March 17

12 Best books on adulting you never knew


I remember the day I met Daniel Wong, almost as if it were yesterday.

Sitting in a cafe, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that I had paid about $700 for this coaching session with him, and I needed some answers.


I was depressed. I was binging on cakes, cookies, and chocolates, to stuff the anxiety within me.

Best books on adulting
Sometimes, you just don’t really know what to do as a young adult. That’s okay

I needed to choose a university course. And I didn’t know where to start.

Daniel passed me the book he wrote, “The Happy Student”, and that book ended up saving my life.

It gave me concrete handles on understanding 4 things:

  1. My definition of success – so I could know how to run my own race, rather than defining my success based off what other people thought
  2. My values – so I could know what anchored me
  3. How I wanted to be remembered for when I died – so that I could live with the end in mind
  4. My purpose statement – what contribution I wanted to make to the world

Sitting on an April Saturday morning in 2016, and working through these questions, helped me to clarify what I wanted and eventually choose something that mattered to me.

But even after that ordeal, I continued to use it quarterly during my reflections, whilst I was at university.

Don’t worry. I don’t get a commission from Daniel for selling him, or his books.

But adulting is crazy. Here’s why.

You’re dealing with one fundamental problem. The transition between school and adulthood.

And because there’s no proper programme of transition, you’re almost flummoxed by the transition.

In primary school, you had mummy to help. Then in secondary school, you had an orientation programme, and kind seniors. University was the same.

But suddenly in the real world, it’s almost as if you’re expected to find some way through, without any proper structure.

You suddenly find yourself having to deal with 4 different areas.

  1. Health
  2. Happiness
  3. Work
  4. Wealth

But the best books often just cover one area at a time

Most books though, just cover one area at a time.

That means that to find some thing that helps you flourish in your transition, you’re going to have to learn from different sources.

Another problem is that many books just cover ideas, or implementation. There’s little that cover both. Some books focus on trying to give you a fancy idea, whilst others focus more on applying what you learn.

In this review, I cover the books that helped, and the one lesson I took away, more than anything else.

We struggle because…

But you may find yourself struggling to make sense of reading books, because you feel that you aren’t able to take the lessons forward.

Best books on adulting
Adulting is tough. You have to settle many crazy things at once.

This is because of a lack of application, rather than the book being bad. Just take one idea.

Another suggestion is to re-read the book entirely, immediately after. This suggestion, from Rolf Dobelli, the bestselling author of ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’, has personally helped me to extract even more from the second reading. Its like revision. You wouldn’t expect yourself to take in everything on the first try.

Why do you expect yourself to do the same in reading books?


When you start working, there are 3 key problems you will face.

  1. How to find a job you love
  2. What to do to outperform in a job
  3. How to deal with toxic people you work with
  4. When to leave a job

What Color is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles

Having been published for decades, this is one of the most reliable books around for understanding how to find a job you love. Bolles leads you through the ‘Flower Exercise’, which is an important way for you to look backwards, so you can look forward to what you love.

The Pathfinder

The Pathfinder, similarly offers a series of important exercises that encourages you to look back at successes and failures in your student journey, so that you can draw lessons to better figure out what you’re great at, and what you’re not so good at.

The Happy Student, by Daniel Wong

The Happy Student by Daniel Wong, saved my life when I was figuring out what to study

If you’re struggling with figuring out what to do with life, this is the book for you to sharpen your focus.

By far the biggest lesson I took away was that if you took some time to think intentionally about what mattered in your life, it might cause you a headache… But it does help you to figure what to do, and what to stop doing.

Daniel shares openly about how getting a scholarship to the US, and then scoring well for his exams there didn’t necessarily bring him happiness. But more than that, he also shares how he eventually overcame this.

If you’re looking to grow further in your adulting journey, this book gives a clear framework to figure things out.

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, by Bruce Tulgan

Boomers complain that millennials and Gen Zs don’t have the necessary soft skills in the office. It’s true.

Behaviors such as:

  1. Using your phone during the meeting
  2. Checking your email whilst someone else is presenting
  3. Being late for work
  4. Frowning when your boss says something

If you’re keen to figure out how to better improve your soft skills, then this is the book to read.

Indispensable, by Bruce Tulgan

In the office, you will see people who are just known for being indispensables. They are always covering gaps.

And frankly, you feel like you can never compare to them.

These are the people to learn from. There’s no need for you to reinvent the wheel here. Bruce has done it.

He went to interview the indispensables he saw in his consulting business, and wrote a playbook on how we could learn from them.

The 5% Zone, by Stephen Krempl

Stephen introduces a great concept in the book, known as the 5% Zone. In this concept, he argues that our greatest markers of value, to our bosses, come during 5% of the times in the office, where we share something of such insight that the boss sits up, and goes,

oh wow. Where did this person come from?

I need to promote him!

He gives you ideas on how to actually use these meetings to your advantages, so you can finally get your pay rise.

The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, by Gorick Ng

Gorick’s book is another must-read, for the principles you may never know about succeeding in your workplace.

I remember how in my first full-time job, despite being enthusiastic to suggest improvements, and take time to execute them, I found myself being shamed openly.

Later, I found that there’s a balance between undershooting, and overshooting, making people feel threatened by your work.

Most people like to work with people who are like them. And who do the work. Without making them feel like you’re out to get their job or promotion.

It’s not an easy balance.

But it’s something you need to strike if you want to get any kind of success.

Credit: Gorick Ng
Credit: Gorick Ng


Ah, I couldn’t leave out my book, could I?

I know, I’m biased. But I recommend this book because of how it’s a balance between application and ideas. It also negotiates the 6 key stages of the Employee Life Cycle Model, helping you to figure out what exactly to do at each stage.


Boundaries, by John Townsend and Henry Cloud

Remember how mama still guilt-trips you that you aren’t spending enough time on her? Or how your friend constantly pushes against your boundaries, like always being late, even when you’ve told her that it’s not okay?

This is where Boundaries come in.

Boundaries are basically telling people what’s okay, and what’s not.

Most of us here in Singapore though, don’t have the balls to tell people no.

Townsend and Cloud teach you how.

The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf Dobelli

Ah good old Rolf.

My favourite advice from his book?

Every year on December 31 my wife and I write down on slips of paper the names of people who aren’t good for us and whom we no longer want in our lives.

Then we cast them solemnly into the fire, one by one.

It’s a therapeutic and salutary ritual.

Advice like this helps you realise that even the most accomplished people lose friends. They don’t try to please everyone.

You will see even more contrarian principles inside – like how you shouldn’t mind (and how to quickly get over) getting fined by the traffic police.


When you start adulting, you will see your peers start growing fatter and fatter.

I’m sorry. No nicer way to say it.

But the question is,

Are you?

With the usual, active lifestyle in university now replaced by long days at the office, and longer days on the weekends spent cafe-hopping, you would be forgiven for growing horizontally.

But no worries.

Here are some books that could help (maybe walk whilst listening to the audio version).

Atomic Habits, by James Clear

James Clear was a former baseball player before a severe injury ended his career.

This self help book seems like a strange place under this category of health, but it’s ideal because of how Clear talks about tiny actions, leading to big changes.


The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, by Eric Jorgensen

This is a must-read, especially if you’re looking to join entrepreneurship in future.

It’s sharp, punchy, and full of wisdom, delivered in tweetstorms.

It’s easy to digest, but read it over and over again, and you will take something new away.

By far the biggest lesson for me, and I think for you too, is that as a young adult, getting a job is probably not the way to get rich. You’re better off getting wealthy, creating and owning assets that earn as you sleep.

This means buying stocks, owning businesses, and ultimately being able to own assets that make money as you’re not working on it.

A tweet storm from Naval Ravikant, courtesy of The Almanack of Naval Ravikant
A tweet storm from Naval Ravikant, courtesy of The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

Books only work, if you work it

As a 12 year old, I remember our teacher once challenging us to read. We were supposed to write a list of all the books we’d read.

That afternoon, and for many afternoons after, I would go to a library, sit down, and then read. And keep reading.

Some I would skim, just to get the book on my list!

And I slowly found myself falling in love with books.

Books continue to remain the best way of transmitting knowledge because of how fast our eyes can pick up text, compared to video or audio.

The devil lies in the implementation.

Take an action from each book you read, and then re-read the book.

Books don’t work, unless you work it too.



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