My early 20s were full of unknowns: I was trying to understand what I wanted from life, who I wanted to be, and most importantly I needed to figure out which direction to take to become successful.
After my life thus far had been shaped by choices made for me or imposed upon me by other people, I was now free in a terrifying way. In a way that makes you want to stick with those choices that weren’t yours in the first place. Heath Ledger once said: If you make decisions based upon people’s reactions or judgments then you make really boring choices. What I needed then was a different sort of guidance than my parents had provided: I needed to learn from other people’s examples and experiences.
The answer? Read books.
Unfortunately, back then I didn’t enjoy reading. Big mistake, because now I can’t think of a cheaper yet more valuable source of knowledge than books.
So – to help you get started in life on the right foot, I created this list of 20 influential books I think anyone in their early 20s would benefit from reading. It’s the list I wish I’d been given back in the day. Between these pages, you’ll find advice on boosting your cognitive power and shaping your mind, making good career choices, improving your interactions and making friends, and other problem areas you might be facing.
My newfound love for reading started with just one book: Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. Picking up that short book was the tipping point which kickstarted my momentum of self-development and growth. Today I read 50+ books per year eagerly. Each book gives my career a micro boost, it makes me feel stronger and smarter.
I hope one of the books on this list will do the same for you…
1. The One Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan
Feeling overwhelmed by your goals or feeling stuck, not knowing how you’ll have the time to achieve them all and become successful?
This book teaches workflow optimisation and takes goal setting to a new level. When you feel paralysed by a big, long-term goal, this book will help you deconstruct it so you can create a manageable path to that goal by focusing on just 1 to-do per day. Imagine how productive you could be with such laser-like focus. This technique is the recipe to success.
2. Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
Got an idea and want to start your own business?
Anyone can train their idea muscle to generate hundred of ideas. However, rarely do they action their ideas. If action is what you need help with, then this book is for you. It explains how to choose your industry, solve real problems and deliver value to become successful. And, instead of just counting on you to make a big fortune, the authors included a guide to raising money via crowdsourcing. If you want to eventually start your own business, this book is a good one to have in your arsenal.
3. I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
Not good with money? Never able to save enough?
Presenting a new way to handle personal finance. People think that if they save on lattes or other small expenses, those savings will become a fortune down the line. It’s true that savings accumulate over time, but this approach will take decades and let’s be honest – that’s not the timeline you’re looking for. Instead, Ramit shows you how to automate your finances to create and save bigger chunks of money, putting your money to work for you so you can live a rich life.
4. On the Shortness of Life and other essays by Seneca
Feeling uninspired, frustrated or otherwise struggling with your day-to-day life?
A must-read manual to overcoming struggles in life and achieving great things in spite of them, a reminder to live contently and mindfully. This book will teach you how to stop overthinking things you really have no control over, so that you can focus your thoughts and actions on what matters.
5. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (fiction)
Feel like you’re not making enough impact?
This book is a multiverse of stories that all collide together in fascinating ways. A lot of the ideas presented in this book could shake up your young mind and give you inspiration to either change your world or to redefine it creatively. Boost your creativity, question status quo and solve complex problems. This is the book I gift the most.
6. Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
Feel like you’re not good enough to achieve big things?
As the title says – learn how to awaken the giant within you. You’ll get specific tactics to hack your habits and rebuild them into ones that contribute to success. It’s a tremendously practical and helpful book I recommend to every high performer that needs motivation or tools to rebuild their mindset for success.
7. The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Dreading a dead-end office job? Curious if there are other paths to success?
This book will help you put aside the typical 9-5 mentality; you’ll redefine what work means to you and how you want to approach it. However, this is a deeply practical book with detailed advice for how to focus on the goals that matter so you don’t waste your time and resources trying to do every little thing. It’s about doing the stuff that matters most, which you’re uniquely positioned to do, and outsourcing unimportant stuff that will wear away at your focus.
8. Utopia by Thomas Moore (fiction)
Think that the system is broken and needs improving?
Imagine a country or an island, where every law, social norm and belief is opposite to what you grew up with. That’s Utopia. This book will prompt you to question and think outside the box. Some ideas you’ll encounter will seem truly utopian, whilst some others may offend, but they’re all a mix of the ideologies that make up our governments. An introduction to politics, this is an essential read for anyone.
9. Choose Yourself by James Altucher
Feeling frustrated that you can’t get what you want to achieve?
Even if you don’t want to start your own business, this book is a kick in the butt to choose yourself before you go out into the world. Don’t wait for approval, validation or for someone to offer you the things you want, because that’s never going to happen. Instead, James Altucher will inspire you to go out there and get what you want on your own terms. Before you think this all sounds very flimsy, Altucher’s approach is very practical showing you how to use your ideas as currency to create value.
10. Waking Up by Sam Harris
What makes us conscious? Are you curious about how our mind works?
This one is a dive into neuroscience, consciousness and spirituality without religion. It explains how the mind and perception work, and also how they can deceive you. What I loved the most about this book is facing a fact we tend to overlook: we are not the drivers of our bodies. We are one with them. We’re a constantly changing process that will in a matter of days wake up completely fresh and based on our environmental and cultural beliefs form the reality around us.
11. The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
No degree or you just want to understand how businesses work and how to make them successful?
If you can’t afford tuition, but you want to deconstruct businesses to learn from them, this book is your toolkit. There are hundreds of strategies, models and truths in here on how, where, why and what creates a successful business.
12. The Rich Employee by James Altucher
Want to learn what makes one person more successful at their job than another?
This book is similar to ‘Choose Yourself’ which I mentioned above, but it’s adapted for the non-entrepreneurial crowd who are happy to work for other great leaders. You’ll learn how to convert your ideas into value so you over-deliver and get that promotion or other recognition you strive for.
13. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Need to work on social skills? How to interact with others to your benefit?
Cialdini will give you a framework to understand the principles of our psychology: what persuades us to do one thing or another? Note that this book is not about manipulation, but rather it shows you how to use evolutionary behaviour principles to direct and lead people effectively.
14. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Terrified of ‘networking’? Struggle to talk to strangers or have social anxiety?
I believe this book should be a mandatory read in schools. You see, in their interactions people tend to focus on themselves too much. This doesn’t lead a conversation anywhere. Instead, you should learn to listen and use this unpopular talent to your advantage. Carnegie lists the key principles of direct communication and social interaction dynamics to help you build a personal network.
15. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Want to know what makes a product, idea or a person outstanding?
Too many people and companies tackle their problems by answering the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Rarely do they drill down into the ‘why’ – why should something happen? Those who do drill down are the true maverick companies with lasting success. Think of the giants you know like Apple, who are clearly inferior on the technical side (the whats and hows) to Android, yet people rave about their products. Why? Because they start with delightful experiences (their ‘why’ of doing things).
16. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Want to write words people will love reading?
You can’t think or communicate well without knowing how to write well. As I write this article I’m using some of Zinsser’s principles for delivering something worth reading (hopefully). Master the art of good writing with Zinsser’s principles to deliver content worth reading, some of which even I’m using as I write this article.
17. Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
Want to an easy guide to success and making money?
Derek is not your typical entrepreneur sharing his success story. Instead he focuses on the hustle, by sharing 40 lessons he learnt building his successful business CD Baby. The best bit is that this book goes straight to the point so it’s a quick read. In just an hour you’ll learn tonnes about success and failure. My favourite lesson was: only start a business if someone’s asking for it.
18. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Do you want a daily motivation dose?
The stoic philosophy, practiced by Marcus Aurelius, is ancient medicine for our crammed-up, modern-day minds. Meditations are his private journal where Marcus, one of the favourite Roman emperors, navigates day-to-day difficulties, doubts, social interactions and more. The entries aren’t long, they’re more like quotes, and you should refer to them daily to increase your own happiness and your attitude to life’s challenges.
19. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
Want to get better at facing and overcoming challenges in your life?
This is Stoic philosophy modernised with stories and examples that will ring true to today. Learning about examples of well-known historical and modern figures will equip you with ways to tackle your own daily struggles. Instead of running away from them, you’ll be inspired to overcome the chasm for a better present.
20. The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz
Want to be so good at anything that they can’t ignore you?
To achieve BIG things you must think BIG. Whatever mental model got you where you are today, won’t get you past the next big challenge. Thinking big means keeping an open mind to solving problems with a genuine drive that makes any goal possible.
Books can be your mentors if you choose them wisely. I read over 50 useful books last year and I aim to do the same this year, except I’ll be sharing all of the best insights right here on the High Achiever Diet. Want to stay up to date on the best books to lead you to success?
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