Brief synopsis: “Adult isn’t a noun, it’s a verb”. That’s the mantra of Kelly Brown’s funky self-help guide Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps . From cooking basics to getting a job to coping gracefully with emergencies large and small, this book provides useful advice to those of us struggling with adulthood in the 21st century.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: I felt a little self-conscious carrying this book around, but the immense relief I felt when I realized I’m not the only one who doesn’t have her shit together was totally worth the weird stares I got on BART.

Brown’s approach to adulthood is simple:

“It feels like there are all these things that People Should Know, and if you don’t know them, it means you’re stupid. You’re not. Not knowing how to sew on a button isn’t the end of the world. Just figure out how to sew it on rather than obsessing about why you don’t know, then tumbling down into the Why Am I Like This Canyon” (3).

And if you’re trapped in that Canyon, Brown says, “Here is what I’m trying to tell you: Adult isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. It’s the act of making correctly those small decisions that fill our day. It is one that you can practice, and that can be done in concrete steps. And if you slip up and have Diet Coke for breakfast, no one busts in and snatches away your Adult card. Just move forward and have milk tomorrow” (3).

Brown’s advice is practical and the delivery is funny. She makes good use of her personal (sometimes mortifying) experiences, which she augments with informative graphs and doodles (see Steps 18 and 256). Her book covers a wide range of topics—domesticity, financial planning, dealing with friends and neighbors, cooking, work life—and offers suggestions for all sorts of things, no matter how small. She is forgiving of all your past blunders (see Step 7), but will also make sure you learn from them and move on.

Step 18: Buy toilet paper in bulk
Step 18: Buy toilet paper in bulk
Step 256: Don't put tacos in your purse
Step 256: Don’t put tacos in your purse

While I don’t recommend reading the entire book cover-to-cover (in general, advice is best ingested in small doses), I do think it’s helpful to quickly skim through all the chapters so you’re somewhat familiar with the contents. Then when you’re stumped by something you can use the handy index at the end of the book to search for what you need. Also note that not everything in Adulting is going to apply to you, and that’s okay. The good thing about advice is that you don’t always have to take it.

Continue reading if you’re curious about my take-aways (note: advice spoilers below).

Do you see how many pages have been bookmarked?? That is a good sign.
Do you see how many pages have been bookmarked?? That is a good sign.


Long story long: Usually self-help books make me feel really uncomfortable, even when I’m not remotely facing whatever problems they’re trying to address. I think it’s partly to do with the social stigmas surrounding certain issues, and the idea that most people function just fine without any help. And I think that for the most part, that’s just not true. Everyone is struggling with something, and chances are that if you are having X problem there is at least one person who has had it and survived it.

There are plenty of things in this book that the twenty-five-year-old me knew nothing about. While that made me hyperventilate, it also helped me realize that panicking about what I don’t know is not a good use of my time. Instead, like Brown suggests, I should just figure out how to know what I need to know, pat myself on the back for teaching an old dog a new trick, and move on.

Some advice that I embraced with open arms and will definitely be using:

  • Step 11: Recognize six-month problems—when you get super mad about something, ask yourself if you’re going to remember this problem six months from now. No? Then get over it. Yes? Then find a way to move on anyway, but at least you have some perspective.
  • Step 16:

    Step 16: When something bad happens to you, do not rush immediately to figure out why it wasn't your fault.
    Step 16: When something bad happens to you, do not rush immediately to figure out why it wasn’t your fault.
  • Step 104: Don’t comment on things people are; comment on things people do—”The simplest example of this is not telling a tall person that they’re tall” (69). Give people credit for things they had to work for/had control over.
  • Step 115: Send a thank-you note—I literally did this the other day. My coworker and her boyfriend treated me to happy hour and dinner on my two-year work anniversary. Luckily I had just finished reading Adulting and now knew the importance of simple etiquette. They each got a thank-you note, and were touched by the gesture. Write thank-you notes. Write them for everything. If done well they’re a simple yet special reminder of how that person made you feel all fuzzy inside (and who doesn’t like knowing they’re the cause of those fuzzy feelings?).
  • Step 201: Start writing down every time you spend money—”You will have a much harder time unnecessarily parting with cash if you have to take a moment to think about what you’re doing” (118).
  • Step 300: Tell the people you love why you love them—Brown advises the reader to write a letter to close friends and family once a year. “Everyone wants to be acknowledged. Everyone wants to feel loved. There is no reason to withhold this from the people who are worthy of it” (171).

Have you read this or any other self-help book? What are your thoughts on the genre? Think you’ll pick up Adulting? Why/why not?