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Havana Nguyen.
Ex-introvert. Animation geek. Startup enthusiast. ENFJ. People-person. International Affairs and Business Major.

February 27, 2012 at 10:30am

Havana’s Comprehensive Must-Read List for Recent Grads

The post-grad life so far has been short but frustrating. Some days, I am happy, eager, and ready to conquer the world. Other days, I am lethargic and nervous. It’s a huge life change and upon reading about this period, I found that I am far from alone. This list contains some of the best, most useful, and most inspiring material I’ve come across so far, including some subjects that are barely touched upon in mainstream education, such as debunking the conventional wisdom of “Follow your passion!” and exploring the psychological side of the jobhunt. Hope these articles help you guys as much as they helped me. 

On the myth of “passion” and finding work that resonates with you:

What You’ll Wish You’d Known by Paul Graham

Paul Graham is a programmer and venture capitalist who founded Y Combinator. There is seldom, if any, a dull essay from Graham but this one especially struck a chord with me. He debunks the conventional and trite advice we always hear: “Follow your passions!” Instead, he talks about nourishing your curiosity instead and discovering your “burning question” about the world. It’s  a long read but holy hell, it is worth it, especially for people who aren’t quite sure what their passion even is. 

Some Thoughts on The Real World by One Who Glimpsed It and Fled by Bill Watterson

Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, delivered this speech to the 1990 graduating class at Kenyon. He talks about how he got fired from what seemed to be his “dream entry job” as a political cartoonist right after college. The link between making a living and your “passion” is complicated and Watterson goes to great length about how to live true to your heart but avoid soul-sucking work. 

The Overjustification Effect from You Are Not So Smart

I’ve reference this article many times before and I’ll do it again. The myth: there is nothing better than getting paid to do what you love. The truth: Getting paid to do what you love will sometimes cause your love to wane. People keep advocating, “Follow Your Passion!” and yet totally disregard that there is a psychological dimension to money. The link between the two is often complicated and this is why I’ve decided to personally separate my creativity from my income

What Top Performers Know About Passion by Ramit 

A video by Ramit of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” on combining “passion” with work.

The Passion Trap by Cal Newport

Newport’s study habits blog has been a lifesaver for me in college. He addresses the myth of passion here and presents The Passion Hypothesis: the more emphasis you place on finding work you love, the more unhappy you become when you don’t love every minute of the work you have. 

On unconventional job-hunting tactics: 

A New Way to Work by Charlie Hoehn

In the video above, Hoehn recalls the painful period after his graduation trying to look for work. There is controversy on the solution he advocates but it’s definitely worth a listen and attempt. Within less than a year, he got incredible job offers and connections from this simple tactic. I know I’m saying you must read everything on here but seriously, WATCH THIS VIDEO! Master the hustle. 

(Check out his ebook, which you can find if you google his name)

How to Network Your Way to World-Class Mentors Part 2 by Michael Ellsberg

There is a link to Part 1 at the very beginning but I included Part 2 here in case you decided to skim. I wanted to make sure you see the tactics he outlines though it is very important to understand the foundation of his networking techniques. I love collecting helpful mentors; they make your journey so much easier. Mentors will light up shortcuts, provide valuable warnings, and bestow incredible advice. 

8 Steps to Getting What You Want Without Formal Credentials from 4-Hour Workweek by Michael Ellsberg

Ellsberg writes about the unconventional routes people take to achieve their goals and tells anecdotes of millionaires who got where they are without college degrees or previous experience in their current fields. 

How to Stand Out and Get Hired by Ramit

One reason why I love Ramit’s articles is that he is realistic and addresses the psychological barriers we impose on ourselves. Here, he mentions the misconception that “if you work really hard, you’ll win.” That’s a large chunk of the equation but you set yourself up for disappointment if that’s your only tool. Your skill/talent should be the ace in the hole, not the sole weapon. Ramit challenges you to be specific and avoid common resume “fluff,” to master OVERpreparation, and reaching DEEP into your networks, not just sending out emails to a few people you talk to the most. 

4 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Put On Your Resume from The Daily Muse

This a good supplement to Hoehn’s video and will give you ideas on productive things to do while you look for work/build your resume. 

5 Tips For Emailing Extremely Busy People from 4-Hour Workweek

Tim Ferriss takes an email someone sent him and specifies what components made it more likely to receive a response: be brief, be specific, and be CLEAR about next actions. 

Recap of Round One Responses to Assistant Gig by Tucker Max

Love him or hate him, this series is not just funny, it’s incredibly insightful. He documents the experience of trying to hire a research assistant for which he invited applicants. It is incredible just how many terrible, unqualified responses he got back and the best thing is that he dissects what made a terrible response and what made a great response. This made me realize that even if I am one out of thousands of applicants, I can simply make myself stand out from a great number of them by just following directions. Check out part 2 and 3 too. 

Is “Dream Job” a Reality?, an interview of Ramit by NPR

Again, Ramit never fails to deliver and he reiterates the importance of overprep and how to effectively network to gain knowledge of your target industries and companies instead of firing off random resumes.

On the emotional side of graduation and jobhunting:

4 Ways to Defeat Jobhunt Desparation from The Daily Muse

One component of the jobhunt and post-grad life is the psychological toll of expectation, rejection, anticipation, and disappointment. Graduation is a drastic life change and it’s unfortunate that there are such few resources in this realm. Above is a simple article on how to shake up the jobhunt routine so you don’t get stuck in a rut.

The Tyranny of Choice and High Expectations by Marcos Salazar

This is a part of a series on post-college depression and it discusses the difference between “satisficers” and “maximizers” in the context of post-grad life. Not having heard these terms, I found it enlightening as I had no idea there was a difference and that my tendencies as a maximizer made me unnecessarily paranoid and anxious about my future. You can read more about maximizers vs. satisficers on The Happiness Project

How to Be Happy At Work from Inc.

Happiness begins not in your surroundings but in your mind. This article escorts you through three steps to transforming your attitude to one that better facilitates happiness. Are your personal “rules for happiness” too narrow?

How to Pick Your Next Personal Project from Paper Wings

This blog is primarily geared towards web comic artists but can apply to any creative person out there. I include this podcast here because I strongly feel that everyone needs to embark on a personal project. A personal project challenges you and opens you to new opportunities, gives you a sense of autonomy over at least one part of your life, and provides an outlet for your creative efforts that your first job might not be able to facilitate. (If you haven’t already, read this provoking article on creating output instead of soaking up input: The Dangerous Effects of Reading)

How I Overcame Bipolar II and Saved My Life by Michael Ellsberg

Face it: failure is an integral component of life. Ellsberg divulges the ups and downs of his bipolar disorder, feeling the strength and confidence to conquer the world one month and drowning in despair and self-hatred the next. He shows us his multiple attempts to start different ventures and the emotional toll his disorder wreaked on him. It’s long but wow, it’s hard to stop reading. It’s rare to find someone this candid. 

AskReddit: Redditors Over 30, what knowledge do you wish someone had given you in your twenties or as a teen? 

THIS. Good God, read this. This is probably up there as one of the best threads I’ve ever come across on Reddit and it really puts things into perspective. Lots of great advice and you will see a couple patterns in all the responses …

From my conversations with people and their experiences with their post-grad lives, I am discovering that the roads to success are many and varied. I’m still in the middle of my own journey so I can’t say anything conclusive to others who are suffering the same “quarterlife crisis” phenomenon but it is astounding to listen to people’s stories. Some roads to success have included: 

  1. Being extremely draconian and persistant in chasing a job and not giving into compromise (though I’d imagine you’d need a skin thick as hell and the determination of a demigod for this route)
  2. Taking on a less-than-ideal position in the desired company with plans to move up (become familiar with the company)
  3. Taking on a relevant position at a less-than-ideal company with plans to transition to a similar position in a better company (gain experience in the position)
  4. Taking on a position in a recognizable company in a specific industry (to gain “street cred” or a “badge of merit.” A friend of mine graduated with an accounting degree and tackled Ernst and Young to get that exp on her resume; she’s in her early twenties and has incredible mobility now.)
  5. Taking on a acceptable job and working on meaningful side projects to build resume, connections, or skills (Related: While targeted to artists, check out this podcasts on choosing side projects with a long-term goal in mind and avoiding project “whack-a-mole”) 

Most of all, I’ve concluded that the reason why I am scared, anxious, excited, and ambivalent right now if because it’s normal. This is supposed to be a hard period in your life. As young workers, we are building our lives and our reputations and we are bound to make mistakes. You’ve just gotta pay your dues sometimes and work hard. There’s no shortcut. 

I end with a profound line I did not expect to get in a movie I thought was just going to be a fun, dumb party flick

  • Dad: Matt, take a shot at something. Don’t think about it too much. Just take a shot.
  • Matt: I don’t even know where to aim.
  • Dad: Anywhere. Everywhere. Just take wild shots. Just to hear the gun go off.


I worked incredibly hard on cherry-picking articles and putting this together because I genuinely want to help people in my situation. Please help others get access to this content by reblogging or sharing this link. Normally, I wouldn’t ask of this but it’s astounding how prevalent the “quarterlife crisis” phenomenon (and similarly emotionally charged events) happens but no one really talks openly about it. If anything on here can help at least one person, let’s make it happen.