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Adulting Student Life

Books That Every Twenty-Something Should Read

March 17, 2022
Books to read in your 20's


Many people believe that your twenties is the best time of your life; not many obligations and the freedom to shape your future. Others couldn’t disagree more, feeling that this decade builds a solid foundation through hard work and hustle. Regardless of the type of experience you have, we can all agree that our twenties are a time of change, transition, and challenges.

There is an overwhelming pressure to have everything “figured out” by the time you reach your 30s. Everyone thinks that somehow you can magically figure out how to land your dream job or become financially independent before then as if it were instinct.

In this day and age with TikTok, Instagram, and Podcasts, it’s easy to think most twenty-somethings don’t read anymore. But many still do! Reading is not only good for your mind but also your soul. GradGuard’s leadership and marketing teams helped contribute to this list of essential books for all twenty-somethings to read.

20 Books Everyone Should Read in Their 20s

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is a classic masterpiece that journeys with the reader through struggle and hardship while illustrating the importance of pursuing your dreams by following your heart. There is a lesson to learn during the young boy’s journey with each passing obstacle and hurdle that he encounters.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

White Oleander is the unforgettable story of Astrid’s journey through a series of foster homes and her efforts to find a place for herself in impossible circumstances. With perseverance and wit, Astrid faces the challenges of loneliness and poverty. She aims to understand who a motherless child in an indifferent world can become.

Recommended by Jeff Hitchens – Chief Operating Officer, GradGuard

This beautifully written story takes the reader through the journey of self-discovery. It examines how a mother-daughter relationship can shape our lives.

Jeff Hitchens – COO at GradGuard on White Oleander

Money Ball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Even if you aren’t into baseball or sports in general, this book still has much to offer. A well-told “sports” story introduces the reader to the value of thinking outside the box and looking beyond traditional success metrics. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is the tale of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their general manager, Billy Beane. Beane constructs a winning team with almost non-existent funding using an analytical approach to determine each player’s contributions.

Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

Life is difficult. The first line is a crucial lesson to learn in your twenties. This book has answers and valuable discussions on how people of all ages can find meaning in their relationships or careers as they build a life. The book asserts that we each have a spiritual life and conscience that needs attention. Building awareness of caring for our spirit is vital to our mental and physical health.

What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P Feynman

One of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, Richard Feynman, possessed an unquenchable thirst for adventure and an unparalleled ability to tell the stories of his life. Feynman’s autobiography is filled with stories of a life well-lived by someone who dared to think differently and creatively. Key lesson: Do not let your life be constrained by what other people think.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Bestselling author Don Miguel Ruiz uncovers the source of self-limiting beliefs that steal joy and create unnecessary suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a robust code of conduct. He believes they can rapidly transform our lives into a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love, which landed the book on our list.

Recommended by John Fees – Co-Founder, GradGuard

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Covey believes the way we see the world is entirely based on our own perceptions. In order to change a given situation, we must change ourselves, and in order to change ourselves, we must be able to change our perceptions.

Habits 1, 2, and 3 focus on self-mastery and moving from dependence to independence.

Habits 4, 5, and 6 focus on developing teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills, and moving from independence to interdependence.

Habit 7 focuses on continuous growth and improvement and embodies all the other habits.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is a combination of a young girl’s coming-of-age story and a look into the dark side of racism and prejudice. Scout Finch lives with her brother Jem, and father, Atticus in Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression.

“I first read to Kill a Mockingbird in middle school and immediately fell in love with the characters. It wasn’t until further into adulthood, after rereading the novel repeatedly, that I fully appreciated its recognition of key issues such as race, sexual assault and violence, unjust political systems, and class status and the issues that result.”

Derrick Shy – VP of Business Development, GradGuard
Recommended by Derrick Shy – Vice President of Business Development, GradGuard

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig

Tina Seelig is a Stanford professor whose class on creativity helps students recognize problems as great opportunities. This book shows us the importance of not becoming overwhelmed by the world’s problems. Whether it’s affordable energy, clean water, global warming, or hunger, all significant problems need attention and effort. It includes a helpful series of experiments that also help readers consider constraints, and how big issues can also become significant financial opportunities.

When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

Life is not a race, nor is any day, month, or year. This book helps frame time more productively and demonstrates that timing is a science — an emerging body of multifaceted, multidisciplinary research that offers fresh insights into the human condition and valuable guidance on working smarter and living better. At the end of each chapter is a ‘Time Hacker’s Handbook,’ a collection of tools, exercises, and tips to help put the insights into action.

“Entrepreneur and NYU Marketing Professor, Scott Galloway offers some useful insights into how to find happiness in the modern world. Keep life simple. Complexity can kill love and meaning and make success more difficult to find.”

John Fees – CO-founder at GradGuard

The Algebra of Happiness by Scott Galloway

Scott Galloway regularly offers hard-hitting answers to the big questions: What’s the formula for a life well lived? How can you have a meaningful career, not just a lucrative one? Is work/life balance possible? What are the elements of a successful relationship? Whether it’s advice on if you should drop out of school to be an entrepreneur or discovering what the most critical decision in your life is, Galloway entertains, inspires, and provokes.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

For most of the lives of all twenty-somethings, Afghanistan has been in the news and this novel helps illustrate how the intersections of culture, conflict, and caste shape the human condition. The Kite Runner is a powerful cultural story of a man who struggles to find forgiveness and love amidst a war-torn Afghanistan and his subsequent immigration to America. It’s a work stuffed with florid prose and subtle depictions of small beauties throughout.

Recommended by John Fees – Co-Founder, GradGuard

Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill

As one of the very first books ever written in the field of self-help, it includes valuable insights on how to achieve your goals. With over 100 million copies sold worldwide, it’s worth reading as the ideas can be applied in all areas of life, even if the book’s focus is on wealth. One great idea for all twenty-somethings is to surround yourself with a group of people who share your vision and push you toward your goal. This group needs to be in harmony with you and must have a different skill set that compliments yours.

The Defining Decade – Why Your 20’s Matter and How To Make The Most of Them by Meg Jay

As a clinical psychologist, Meg Jay tells of real conversations she has had with 20-somethings and their struggles. While this book doesn’t always provide practical answers or a formula, it does deliver advice and observations that are useful as twentysomethings shape their own lives. Lesson: Aim to complete your formal education before you turn 30.

“She shares stories from her patients, how they woke up one day and felt like they just wasted away their 20’s and thought their 30’s would be ‘when they figure stuff out’, but that’s not the case. You can have a good career, good relationship, and be successful. NOW.

Natalie Tarangioli – Director of Marketing and Communications
Recommended by Natalie Tarangioli – Director of Marketing and Communications, GradGuard

As A Man Thinketh by James Allen

This book presents that “thoughts” are things, and we are what we repeatedly think about. The book shows us how each man holds the key to every situation that enters into his life, good or bad. He may remake his life and transform his circumstances by working patiently and intelligently upon his thoughts. Learn to create the life you want in your mind, then manifest its reality through your hard work and actions.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

We have all heard “change is hard.” But why is it so hard to make enduring changes in our businesses, communities, and our own lives? The biggest obstacle is a battle created in our minds. Psychologists have discovered two different systems rule our minds: the rational mind and the emotional mind, competing for control. The rational mind desires a great beach body, while the emotional side wants another slice of cake.

Mindset – The Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this book, she brilliantly shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of our lives can be dramatically impacted by how we think about our talents and abilities.

Recommended by Brianna Bell – Marketing Coordinator, GradGuard

“People who believe that their capabilities cannot be changed in a fixed minset will not grow like those who think their abilities aren’t limited and can be developed with a growth mindset.”

John Fees – Co-Founder at GradGuard

Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

This is an essential read whether you want to resist other people’s possible manipulation or learn how to influence others for your purpose. The book shows us that in a world where people are overloaded with more information than they can deal with, they fall back on a decision-making approach based on stereotypes. These develop because they allow people to act correctly with little thought and time. However, they can be exploited and effectively turned into weapons by those who know them to influence others to act in specific ways.

The Art of Not Giving a F*ck – by Mark Manson

This is the second book by popular blogger and author Mark Manson. In this book, he points out that life’s struggles are what give it meaning. The senseless positivity of ordinary self-help books is neither realistic nor worthwhile.

This was one of the best books I have read.”

Rob Kubasko, Creative Director, GradGuard

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Born into poverty on a small farm in Missouri, Dale Carnegie built a successful career as a traveling salesman before becoming one of the modern-day best self-help gurus and prolific authors. How to Win Friends and Influence People has become an iconic bestseller by helping us achieve important life goals, discover new ambitions, and get things done and done well.

Recommended by Rob Kubasko, Creative Director, GradGuard

Our minds are a powerful tool. Reading is the best way to expand our horizons and exercise our brains, ultimately one of our most important muscles. These stories and books serve as a needed reminder that we’re not alone as we learn to face all life has to offer once we leave the nest.