book hits the spot. More info →
The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now

Author:
Whether you're approaching twenty, are in your twenties, or have ever been twenty, Jay provides a fascinating look at what's so important about these years. Well-written, heavily researched, story-driven, and absolutely inspiring. This is one of my favorites. More info →
1,000 Places to See Before You Die

1,000 Places to See Before You Die

992 pages, 1000 destinations, tons of inspiration, whether you're planning or daydreaming. I especially like that many of these destinations aren't typical tourist locales. More info →
Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Step

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Step

This is the rare find that is entertaining, funny, and super practical for the graduate. I love Meg Jay (see also: The Defining Decade) and she says, "Twentysomethings who are looking for a silver bullet will find it here in the form of 468 silver pellets. Without a doubt, one (or a hundred) of these pellets will change your relationship or your career or your mind or your potatoes, all of which matter in adulthood." More info →
How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food

How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food

Author:
Teach yourself to cook, and you can eat better, healthier food, while saving a ton of money. Bittman's massive (but not unmanageable) cookbook teaches you how to make everything you NEED to know, and a lot of things you don't but will enjoy anyway. Sure, you can learn to cook on the internet—but this book makes it easy and enjoyable to put down your devices for once. More info →
Make Good Art

Make Good Art

Author:
Author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address at Philadelphia's University of the Arts in 2012, encouraging the students to break rules, be brave, and make good art. I think about Gaiman's words ALL THE TIME: they've changed the way I approach my work (although probably not in any way you're imagining right now). More info →
In, But Not Of

In, But Not Of

Author:
Hewitt writes with high school graduates and college entrants in mind, covering topics such as building your resumé with extracurricular activities, finding mentors, and forming your character. 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; do study history." This book is targeted to a Christian audience, and contains chapters on things like choosing a church in a new city. More info →
MAYBE YOU SHOULD FLY A JET!

MAYBE YOU SHOULD FLY A JET!

Author:
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.) More info →
The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need

Author:
If you just have to give a book as a graduation gift, make it this one from the always-excellent Dan Pink. This pithy career guide is written in the Japanese comic book style manga—so you know grads will read it. More info →
Lean In for Graduates

Lean In for Graduates

Author:
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. More info →

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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15 comments

  1. Mary says:

    I LOVED Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod, for creating an exciting adulthood.
    The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)

  2. Nancy says:

    “Designing your life: Build a Life that Works for You” by William Burnett and Dale Evans was recommended to me recently. It’s good.

    • Anne says:

      I completely agree. This book contains a huge amount of useful focused information. Not just for recent grads but for anyone feeling that they aren’t quite sure what is next for them. Also, Caroline Webb’s “How to Have a Good Day” is stuffed with useful information for anyone who is going to work (all of us).

  3. Sarah says:

    Not just for graduates. I’m 37, mom of three, a CPA and still trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life 🙂

  4. Amy Rothenfeld says:

    I really liked Maria Shriver’s book, “Ten Things I wish I’d Known Before I went Out into the Real World”. She gives good practical advice along with how her mistakes shaped her in the working world.

  5. Kathryn H. says:

    I loved “What Color Is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles. When I was getting out of college, I spent several days working through it; and it was worth every minute. Bolles guides you through identifying a broad range of skills, interests, and meaningful experiences in your life to show you how to think out of the box. For example, I may think I want to be a teacher, but perhaps what attracts me to teaching could be used in a different setting, such as training other employees in a job that also puts to use other talents and interests. By getting away from stereotypical job titles or roles, he helps you to create a life that is unique to you. I found it tremendously helpful in identifying what I truly enjoy and am good at, and what I wanted from a job. I figured out more about myself, sooner in my life, than I think I would have if I hadn’t spent the time on this book. (I read it over a decade ago. I assume his current editions are the same idea, but I read what must have been the 2003ish edition.)

  6. I have three copies of Oh, The Places You’ll Go, all gifted to me for different graduations/moving on from a job or practicum assignment. Glad you recommended something else in the picture book department.

  7. We bought Love Does by Bob God for all the high school grads this year. My 17 year old has been giving books to her friends as they graduate each year and this was her pick for 2017, her graduation year!

  8. I really liked Linchpin by Seth Godin for the mindset you should have about your role at work, being unique and valuable to whatever company you work at/on.
    For the graduate I would also really recommend 168 Hours, and All the Time in the World, both by Laura Vanderkam. I gave my copies of both to my brother when he graduated college. (And have eventually bought myself used copies to reread them)

  9. Tammy says:

    Make Your Bed: Little Things that can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven. It is a great read no matter what age we are.

  10. Got to say this that after you graduate ,the world is open to you with various options to choose from.Review of Patricia Schultz’s book gives a to the point insight of the places there are on this beautiful planet to visit and I still remember this book when I first read at the age of 17.Nice Work…

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