"You become what you think all day long." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
We all know that you become who you hang out with. That idea usually gets attributed to people, but I believe it is just as true of books. Because of that, I reread these ten books over and over again. These books are all filled with life-changing ideas and have all had a giant impact on me. I read them over and over again, because I want these to be the ideas that shape my life.
I've also compiled this list because these are the books that I always suggest whenever someone asks me for a book recommendation. I believe that these books, and the ideas they contain, will impact and change your life. I say that because they have done that for me.
Category: Spiritual Growth / Memoir / Career and Calling, 109 pages
Short Summary: Parker Palmer recounts his journey of discovering his vocation, changing his perspective from trying to to please others and achieve prestige to listening to how his life showed him who God made him to be.
Why I Love This Book: From the time we are born, society shouts its values so loudly, we often cannot hear the quiet whisper of our own lives. This book helped me switch from trying to use my vocation to get the approval of society (what job can make me successful, famous, rich, etc.?), and instead taught me to let the experiences of my life inform my vocational choices. This book showed me how God created me with a specific plan in mind, and that in order to be faithful to Him and to be my best, I had to be true to how I was made, not who I wanted to be.
Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.
Today I understand vocation quite differently--not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.
The deepest vocational question is not 'What ought I do with my life?' It is the more elemental and demanding, 'Who am I? What is my nature?'
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.
Vocation at its deepest level is, 'This is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.
Category: Shame / Vulnerability / Interpersonal Relationships, 260 pages.
Short Summary: Brown uses this book to tackle the problems of shame and feeling like you are not enough. She discusses the different ways that men and women feel shame, and how shame isolates and makes us feel unworthy of human connection. She then gives really helpful ways to break through the shame, working towards living lives of connection and wholeheartedness.
Why I Loved This Book: When I picked up Daring Greatly, I thought I would read it as an academic exercise, never imagining how much light and truth it would shine into the dark corners of my heart. This book helped me to understand the hurt and pain I had experienced in my past, and to begin to resolve it. Before this book I hadn’t realized how much shame, isolation, and feelings of unworthiness had impacted my daily life.
Shame is fear of disconnection--it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. I’m not worthy or good enough for love, belonging, or connection. I'm not worthy or good enough for love, belonging, or connection. I’m unlovable. I don’t belong.
Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don't have better or easier lives...but in the midst of all these struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.
To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.
In shame-prone cultures, where parents, leaders, and administrators consciously or unconsciously encourage people to connect their self-worth to what they produce, I see disengagement, blame, gossip, stagnation, favoritism, and a total dearth of creativity and innovation.
Category: Sociology / Christian Life / Masculinity. 175 pages.
Short Summary: In Adam's Return, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, writes about male initiation rituals and how traditional cultures have used them to help boys become men. He contrasts those with our current initiation-less society, and the negatives that occur when boys get older but never become men. Rohr centers his book on the five classic messages of initiation, things that every boy needs to learn before he can become a true man. They are: Life is hard; you are not that important; your life is not about you; you are not in control; and you are going to die. Through these five topics Rohr diagnoses and explains both positive and negative masculinity in our current culture, and suggests how we can raise boys who become emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy men.
Why I Love This Book: This book is one of the most important books in my life, helping me to understand my transition to manhood and being an adult in ways that I never had before. It is easy to read and understand, yet offers profounds truths and insights that revolutionized both how I see myself and look to grow in the future. While this books is written for a man's perspective, I think it still has a lot to offer women, since many of the overall life struggles are the same, and he often compares and contrasts men and women, so it speaks to both men and women more than it might at first appear.
The general assumption underlying all initiatory rules is that unless a young male is shown real power through a community of wise elders, he will always seek false power and likely will spend much of his life seeking prestige, perks, and possessions.
In larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator: in some sense, they have all died before they died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life. Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.
The heroic projects of men are mostly overcompensations for a paralyzing fear of death, powerlessness, and diminishment. Until men move into death and live the creative tension of being both limited and limitless, they never find their truth or their power.
All great spirituality is about letting go. Instead we have made it be about taking in, attaining, performing, winning, and succeeding. Spirituality has become a show we perform for ourselves, which God does not need.
If that big picture is not given to young people--through contact with bigger people and at special windows of opportunity--young people will seek to fulfill the expectation in other ways: big crowds, loud music, marching armies, totally unrealistic fantasies, fame (or infamy!), money, and popularity. Anything loud, large, or socially admired becomes the substitute for the cosmic and the transcendent that they are really looking for. Someone needs to tell them that, even if they only half-believe it.
We can no longer properly humiliate our small self because we no longer believe in the great self. Our personality and self-image is all we have. That is the problem of a secular culture. We end up crawling over one another and competing with one another to defiantly assert our private importance, which is our only possession.
We are inflating the youthful ego in ways that will not serve them well during the rest of their lives--in relationships, in marriage, in future job performance, and surely not in the search for God. Western and comfortable people everywhere have a strong sense of deserved entitlement, and we are creating unsolvable troubles for young people by enabling such a sense of entitlement, usually in the form of cheap but effusive affirmation.
Category: Creativity / Design Thinking, 256 pages.
Short Summary: This book works to overturn the "creativity myth," the idea that you are either born creative or you're not. The authors of this book believe that everyone can be creative, and in this book they give you the approach and methods to build off of that to develop "creative confidence." Creative confidence gives you the belief to develop and build upon fresh ideas, so that you can give value and solve problems in new and unexpected ways. This the fear of failure and rejection that often comes with being creative. This book helps you rediscover your inherent creativity and apply that in the real world.
Why I Love This Book: This book fuels my mind and gives me so much creative energy. As someone who subscribed to the creativity myth for much of my life, the stories and action steps give me tangible ideas for how I can improve my own life and career through the use of creativity. I value this book so much because it gives you a framework and examples of how to apply creativity to every area of life. While the subject is creativity, this book is really about reaching your full potential in life.
At its core, creative confidence is about believing in your ability to create change in the world around you. It is the conviction that you can achieve what you set out to do.
Whatever your profession, when you approach it with creativity, you'll come up with new and better solutions and find more success. When you unleash your creative confidence, you start to see new ways to improve on the status quo--from how you throw a dinner party to how you run a meeting.
A widely held myth suggests that creative geniuses rarely fail. But the opposite is actually true: creative geniuses, from artists like Mozart to scientists like Darwin, are quite prolific when it comes to failure--they just don't let that stop them. Their ultimate "stroke of genius" don't come about because they succeed more often than other people--they just do more, period.
All of the creative people he has studied had one thing in common: at some point they decided to be creative. Creativity seldom follows the path of least resistance. You need to deliberately choose creativity.
If you let go of what you "know," you can start to look at things with fresh eyes--and with more questions than answers. But the real insights come from getting out into the world and gaining empathy with the people whose lives you want to improve.
To overcome inertia, good ideas are not enough. Careful planning is not enough. The organizations, communities, and nations that thrive are the ones that initiate action, that launch rapid innovation cycles, that learn by doing as soon as they can.
To ultimately reach a creative breakthrough, you just need to start, regardless of small failures that may occur along the way. If you want to make something great, you need to start making.
Category: Business / Strategic Thinking, 191 pages.
Short Summary: Peter Block writes about the danger of How? questions and why we have to start with Why questions. Since How? questions are concerned with methods and techniques, they will always push us towards what's practical and feasible in our minds. Peter doesn't say How? questions have no purpose, but instead says they need to be answered with Yes, so that we are free to ask the more important Why? questions.
Why? questions cause us to examine our goals, vision, and values, to make sure that we are headed in the right direction. Asking Why? questions cause us to pursue difficult and risky lives, trusting that the How? questions will get answered along the way. If we don't ask Why? questions first, our lives and businesses will be full of busyness, but we won't accomplish the truly purposeful.
Why I Love this book: This book is a giant wake up call for anyone stuck in the routine and pragmatism of every day life. It takes these two questions and shows how they change so much about how your life and career will turn out. I love big picture thinking, and this book helped me to re-chart my life direction away from simple goals towards more meaningful ones.
My premise is that this culture, and we as members of it, have yielded too easily to what is doable and practical and popular. In the process we have sacrificed the pursuit of what is in our hearts. We find ourselves giving in to our doubts, and settling for what we know how to do, or can soon learn how to do, instead of pursuing what most matters to us and living with the adventure and anxiety that this requires.
We often avoid the question of whether something is worth doing by going straight to the question "How do we do it?"
Taken in isolation, and asked in the right context, all How? questions are valid. But when they become the primary questions, the controlling questions, or the defining questions, they create a world where operational attention drives out the human spirit.
We might put aside our wish for safety and instead view our life as a purpose-filled experiment whose intention is more for learning than achieving and more for relationship than for power, speed, or efficiency.
The question How? declares that we, as a culture, and I as a human being, are fundamentally about getting things done. What will matter most to us, upon deeper reflection, is the quality of experience we create in the world, not the quantity of results.
When we ask how to do something, it expresses our bias for what is practical, concrete, and immediately useful, often at the expense of our values and idealism.
Yes is the answer--if not the antithesis--to How? Yes expresses our willingness to claim our freedom and use it to discover the real meaning of commitment, which is to say Yes to causes that make no clear offer of a return, to say Yes when we do not have the mastery, or the methodology, to know how to get where we want to go.
Category: Christianity / Missions / Biography
Short Summary: This book is a biography of Jim Elliot, a Christian missionary who went to Ecuador in 1956 to evangelize the Auca Indians. After several years of working with the local people, they killed Jim and the other four American men serving as missionaries. The book, written by Jim's wife, Elisabeth Elliot, uses Jim's journal entries and letters to let the reader experience some of his dynamic walk with God.
Why I Love This Book: Jim Elliot was an incredible man who sought to pursue God with his whole heart. I love for book for how it challenges me in my complacency, and encourages me to spend more time focusing on eternal things. Jim's thoughts always breathe life into my Christian faith, and spur me on to live a deeper and more Christ-centered life.
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
"Lord make my way prosperous, not that I achieve high station, but that my life may be an exhibit to the value of knowing God."
"Father, let me be weak that I might loose my clutch on everything temporal. My life, my reputation, my possessions, Lord, let me loose the tension of the grasping hand."
"However, the Lord is teaching me to say with the psalmist, 'I delight to do Thy will,' instead of the usual, 'Well, I suppose it's the Lord's will so we'll just have to put up with it.'"
"I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds. If he can keep us hearing radios, gossip, conversation, or even sermons, he is happy. But he will not allow quietness."
"In my own experience I have found that the most extravagant dreams of boyhood have not surpassed the great experience of being in the will of God, and I believe that nothing could be better."
"God knows, and I believe He sent this that I might be weaned more and more from things material--even good, legitimate thing--and have my affections set more firmly on Him whom to possess is to have everything."
Category: Creativity / Being an Artist / Overcoming Obstacles, 165 pages.
Short Summary: This book is about Resistance, what Steven Pressfield calls the opposition and self-sabotage that you'll face whenever you try to start and accomplish any thing meaningful in life. Any time we reject immediate gratification and try to do any long-term and important work, Resistance wants to stop us from moving forward, through excuses, procrastination and fear of rejection. The only antidote for Resistance is to move from the world of the amateur to that of the professional. Professionals show up to work every day, work all day, are committed over the long haul, and master the technique of the jobs.
Why I Love This Book: As someone who writes, I struggled for many years with Resistance. It kept me from writing, creating, and putting myself out there. Until I came across this book, I had never realized that these forces were even in me, and had no clue how to combat them. Reading this book helped me to make the shift from an amateur to a professional, which has revolutionized how I create. But this book isn't just for writers; it is for any creative or leader who seeks to build and impact the world around them.
Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity will elicit Resistance. Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.
Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don't do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?
The sign of the amateur is the overglorification of and preoccupation with the mystery. The professional shuts up. She doesn't talk about it. She does her work.
The amateur believes that he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
Category: Interpersonal Relationships / Leadership / Public Speaking, 250 pages.
Short Summary: Our culture teaches us to communicate to others from our perspective. Maxwell blows this up, showing how successful communicators seek to connect with the people around them by focusing on the other person and their needs. It’s not enough to communicate with people, you have to understand them in order to connect with them. Connecting is crucial if you want to build strong relationships, friendships, and teams.
Why I Love This Book: This book taught me how to stop talking at people, and to start connecting with them. Learning how to connect with people was one of the most helpful skills I learned in my twenties, and has improved my ability to build relationships with friends, coworkers, strangers, or an audience. This book help me to see how self-centered I had been in my communication style, and showed me how to focus on others every time I communicate with them.
If you can connect with others at every level--one-on-one, in groups, and with an audience--your relationships are stronger, your sense of community improves, your ability to create teamwork increases, your influence increases, and your productivity skyrockets.
Good teachers, leaders, and speakers don't see themselves as experts with passive audiences they need to impress. Nor do they view their interests as most important. Instead, they see themselves as guides and focus on helping others learn.
When you take responsibility for connecting with others and you decide to serve others instead of yourself, your chances of connecting with people increase dramatically.
I've learned that if you want people to be impressed, you can talk about your successes; but if you want people to identify with you, it's better to talk about your failures.
Too often people see communication as the process of transmitting massive amounts of information to other people. But that's the wrong picture, communication is a journey. The more people have in common, the better the chance that they can take that journey together.
Category: Writing / Memoir, 237 pages.
Short Summary: Anne Lamott shares writing wisdom and advice through the story of her journey into and in writing. She spends the first half of the book talking about big picture elements of writing, before using the second half of the book to focus on the elements of fictional stories.
Why I Love This Book: While there are lots of great books on writing, none of them can compete with this one. Anne doesn't just tell you how to write, but shares the entertaining stories around her start in writing. She injects so much of her life into the book it is never dull. But the book is never about her; it's about you, the writer, and is a great encouragement to both start and continue the difficult work of writing.
One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.
"Do it (write) every day for a while," my father kept saying. "Do it as you would do scales on the piano. Do it by prearrangement with yourself. Do it as a debt of honor. And make a commitment to finishing things."
I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do--the actual act of writing--turns out to be the best part.
Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.
Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it.
For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really, shitty first drafts. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by a more rational, grown-up means.
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die.
Category: Entrepreneurship / Business / Strategic Thinking, 195 pages.
Short Summary: Unlike most business books that trot out the same regurgitated information, Peter Thiel, the cofounder of Paypal, uses this book to teach you how to view business and opportunities in a completely new way. focuses on changing how you view the world, so that you can see new opportunities. He sees businesses as opportunities to build the future, which is necessary to solve the problems facing our modern society. Thiel encourages entrepreneurs to think counter-culturally, doing things like questioning the past, avoiding competition to build a monopoly, and to operate with a builder's mindset towards the future.
Why I Love This Book: This book taught me to see the world in a completely new way. It is so good at exposing so many of our hidden assumptions in life, and gives a fresh vantage point to see new opportunities from. While he centers this book around business and entrepreneurship, understanding how he approaches the world and new ideas is critical for every type of world and life.
Every moment in business only happens once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Paige or Sergey Brin won't make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won't create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren't learning from them.
Whenever I interview someone for a job, I like to ask this question: 'What important truth do very few people agree with you on?' This question sounds easy because it's straightforward. Actually it's very hard to answer. Brilliant thinking is rarer, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.
No one can predict the future exactly, but we know two things: it's going to be different, and it must be rooted in today.
Capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition all profits get competed away. The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: if you want to create and capture lasting value, don't build an undifferentiated commodity business. All failed companies are the same: they failed escape competition.
The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors.
As globalization advances, people perceive the world as one homogeneous, highly competitive marketplace: the world is 'flat.' Given that assumption, anyone who might have had the ambition to look for a secret will first ask himself: if it were possible to discover something new, wouldn't someone from the faceless global talent pool of smarter and more creative people have found it already? The voice of doubt can dissuade people from even starting to look for secrets in a world that seems too big a place for any individual to contribute something unique.
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