When You’re Feeling Lost After Graduation, These 10 Books Will Be There For You

by Caroline Burke

So you've graduated college (or are just about to), and you may or may not be working to postpone the inevitable nervous breakdown that awaits you. The good news is this is a completely normal feeling. The bad news is it'll probably still feel overwhelming, at least for the time being, no matter how much you reassure yourself about how normal it is. But if you can't seem to wrap your head around what to do next, then it's time to dive into some books to read after graduating college to help you step into another person's shoes and gain a little bit of much-needed perspective.

Reading and sharing stories are two of the most effective strategies of empathy. By envisioning another person's story — and in doing so, stepping out of your own — you are forcing yourself to consider other possibilities, imagine other outcomes, and eventually look at your own life with a widened perspective.

Graduating from college is a weird, confusing time. If you don't quite know who you are or who you want to be, then you don't have to feel like you're behind schedule. In truth, the most well-kept secret on the planet is that it takes much longer to find your calling and fall into your identity than most people think. But while you're hanging out at your parents' place for the summer, here are 10 books to dive into that will make you feel better about graduating college.

'The Idiot' By Elif Batuman

As a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize, this story about a young woman during her undergraduate years at Harvard is laugh-out-loud funny, and totally reassuring to anyone who has no idea what they even did during their time in college. In truth, the things you study in college can be totally arbitrary, and it's OK to admit that. This book will give you the strength to do so.

'Sweetbitter' By Stephanie Danler

Set in the pre-smartphone universe of 2006, this debut novel about a young woman moving to New York City hits on the universal sentiment of wanting to experience literally everything when you're young, simply for the sake of experiencing it. The restaurant-style setting will suck you in and expand your appetite in more ways than one.

'The Interestings' By Meg Wolitzer

This is one of my favorite novels of all time, primarily because it captures an inescapable human desire that most people feel guilty about having in the first place: the desire to become an interesting person, someone who matters (in ways that you can't always define yourself, but seem important nonetheless). Wolitzer's novel follows four people through their teenage years and into middle age as they explore the beauty and disappointment of growing up.

'Into The Wild' By Jon Krakauer

For anyone who likes the idea of dropping everything material in their lives and escaping into the woods, this book will make you think twice. Into The Wild is a non-fiction account of one young man who did exactly that, and (at the risk of giving the ending away) it might make you rethink your plans to move to Alaska in a month.

'To Shake The Sleeping Self' By Jedidiah Jenkins

As of writing this article, this book isn't out yet, but you might want to pre-order it, because dang does it sound good. Jedidiah Jenkins, an Instagram influencer known for his travels and ~profound musings~ on humanity, details his bike journey from Oregon to Patagonia, which took 16 months to complete and changed his life forever.

And if you don't feel like waiting for the book to come out, you can always just scroll through his Instagram for some smaller doses of travel adventures and existential wisdom.

'What You're Really Meant To Do' By Robert Steven Kaplan

This how-to guide, written by Harvard Business School's Robert Steven Kaplan, is all about encouraging yourself to find your strengths and follow where they lead you, rather than succumbing to someone else's impression of who you should be. The post-grad experience can be incredibly confusing, especially when you're trying to figure out what you can do to make money to support yourself. This book makes that exploration a little bit easier.

'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn' By Betty Smith

This book is a total classic, but still incredibly relevant for young women coming of age everywhere. The novel is about a young woman growing up in —you guessed it — Brooklyn, who tackles topics all across the board, from sexuality, to careers, to the often-difficult challenge of finding and creating an identity within the world you've been planted.

'What We Lose' By Zinzi Clemmons

This debut from Clemmons is perfect for anyone who has felt the clash of cultures between the one they were raised in and the one they now have to live in. The story focuses on a young African-American woman (with a heritage tracing back to Johannesburg, South Africa) who grows up in Pennsylvania and loses her mother before she has a chance to learn more about where she comes from. This novel is all about the search that all people must make for identity, especially for those who come from other cultures.

'Losing It' By Emma Rathbone

Losing It tells the story of a 26-year-old woman who seems to have literally everything figured out — except for the nagging question of how to lose her own virginity. This hysterical, thoughtful, moving novel will force you to rethink how you approach your own sexuality, what it means to be "grown up," and whether there is ever a "right" way to pass the milestones of your life.

'Chemistry' By Weike Wang

For anyone who has ever had a mild to severe panic attack about whether they even care about what they're studying as an undergraduate or a graduate student, this is the book for you. It's about an unnamed Chinese narrator who suddenly realizes she couldn't care less about her graduate degree in chemistry, and then is proposed to by a boyfriend she's not sure she's in love with. It's pretty much the most relatable novel of all time, acknowledging the truthful way that most people move through their lives: with confusion and doubt.