8 Life Lessons From 8 Good Books That Everyone Should Read
Humans are adaptation machines. We are literally designed to adapt to our environment and the stresses that it places on us (both physical and mental). Learning is the act of taking conscious control of this process, and books are the knowledge-based elixir of the gods when it comes to learning.
As Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world." The fact that millions of people have taken the time to better arm us, by writing down their hard-won knowledge in easily digestible tomes, is amazing.
Here are eight good books that fundamentally changed my worldview. I hope they can arm you and help you change the world.
'Mindset: The New Psychology' by Carol Dweck
If you only read one book on this list, let it be this one.
Dweck's work is absolutely foundational. It brings to light the most important realization anyone can have -- your talent and intelligence are NOT fixed traits. They can be developed at any age and in any direction. Where people once believed that their genetics were their fate, Dweck uses scientific research to show that that simply is not true. What matters far more than whether or not you won the genetic lottery is the state of your mindset.
She makes clear that to be successful at anything, the first thing you must believe is that you can get better. This concept of leading with belief is the most fundamental shift you can make in your own belief system -- and the one with the most far-reaching consequences. Simply changing your thought process from "I can't do that" to "I can't do that yet" changes everything.
Lesson: Mindset is the foundational building block of change.
'Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win' by Jocko Willink (Author) and Leif Babin
At the core of Willink and Babin's book is the idea that you must own all your mistakes. There is no one to blame but yourself. This goes for everything in your life -- even in areas most people would never think to look inward for answers.
"Extreme ownership" is a no-excuses mentality where you recognize that your life is an exact reflection of the choices you have made. If you aren't happy with the state of your life and success, it's not the government, your parents, the economy or society at large that's to blame. It's your fault, plain and simple.
There is so much power and clarity in taking this position in your life, and Willink's lessons from his deployment in Iraq will force you to start looking at all the things you can control. The process of change begins with looking inward, and this book is crucial in helping you to begin that process.
Lesson: Own all of your mistakes.
'Man's Search For Meaning' by Viktor Frankl
I turn to this book in my darkest moments.
Man's Search For Meaning is psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir of his of life in the Nazi death camps. Equal parts gripping and terrifying, this book makes it clear that if you have meaning in your life, you can survive anything. And without it, no matter how good your life, you'll never have the kind of deep fulfillment that we all hunger for.
It was Frankl who popularized the notion that between stimulus and response, there is an opportunity to insert our volition and decide how to act. This choice is what makes us human and gives us power.
Additionally, this story is a powerful example that you get what you focus on. Frankl survived Auschwitz by focusing on the deep meaning of his suffering. It's not that his suffering had intrinsic meaning, it's that he focused on why he was willing to suffer, and that decision imbued his suffering with meaning. And that meaning allowed him to focus on something beautiful, even in the midst of his unimaginably horrific surroundings.
Lesson: Focus on the meaning of your experiences.
'Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance' by Angela Duckworth
If you asked me, "What is the one fundamental trait that any entrepreneur has to have?" First, I would tell you to go back to the first book on this list and work on adopting a growth mindset.
Next, I would tell you that you must develop grit -- an insane amount of grit. You've got to be legendary on this one. To put a fine point on it, grit is the willingness and ability to push through toward your goal even when it's hard and/or boring.
Achieving success at the highest level takes work, but it also requires you to meet with failure over and over and over without a loss of enthusiasm. That takes grit. The people that end up winning are the ones who keep at it long after it's no longer fun. To Duckworth, this quality is 10x more valuable than talent. I have to agree. That's why in the hiring process, I'm not only trying to figure out who you are, I'm trying to figure out who you want to become and the price you're willing to pay to get there.
Lesson: Grit is greater than talent.
'The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art Of Turning Trials Into Triumph' by Ryan Holiday
Holiday starts his book with this proposal: What you think is stopping you is the thing that will propel you forward.
If this is hard to believe, consider the Wright Brothers. Underfunded and overlooked, the Wright brothers were originally underdogs in the race to take flight. So, how did two brothers who owned a bicycle shop take to the sky? Their limitations forced them to innovate.
When you are hungry, when you have something to prove, when your journey is riddled with roadblocks, you will either turn around, or you will be forced to break through. This breakthrough is what allows you to succeed.
This is also something that plays out in film all the time. Take Star Wars -- the original trilogy was hampered by the limitations of special effects. That forced them to create a "lived-in universe" that was largely made of practical sets, props, puppets, etc. As evidenced by the backlash over the abusive use of computer generated imagery in the prequels, the "limitations" that the initial three films struggled with actually ended up defining the look of the film that the most recent films in the Star Wars universe have taken great pains to replicate. Literally, the obstacle became the way.
Lesson: Turn obstacles into opportunities.
'Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?' by Seth Godin
There's a lot of hype around being an entrepreneur -- they get rockstar credit, but this path is not for everyone.
Every rockstar is usually just one part of a very large and valuable team. When done right, this team is made up of linchpins -- ultra-valuable team members who are just as driven and talented as any entrepreneur.
As a CEO, I'm always looking for linchpins, because I want to be surrounded by amazingly talented and passionate individuals who are committed to the business for their own selfish reasons. They are trying to be the best versions of themselves possible. They are constantly developing themselves and pushing the limits of their own skill set.
They believe in the mission of the company, have their own personal connection to it and are showing up every day playing to win. They want to be great at what they do. Not because they're afraid to get fired, but because they know that's the path to deep and lasting fulfillment.
In this incredible book, Godin shows readers the path to becoming an irreplaceable linchpin -- someone who controls their own destiny by getting so good, they can't be ignored. For anyone looking to bring the full weight of their talents to bear, this is the book for you.
Lesson: Never be confined by your job description.
'Relentless: From Good To Great To Unstoppable' by Tim Grover
Tim Grover has trained some of the greatest athletes of our time -- Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade -- and 20 years after the start of his career, he's written a book that reveals what they all have in common: a maniacal need to succeed.
They are driven not just by the love of the game, but also by what Grover refers to as the darkness. As I think about Grover's book, I'm looking at a painting of Michael Jordan from the infamous 'Flu Game' in 1997. In the NBA finals against the Utah Jazz, Jordan fought through horrific illness to put 38 points on the board. That's not normal. It's an obsession. A crushing need to win. But, that's what greatness demands of us all.
For Jordan and the greats, failure isn't an option. To become the best at whatever you're doing, you must be relentless. If others mistake this for madness, so be it. As Grover points out in the book, what others think of you shouldn't matter. What should matter to you is becoming the greatest of all time. Greatness is within reach for anyone willing to pay the price that greatness demands.
What I love, and what Grover makes abundantly clear in this seering tale of what it takes to be remembered, is that most people simply are not prepared to do what it takes. But, if you are, you can have anything you want from this life.
Lesson: Develop a maniacal need to succeed.
'Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action' by Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek starts with the question, "why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others?" His book, Start With Why is the answer to this question.
Humans are wired for meaning, for purpose, and your ability to push through difficult circumstances will be tied directly to that purpose. It will be tied to your "why." The mission in your business is the port in the middle of any storm. When things get hard, you must realign yourself with your reason for beginning.
At Quest Nutrition, I wanted to help people, specifically my mom and my sister, change their health and their life. This sense of purpose and mission is what propelled me forward. If you don't start a business by asking yourself about your mission, you will lose direction quickly when things get hard.
Having a strong purpose will keep you going when every fiber of your body wants to quit. So often people know what they want to do, and even how, but as Viktor Frankl noted in Man's Search for Meaning: If you know your "why," you can survive virtually any "how."
Lesson: Let the "why" drive your business.
How You Can Use These Good Books to Grow
If you don't act on what you learn, none of these books can help you. Before you read any book, you need to open yourself up to being changed forever by what you read. And wherever humanly possible, you need to put what you're learning to immediate use. I'm talking about using it within hours of reading it. If you do that, every book you read will further empower you and allow you to push yourself ever forward. They will allow you to take conscious control of your own evolution, and you'll be able to become whatever you want.