Take it from a former Stanford dean who’s dealt with more than her fair share of bright-but-bumbling 20-somethings, just reaching a particular birthday does not make you an adult.
“I was seeing more and more [students] who seemed less and less capable of doing the stuff of life. They were incredibly accomplished in the transcript and GPA sense but less with their own selves, evidenced by how frequently they communicated with a parent,” Julie Lythcott-Haims told the L.A. Times .
That might be news to some overprotective parents, but it’s probably blindingly obvious to lots of 20-somethings who have recently smacked into the reality that, thanks to their loving but sheltered upbringings, they’re woefully under-prepared for adulthood. So what should you do if you’ve realized you’re far from having this whole adulting thing down pat?
Read, suggest a bunch of folks who have recently been in your shoes. While there’s sometimes no substitute for lived experience, there are also plenty of books that can save you a whole lot of heartache by teaching you basic skills that lots of young people end up learning way later than they should. Here are a few suggestions from newly minted adults who swear these books helped them leave adolescence behind.
1. How not to have a perpetual quarter-life crisis
In theory your 20s should be a blast — you’re young, free, and experimenting with life — but ask anyone currently experiencing (or recently through) that decade and they’ll correct your misapprehension. Not knowing your place in the world can be super stressful.
Bustle’s Alex Weiss offers a couple of books that can help you start to see a stabler future through the fog of your perpetual quarter-life crisis. The first is 20-Something, 20-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction by Christine Hassler.
“If you’re in need of some reassurance that being completely lost and confused in life right now (like me), then this book is for you,” she writes. “Hassler will introduce you to the ‘Twenties Triangle,’ which is made up of three questions: Who am I? What do I want? How do I get it? She also includes helpful journal exercises to help you write out, and eventually solve, big issues you might be facing.” (Presumably, guys will find something of use in the book too.)
Or pick up Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething’s (Mostly Failed) Attempts at Adulthood by Alida Nugent. “Like so many new college graduates, Alida Nugent had a degree not getting her anywhere and tons of debt which forced her to move back in with her parents. This gritty collection of essays on the current twentysomething generation is critical in the funniest of ways. I couldn’t put it down,” raves Weiss.
2. How to eat like an adult
You move out and then, bam!, all of a sudden nutritious, tasty food stops magically appearing in your fridge or on your plate. This is a bummer, but the solution is obvious if not exactly dead simple — learn to cook. (I totally sympathize with this one. I finally learned to cook after college because I just couldn’t stand one more meal of instant rice and beans or spaghetti.)
If you’re at the subsisting-entirely-on-ramen level of cooking amateurism than Krueger further recommends Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen. For slightly more advanced advice that won’t skyrocket your grocery bill she suggests The Working Class Foodies Cookbook.
3. How not to be broke
Coasting to the end of the month with $7.44 cents to your name is all sorts of no fun. And even if you have a less-than-impressive salary at this stage of life, it’s preventable. You don’t even have to grit your teeth through tedious personal finance tomes to improve the situation.
“I Will Teach You To Be Rich is readable and comprehensive and smart and not scary,” Krueger assures leery 20-somethings. Hassler’s pick on this subject is Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School?: 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By by Cary Siegel. Siegel “turns money talk into an understandable and easy topic,” she writes.
4. How to break your bad habits
A lot of things you can get away with in your 20s (like subsisting on lots of beer, little sleep, and no exercise), will quickly make you fat, miserable, and sick just a few years later. Avoiding this fate involves breaking the bad habits of your youth. Writer Todd Brison suggests Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. It worked for him.
“I found Switch at my aunt’s yard sale,” he relates. “It is far and away the most valuable free thing I’ve encountered. I’m currently re-reading it (which is something I almost never do).” The book is “a roadmap to changing behavior, something which I thought was an impossible task,” he explains.
5. How to make memories
I hate to tell you this if someone else hasn’t already, but life just goes by faster and faster. It’s totally easy to wake up one day and feel like a year or even a decade has passed in a blur. Do everything possible to prevent this fate. Reading Moment Maker by Carlos Whittaker is a good place to start, according to Brison.
“I used to think moments kind of happened. This book taught me how to make memories in my own life and those of everyone around me,” he attests.
6. How not to be gross
There are two kinds of college student gross that will quickly cease being charming (or even acceptable) in your 20s. The first is actual physical filth. It’s kind of cute in a dorm room but just disgusting in a date. Kruger recommends the colorfully titled My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag, calling it “a concise, hilarious guide to cleaning basically everything.” BuzzFeed’s Summer Anne Burton suggests Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. It even teaches you how to fold a fitted sheet (I’m 36 and still can’t manage that).
The second type of gross is behavioral. To be honest, being a crass, loudmouth bro isn’t all that wonderful in a frat house, but it’ll get you fired at most workplaces. Plus, it’s just vile behavior for an adult. If you need a primer as to why, check out Jessica Valente’s Full Frontal Feminism, Krueger suggests.
7. How to have difficult conversations
If you avoid problems in your teens, your parents and teachers will either solve them for you or chase you around until you do what you have to. Avoid problems as an adult, however, and you’ll scuttle your career, your marriage, or your mental health. You need to talk about the hard things. Burton’s prescription for learning this skill is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen.
Once you read it, “you’ll have the confidence to have all of those big talks that you need, but don’t want. Equally applicable to work and to home,” she notes.
What books helped you finally grow up and become a real adult?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.