Books shape who we become. A book is like a friend. The right book can re-educate us and inform our lives for the better. A book can be a mentor when we have none or entertain us when we have no one.
There are a few books that have stood the test of time and are so good I reread them once a year when I’m feeling off track.
I find new revelations of meaning. I skim through their pages and read highlighted paragraphs and sentences that resonated with me during the first pass.
Sometimes, a book crosses our paths when we are not ready to meet it; its message goes right over our heads. This is what happened when I picked up number two on this list the first time I tried to read it, the second, and the third. Not until the fourth time, after my life took a turn, did I understand its wisdom.
The following seven books I revisit at least once a year to keep my noblest impulses alive and remind me of what is essential for living well while amid a world that is chaotic.
The Gift of Fear — by Gavin de Becker
I couldn’t put this book down as soon as I read the first sentence, “He’d probably been watching her for a while.” I’m fascinated with human behavior.
Even though this book explores the dark side of human dysfunction, it teaches you how to listen to your intuition after culture, trauma, family, and training teach us (especially women) to override it constantly.
It is a page-turner.
The information de Becker imparts in The Gift of Fear from years of experience tracking murderers, stalkers, rapists, and serial killers could save your life.
The book teaches you to relearn trusting your “gut,” intuition, a mechanism we’re all born with. In case after case, de Becker describes signals that intuition naturally registers, and when listened to, can save your life from danger.
The Gift is a “brilliant internal guardian that stands at the ready to warn you of hazards and guides you through risky situations.”
Every woman should read this book.
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
Reading A New Earth gave me something that all the years of yoga and meditation didn’t. It taught me that I’m not my ego. I’m not my thoughts; I’m the awareness behind my thoughts and ruminations.
Eckhart Tolle gives lessons on acceptance, letting go, and enjoying right now. That is all we have. Once you get out of the mind and let go of anxiety, worry, and fear, you can live in the present.
Many of us try to control parts of our lives that are outside of us, thus, outside of our control. We do this to mitigate fear and anxiety, but only when we realize we can’t control anything, except for our moods and how we respond to events — our reactions — can life be easier to manage. Leave expectations behind and enjoy now. It is all there is.
“Action may be required to change the situation or remove yourself from it. If there is nothing you can do, face what is and say, ‘Well, right now, this is how it is. I can either accept it or make myself miserable.’ The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it.”
You decide how you want to get through something, complaining non-stop or meeting it head-on. You have a choice to let go of reacting to upsetting events, replace it with dealing with what is right now and mind your thoughts.
“Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is life itself, it is an insane way to live.”
As soon as you realize this, the more joy and happiness you will feel during moments throughout your day.
In no way am I suggesting this is easy. It is not.
It has taken me decades to practice and master the art of nonreaction. And some days, I don’t master it at all.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by don Miguel Ruiz
This book is clear and to the point.
The Four Agreements are so simple to remember; they make obvious sense. If you need a daily reminder, as I do, carry them with you in a 2 X 2 pocket-sized abridged version.
The Four Agreements:
If you practice just one of these agreements, your life will improve dramatically.
If you are Impeccable with Your Word, you will experience less negativity in your life and have less conflict with the people around you.
If you Don’t Take Anything Personally (this is the one that has made the most significant change in my life), you no longer accept others’ judgment. Their judgment about you is none of your business; it comes from their perspective and has little to do with you and more to do with them.
When you accept this, you recognize that the other person’s opinions of you do not necessarily describe you. Caveat: This applies to the good stuff they say about you also.
“I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.” — Georgia O’Keefe
If you make this one shift, you will be more open and loving toward people in your life.
If you Don’t Make Assumptions, man, your life will be easier.
So often, people have conflict because they make assumptions about what the other person is thinking and feeling when what the other person is thinking has nothing to do with what you assume.
You have no idea what is going on in someone else’s head. Ask instead.
You learn to stop overanalyzing situations, and instead seek the truth to make better, more informed decisions. When you assume what others are thinking, you are usually incorrect and wasting a lot of mental bandwidth on something that isn’t even happening in someone else’s reality.
The last agreement, Always Do Your Best, will make the other agreements more ingrained and useful in everyday practice.
Practicing The Four Agreements brings you back to a place of personal power and gets you out of the state of reaction.
The results from the mindful practice of these agreements are a more manageable life and more control of your life. You will be less affected by the whims and emotions of others around you.
If your resolve is strong to make these agreements a part of you, through habit, miracles will happen in your life, and transformation will be noticeable.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
A classic. If you have not read this book, stop reading this list and go read Think and Grow Rich.
Written in 1937 by Napoleon Hill, and amazingly published during The Great Depression, way before The Secret by Rhonda Byrne hit the ethos, Think and Grow Rich was required reading for an economics class I took in high school.
Many books since have been written based on the themes in Think and Grow Rich. There are a lot of copy cats taking credit for Dr. Hill’s incredible research and work. Read Think and Grow Rich instead of other distilled versions. His philosophy is based on the research of more than 40 millionaires.
Dr. Hill teased out their habits and the characteristics that contributed to the men they were. Andrew Carnegie is featured heavily in the book.
I read it once a year or listen to it on audible on long car rides or while taking a long hike.
It is one of the first personal development and self-improvement books to go mainstream and reach a wide audience. It remains the biggest seller of Napoleon Hill’s books. Business Week magazine’s Best-Seller List ranked it the sixth best-selling paperback business book 70 years after it was published.
The book’s main focus is on increased income and wealth and the psychological power of thought to money and success.
Dr. Hill believes if you apply his tenants around his philosophy of money, you can succeed in any line of work, be anything and do anything you can imagine. It is one of the most inspirational reads and why it stands the test of time.
Napoleon Hill is responsible for my favorite quote of all time,
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.
The Five Main Ideas in the book
- The starting point of all achievement is desire. “A burning desire to be and to do is the starting point from which the dreamer must take off. Dreams are not born of indifference, laziness, or lack of ambition.”
- You are the master of your destiny. “An intangible impulse of thought can be “transmuted” into its physical counterpart.”
- When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rework your plans, and keep trying toward your goal. “One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat.”
- Your greatest success will often come just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken you. “When riches begin to come, they come so quickly, in such great abundance, that one wonders where they have been hiding all those years.”
- Set your mind on a definite goal and observe how quickly the world stands aside to let you pass. “Wishing will not bring riches. But desiring riches with a state of mind that becomes an obsession, then planning definite ways and means to acquire riches, and backing those plans with persistence which does not recognize failure, will bring riches.”
Read the chapter on “Persistence” every day for 30 days at least twice a year and see how your life changes.
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers
This is a small but powerful book and can be read in one afternoon.
I go to it often.
Sivers, who started as a musician and became a reluctant CEO, fell into a multimillion-dollar company he created, CD Baby, by coming up with a way to sell his album online — this was way before the internet took off.
He was the first person to figure out how to sell music online without a major label or a distributer backing you. Sivers first started selling his music, paying the one time $1000 dollar set up fee for a bar code, coding his site, and shipping off his album for a nominal fee.
Shortly after, his musician friends, and then their friends came calling for help in selling their music online, cutting out the middle man and bringing music to the masses. He charged each musician a small setup fee and a little extra for his coding time.
Thus, CD Baby was born out of a need that wasn’t being filled by anyone else.
Rising to the occasion to help musicians sell their music, Sivers created a multimillion-dollar company. It is a fascinating story.
The business lessons he shares in the book are life lessons. He tells many valuable lessons in the book anecdotally, but the one that resonates with me most is that you can make your business any way you want to, it is your little world to create and make up how you see fit.
You can have any message or manifesto for your business to suit your values and your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be all about money.
I have not just applied this philosophy to my career, but I apply it to my life.
I don’t want to follow norms, just because. First off, I didn’t have a say in how the rules were set up. I want to live my life my way and on my terms. The same with how I see my family, I want to set up my family life in a way that suits me and everyone in my family; it’s more of a democracy.
If that means we want to eat dinner at 3:00 like Europeans, that is what we do.
It’s my world; I’m going to make it the fantasy I want it to be.
That is a great lesson. Don’t follow the herd; they usually don’t do things that make sense. Be your own person, true to your values. Make your world how you want it, even if it is flying in the face of societal norms.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
This book blew my mind, and I think it is the best book from Brené Brown.
The message in The Gifts of Imperfection cured me of perfectionism, a toxic unrealistic goal that is self-abuse and keeps you from experiencing true joy.
Perfectionism may have served me in school to push myself to straight A’s, but I was never happy pushing myself so hard. The straight jacket it had me in started to suffocate me.
Like Brown, I’m a “recovering perfectionist and an aspiring good-enoughist.”
This book helped me realize that striving for excellence and being your best is not the same as perfectionism. Perfectionism doesn’t exist; it is not obtainable. It is a shield.
Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect; we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.
I grew up in the matrix of never good enough, and I have internalized that idea for years. My never good enough gremlins were keeping me from striving. And, from feeling joy.
Even when you achieve something, if you aren’t happy with what you have and where you are, the thing you get or achieve won’t make you happy either.
If you can’t appreciate what you have, nothing you get will change that default state of mind — never good enough. One way to find joy is practicing gratitude, and Brown dedicates a whole chapter to this.
Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. “in fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life-paralysis. Life-paralysis refers to all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world too imperfect.”
Women suffer from perfectionism more than men do, and why we often have a harder time after we graduate college.
Men have no problem pretending they are qualified for a position even when they aren’t and are more willing to ‘wing it.’ On the other hand, women hesitate to take on a job if we don’t feel completely competent and qualified for the job. We are less likely to fake confidence, afraid of showing that we are not perfect at every aspect of a position. This holds us back.
This book will get you over the need for perfectionism and permit you to feel joy.
It isn’t an understatement when I say this book saved my life; it is why I’m finally able to share my writing.
The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley
This book taught me not to judge a book by its cover, or rather not to judge a person by the car they drive.
Most millionaires drive American cars. Yes, not Tesla’s or BMW’s.
My study of Economics in college taught me a lot of things about money, but not how to save and spend it responsibly.
The Millionaire Next Door opened my eyes to saving and the power of investing. The authors identify the difference between wealth and income. And there is a difference.
They investigate how people get wealthy and found those who drive luxurious cars and live in affluent neighborhoods often don’t have a large amount of wealth, because they spend it on status. They are usually in debt from keeping up with the Joneses. Wealth isn’t how much you can spend, but the assets you accumulate.
Millionaires think differently. They don’t spend everything they earn. They don’t live paycheck to paycheck, wealth to them is financial independence.
If you spend everything you earn, you are not wealthy; you are a slave to your things.
Profile of a millionaire:
- They live below their means.
- They are proficient in targeting market opportunities.
- Their adult children are financially self-sufficient.
- They value financial freedom and independence over social status.
- Their wealth comes from a result of a lifestyle of hard work and perseverance.
- They are self-employed (two-thirds of American millionaire are self-employed).
- They haven’t received any inheritance.
- They (and family) live off less than 7 percent their wealth.
- They live below their means, wear inexpensive clothing, and drive regular cars.
- They’ve accumulated enough wealth to live for ten or more years without working.
- They invest nearly 20 percent of their household realized income each year, and make their own investment decisions.
The Millionaire Next Door made me come face to face with my spending habits. I realized every time I charged something I didn’t have the money for never made me happy long-term; it only got me further into debt and further from real wealth.
It taught me wealth has little to do with luck, intelligence, or inheritance (80% are ordinary people who have accumulated their own wealth, and not inherited a dime).
Reading these books and implanting the philosophies into daily practice has changed my life in all areas: financial, personal happiness, contentment in my relationships, and everyday existence.
There are compounding returns to reading a lot of books.
We often pick up the bad habits of our caregivers. Many of us go on to educate ourselves through the books we choose to read, be conscious about what you read; a book can help inform who you are.
And great ones will show you how to live meaningfully and purposely despite the imperfections of our world and our own hearts.
Five Books and One Website That Will Teach You How to Write Better
And will get you writing now.
Jessica is a writer, an online entrepreneur, and a recovering Type A personality. She lives in Los Angeles with her extrovert daughter, two dogs, and two cats.