One of the most frequent questions I get is in regards to my recommended book list. Naturally, a lot of the answer to this question depends on the interests of the reader. Personally, I love growth-oriented books where I learn something or derive some sort of inspiration, more so than fictional books that provide an escape from life. It was extremely difficult for me to condense a book list down to 10 books. But after great consideration, here’s my list of 10 books that have changed my life, along with some key takeaways from each book.
1. How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This book should be required reading for every high school student. It’s full of important and RELEVANT concepts from start to finish. In particular, the concept of GENUINE INTEREST IN OTHERS is critical for success in relationships, both personal and professional. Children often feel like the world revolves around them. The older you get, the more you realize that focusing on OTHERS’ needs and wants is the best way to get more of what you want.
2. The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
I have often described this book as “the most important book I have ever read.” Each of the 7 habits is crucial for personal effectiveness, and they all build on one another. The concept of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY and being PROACTIVE is foundational for all success in life. But the real “aha” idea in the book is one that became more and more clear to me many years after I first read the book. It’s habit #5, which is:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Merely taking the time to listen to someone else FIRST opens up so many more doors of understanding and cooperation. It’s truly a life-changing habit, which has taken me years to continue to build in my own life.
3. Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Frankl’s riveting account of his experiences in the Nazi death camps is both terrifying and inspiring at the same time. I’ll present the key premise of the book here in Frankl’s own words:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:
the last of the human freedoms —
to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances,
to choose one’s own way.
When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.
Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Wow. Just wow.
4. The Richest Man In Babylon by George Clason
This little book is mostly about the disciplines for financial success. But its core principle is relevant to all of life.
What you do with what you get is more important than what you get.
What you get in life is oftentimes subject to time and circumstance. But WHAT YOU DO is within your control. And what you do reveals a lot about your attitude, your skills, and your character. It’s a reflection of what’s going on inside of your head, and your outer world is always a reflection of your inner mindset. In the context of teaching concepts for financial independence, Clason has also created a great primer for life.
5. Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
I absolutely love all of Mitch Albom’s books. As soon as he puts out a new one, I buy it and it immediately rises to the top of my reading list. For those of you who do like fictional stories, Albom’s books are a great combination of life lessons couched within the context of an interesting life story. This book, though, is a TRUE story of the last 14 weeks of the life of a great man, who was one of Albom’s early mentors.
What I got from this book was inspiration as to how I want to live my life. I was left wanting to do more to impact others, to make a difference, to leave a legacy through the ripple effect I can start in my circle of influence.
Around the same time that this book came out, there was a movie called “Saving Private Ryan.” A team of soldiers is dispatched behind enemy lines to save a paratrooper who is the last surviving brother of four servicemen. The lead character is shot as they are about to get Private Ryan to safety, and he knows he’s dying. He looks at Private Ryan, and simply says “Earn it.”
To me, this means really attempting to live up to the legacy of all those who have come before us … our parents, our mentors, and all the great lives that we hear about from history books or from afar. Morrie Schwartz was such a man, and everyone should read his story, so eloquently depicted by Mitch Albom.
6. The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly
Matthew Kelly is a great friend of the Cutco/Vector Marketing organization, having spoken at several company events and having developed a great relationship with John Kane, one of Cutco’s top executive leaders. My most valuable takeway from this book is the idea of why people work:
We work in order to be able to live our dreams.
All great leaders should be in tune with this. The enlightened leader is one who strives to support his or her people personally, as well as professionally. This is what builds relationships, fosters loyalty, and leads to the development of high-producing, highly-engaged, happy people in the workplace.
7. The Radical Leap by Steve Farber
This is a parable form book, teaching lessons in the context of a fictional story. This book really resonated with me, and immediately became one of my favorite recommendations. The “Leap” from the title stands for Love, Energy, Audacity, and Proof. To offer one insight here, I’ll focus on the “Love” part. Consider this concept for a moment:
Without the calling and commitment of your heart,
there’s no good reason for you to take a stand,
to take a risk; to do what it takes
to change your world for the better.
It’s important to fall in love with your life’s work. The best way to do this is to love the people you are impacting through your work, whether that be colleagues or customers. Love generates boundless energy on a team, inspires courageous audacity, and provides proof, through alignment between word and action, that everything you are doing together is worthwhile.
8. The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon
Here’s a critical premise to consider: EVERY interaction that we have with others either takes away their energy or gives them more. Gordon describes the “Dimmers” or “Energy Vampires” in life, those people who sap energy all the time by complaining, focusing on negatives, and constantly holding others down through their own negative attitude. The characters in this parable share numerous ideas on how to cultivate positive energy and how to spread this energy to others around you. This is a really great book.
One chapter in the book is called “Better Today Than Yesterday.” I think that’s a great concept of what we should all strive for in our lives. How are you better today than you were yesterday? (Well that’s obvious, you’re reading this blog 😊). What about your most important relationships? Are they better today? What about the values that are most important to you … how have you moved forward and how will you continue to move forward?
9. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
If I had to pick ONE book from this list to suggest to someone who wanted to begin the process of life change, this would be it. The 4 agreements themselves are deceptively simple concepts. But don’t get faked out, and don’t fail to understand the real significance of these ideas.
The second agreement is “Don’t Take Things Personally.” Ruiz writes:
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
There’s a massive difference between WHAT HAPPENS in our lives and OUR STORIES about what happens. So many people choose stories or interpretations that cause “needless suffering” for themselves. It’s important to not take ourselves too seriously, to learn not to sweat all the minor annoyances that happen in life and relationships, and also to make a paradigm shift about how we receive criticism. In recent years, I’ve truly become convinced that feedback is a gift, and without it, we won’t ever be able to function at peak levels of self-awareness and effectiveness. Be grateful for the people in your life who are willing to provide you with insights on how they are receiving you, and accept feedback as a tool to more rapidly improve yourself. It’s also important to keep yourself from assuming bad intentions when someone does or says something that bothers you. In fact, you can train yourself to assume benign intentions instead, and this one concept will lead to greater personal happiness.
10. Front Row Factor by Jon Vroman
An entire section of my library is devoted to books written by my personal friends and associates. I wanted to choose at least one book from among these, and this was the one that has been most meaningful to me. Jon is the Founder of Front Row Foundation, an organization that gives people facing a life-threatening illness the opportunity to experience the event of their choice in the front row. The “front row” is a metaphor for a way of life. It involves concepts like presence, engagement, enthusiasm, joy, and sharing these things with others whom we love. Jon and his team have learned so much about living life from people who are fighting for their own lives. The lessons in this book are insightful, poignant, and readily applicable for anyone.
Here’s one nugget from the book:
We create our environment and our environment creates us.
Be deliberate about where we are putting ourselves.
Each of us is responsible for building the reference group of key people who we spend the most time around. These are the people in your “front row.” Subsequently, it is the influence of these people which circles back to impact the kind of person that we are becoming. This is why it’s so important to spend more time with the people in our lives who are pulling us in a positive direction, and less time with those who are holding us back.
So that’s it … 10 books that have changed my life! What did you think? Drop me a note in the comment section below.
10/2020 ADDENDUM: It was suggested to me to specifically include at least one book written by a female author. Most of my life-changing books are from my younger days, and there just weren’t a ton of female authors in the personal development space back then. So these above are MY 10 choices. But the volume of great books by female authors has been changing in the past 10-20 years, and I’ll offer this bonus selection that certainly qualifies as “life-changing.”
Mindset by Carol Dweck
The signature concept of this book is the distinction between the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset.” If you’ve ever heard someone (maybe yourself?!?) say “That’s just the way I am” or “I’m just a ________ person,” that’s an example of a fixed mindset in effect. Learn to catch yourself when you fall into this trap, and instead ask yourself, “Do I WANT to stay this way?” If not, recognize that you CAN evolve. The essence of life is growth, and we are all capable of consistently evolving into the fully-functioning, brilliant human beings that we are meant to be. The simple distinction of recognizing the fixed mindset in effect, and deliberately moving into a growth mindset, can be one of the most valuable ideas you ever implement. Shout out here to some other female authors who are changing lives these days …2 of my newer favorites are Brene Brown and Dushka Zapata. (End of 10/2020 addendum)
If you know me, you’re probably wondering, “Where’s Jim Rohn on this list?” Of course, Mr. Rohn is my all-time favorite philosopher of business and life, and I would consider him one of the five greatest influences on my life to this day. The reality is that I inhaled all of his audios, videos, and books in my formative years as a young leader. Every single thing he ever put out is awesome, and you can’t go wrong by picking anything he ever wrote or recorded. His “compilation” of ideas is found in the book “Leading An Inspired Life” and his “Treasury Of Quotes” is PURE GOLD. Take those two as additional bonus selections for today.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Jim Rohn to end this article:
“Success is not something you pursue.
It’s something you ATTRACT by the person you become.”
With Jim Rohn, circa 2004, and a book he signed for me …
What have been some books that have changed your life? Drop me a note in the comments below.