7 Books That Teach Skills You Won't Learn In School

The first time I came to terms with the gaping holes in my education, I was stranded on a dusty road in Mexico with a car that had suddenly stopped running... and no earthly idea what to do about it. I popped the hood and stared into the abyss — nothing was on fire, and I couldn't fathom what the problem might be. When the police turned up hours later to rescue me, it turned out that the only trouble was a small hose that had been disconnected by all the jostling of the dirt roads. The officers spent all of 30 seconds diagnosing and solving a problem that had left me stranded and helpless. Knowledge really is power, and you can't learn it all in school.

For fractions (which you will actually use) and Latin (which you almost certainly won't) and science (which you'll never be able to get enough of later on) there's high school, but for everything else, there's only a good solid work ethic and the right sort of book. So, as the school year kicks into high gear, consider branching out with a few tomes that will round out your education — after all, you never know when you where life may lead you, or exactly what sorts of skills might be of use along the way.

How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman

Whether you've grown up bathed in the hypnotic embrace of kale chips, or worshipped at the temple of Ronald McDonald, you're not going to make it out of your 20s alive without learning to fend for yourself when it comes to food. Trust me on this — ramen noodles are no substitute for the real thing. So, whether you've got years of cafeteria food to look forward to in college or your staring down the barren icebox of an empty off-campus apartment, there has never been a better time to learn to cook. Your heart, liver, kidneys, skin, stomach, and self-esteem will thank you for it.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Like a ripe peach, I bruise easily — it took me years to learn how to stand my ground without taking myself too seriously. Although it may not seem like a marketable life skill, learning to laugh at yourself and the world around you may just be the greatest gift you ever give yourself. I have worked in a cubicle, I have castrated baby goats, I have repainted an entire apartment in one night, and found myself standing topless in front of my boss on a very bad afternoon — there was only one thing that got me through it all, and that was good humor. So, lighten up and learn to laugh with Amy Poehler, and save yourself a whole lot of headaches down the line.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Learning to stand up for yourself without stomping all over people is more of an art than a science, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from the best as you stake your claim in this crazy world we all share. Strong isn't the same as stubborn, and empowered doesn't mean selfish — learn how to stand up for yourself and claim your rightful place in the world with Sheryl Sandberg's modern day feminist manifesto. After all, if you're spending so much time forming opinions in school, you might as well learn how to stand up for those opinions while you're at it.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

I've spent the better part of a decade trying to find myself, and I'm still looking. Unfortunately, the process seems to involve making a lot of painful mistakes, shedding a lot of unwanted tears, and storing up a whole host of stories that feel just a might unseemly. Although at times it feels like I'm doing it all wrong, the truth is, growing up is messy and becoming the person you want to be takes time, effort, and a lot of assistance. While you're stuck in the trenches of self-discovery, let Lena Dunham's extraordinary book of essays be your guide and you're sure to make it out alive and well.

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

Unless you've just woken up from some sort of Snow White style fever dream or crawled out from beneath a truly enormous rock, you're surely well aware that we've all just lived through a major financial crisis. Personally, I am delighted to report that I personally have suffered through three to four minor financial crises of my very own within that time, but I'm on the other side of things now. The reality of the situation is that managing money can be tricky (even for the professionals), but that's what good books are for — simplifying the tough stuff. So, take your financial future into your own hands and you'll never need to rely on a bailout to get you out of a bad situation.

Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson

Happiness cannot be found at the bottom of an ice cream cone or the back of sale rack, but perhaps there are a few pearls stored within the pages of Rick Hanson's Hardwiring Happiness. Without getting to cultish about it, Hanson supplies a basic introduction to a world of mindfulness that cuts across the realms of neuroscience and spiritual practice to offer tips and tricks for managing your mind. Shore up your confidence and conjure a new sense of calm with Hanson's careful guidance and you never know what may come of it.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

You may not want to believe it, but the truth is that for most of your life you've been managed — marched through a rigorously scheduled school day and spit out the other side with hours of homework to look forward to. Learning how to work independently of all that pressure is no easy feat, but if you're going to make anything of yourself in this world, it will have to be done. So, whether or not you take up Timothy Ferriss' unique work ethic or find your own flow, let this book be your entrée into a world where you set the hours and make the rules — the more you know before you get there, the better off you'll be.

Image: Helga Weber / flickr