Incredible, mind-altering books that shifted my view of the world and changed how I lived my life.
I read a lot, and easily go through books the same way some people go through their secret snack stash - greedily, passionately and in no time at all. In my younger days, my parents even complained that I “read too much”, to the exclusion of other things (like housework, which they were trying to get me to do). I also spend a lot of time dreamily browsing through a bookstore, and I share Hermione Granger’s methodology of problem solving: when in doubt, go to the library.
Why I wanted to be a Disney princess. Source
Throughout my reading career, there were numerous books that rocked my world. A select few, however, blew my mind so much that they actually made me pause and change the trajectory of my life. I changed slightly as a person and lived a little differently than I did before, resulting in what I believe to be a better life for me.
These books are permanent residents on my bookshelf, and I re-read them every time I feel like I’m slipping. They’ve done a lot of good for me, and I’m pretty sure they will do the same for you too. Here are a few of them by category.
Productivity: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers by Sean Covey (originally by Stephen Covey)
This book is essentially the teenage version of Stephen Covey’s classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, adapted by his very own son, Sean Covey. While the adult version is dry and, well… adultly boring, the teenage version is bursting with juvenile jokes and cartoons to make it more palatable to the younger crowd.
I had this book from the age of 13, and even though I am an adult now and should really switch to the Stephen Covey version, I still prefer this one. (You can, of course, get the more dignified adult version for yourself.)
True to its title, the book talks about 7 habits that, if done well, can really make a huge difference in your life. I won’t go into details, as chances are, you’ve already heard of them - this book isn’t a long-time, classic best-seller just for its pretty cover.
An excerpt from one of the first pages of the book.
This book imparted to my young, impressionable mind the importance of living your life around a set of principles (as opposed to revolving your life around friends, boyfriends, parents, school, stuff…etc), and of consciously planning out your life to the best of your ability (instead of waiting around to let it get the best of you). It set the stage for how I would later run and manage my life during adulthood, and I credit what little success I’ve had to the habits it taught me.
Read this book if… you have a nagging feeling that you can do better in life, but don’t know how.
Finances: Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin, Joseph R. Dominguez & Monique Tilford
While money can’t buy you happiness, the lack of money can certainly affect it. I started earning and handling my own money in my late teens, and my severe lack of knowledge regarding money matters had me constantly running out and never having enough. It was frustrating, but everyone else seemed to be on the same boat, so I figured life was just like that - you just keep working more for extra money, and continue ad infinitum.
This book, however, completely shifted how I viewed money with the very first paragraph:
"Your money or your life."
If someone thrust a gun in your ribs and said that sentence, what would you do? Most of us would turn over our wallets. The threat works because we value our lives more than we value our money.
Or do we?
The book goes on to explain the concept of putting a price on your life energy, and calculating just how much of it you are giving away in order to earn more money and to own more stuff. This alone will radically impact you, even if you read nothing else from the book. But if you do continue reading, you will then be introduced to the idea of ‘the Fulfilment Curve’ and the realisation that after you get past the point of having ‘enough’, having more and more starts to work against your own well-being.
What this book doesn’t do is go into the details on what to do with your money - you’ll need to look to other resources for that. But I’d argue that you first need to get your misconceptions about money, how to handle it, and how much of it you truly need before you get obsessed about investment returns, interest rates and alpha values. Get your mindset right, and the rest will come.
Read this book if… you have been struggling with money and want to take control of your finances and your life. Even if you’re not struggling with money, I’d still recommend a read.
Lifestyle: The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris
While the title may seem gimmicky and fake, the book itself is chockfull of interesting ideas and tips to handle your workload more effectively and to arrange it in such a way that your job doesn’t become the main event of your life, but a tool that helps you do what you really want to do.
I grew up accustomed to the notion of having to work 30-40 years of my time on this planet on a 9-6 schedule day after day, with a maximum of 2-3 weeks of break annually (assuming the boss approves) to do other non-job-related things. This book introduced me to a different way of working and living, and went into excruciating details on how to make it happen.
Thanks to this book, I got inspired to design and embark on my own mini-retirement. However, not everything in the book will apply to you, and the kind of lifestyle Ferris describes may not even be to your liking. Nevertheless, it will open your mind to the various options you never even knew existed. You will also find very good tips on time management and effective habits to apply to your work. If nothing else, you can at least learn the step-by-step guide on how to persuade your boss to let you work from home more.
Read this book if… you are interested in an alternative to the 9-6, work-until-you’re-65 life path that has been set out for you by society.
Waste: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson
I became engrossed in environmental and sustainability issues from a young age, and am constantly altering and experimenting with my lifestyle and my habits in order to reduce my environmental impact. I am particularly sensitive to the garbage that we generate and dump out into holes in the ground or in the ocean, and over the years have adopted waste-reduction initiatives, such as shunning disposable items, opting into the sharing economy, and more recently, starting my own compost bin.
Despite all my efforts, I was still generating considerable waste, mostly due to modern conveniences that are full of unnecessary packaging and one-time-use disposables. Just buying one meal produced a number of plastic containers, forks, spoons, straws, napkins that all go into the trash can after approximately 10 minutes of use. It seemed impossible to stem the flow of garbage-making.
Then came Bea Johnson who not only demonstrated that it was possible to go zero waste, but who succeeded at it with a husband and 2 growing kids in tow! In this beautifully designed book, she talks about her garbage-awakening and gives detailed tips on how to remove waste from almost every aspect of your life.
This book will make you rethink the things you thoughtlessly throw away, and shows a better and less wasteful way of living that respects the fact that we have limited resources that need to be shared with billions of other people, not to mention other species as well.
If you feel this would be a waste of time because you alone won’t make much of a dent in solving the problem: don’t be fooled. What you do individually does matter collectively (in fact, that’s the only way change ever happens: individually). Irregardless of what other people do (which are out of your control), you yourself are responsible for doing the best that you can.
Read this book if… you are concerned about your environmental impact and want to live more responsibly and gently on this planet.
Ownership & Space: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo