The 20-something years are by their very definition – unstable.
You spend days of dread at a job that you’re just working to “pay the bills”. You spend nights awake, tossing and turning in terror and panic with the incessant thoughts of:
“Will it all pan out?”
I get it. I’ve felt this way before and many people before us did as well.
But here’s the deal:
Many of the people you look up to? They heavily relied on outside advice to help them navigate this treacherous sink or swim portion of life.
Some people have them in the form of mentors. But what if you can’t get a mentor? What then?
There’s a way you can tap into some form of external knowledge, into some of the greatest minds of all time living and dead.
But not just any books, gentlemen. There’s a TON of books out there that are absolutely garbage. You will waste your time and money buying them, I swear.
Anything you want to learn you can learn…because someone has written how to do it. All of their discoveries, frustrations, and anxieties can be written down in the pages of a book. One idea you encounter in a book can save you YEARS of trouble and wasted time.
In my I’ve done some of the heavy lifting for you in terms of finding some good books, but you still need to read them and apply them. Don’t fall into the trap of just reading them and never doing anything with the information.
These books span many different fields. Business. Psychology. Social Intelligence. Practical stuff you can use.
If you’re looking for woo-woo, airy fairy nonsense…talking about “trusting the Universe”…you’re in the wrong place, hombre.
Now that we’ve got that established…
I’ve also written about why self-development is so important in your 20s.
So, read that article and then come back and to see which of these books you should read in your 20s.
Note/Disclaimer: I want to say that I don’t agree with EVERYTHING in some of these books but if you’re starting from ground zero…you’ll find some illumination in the chapters of these fine pieces of literature.
Take what you need and throw out the rest.
Published in 1960 by a plastic surgeon, Psycho-Cybernetics is about the “self image”. Maltz wanted to understand why even after plastic surgery, there were a number of patients that didn’t feel attractive. The problem wasn’t with the surgery, it was with how they viewed themselves. He says a lot of us need surgery as well – the surgery to change our self-image. Psycho-Cybernetics will help you untangle yourself from limiting beliefs and construct a new, more positive self-image.
Why you should read it: I purposefully put this one at the top of the list because…how you view yourself determines everything in life. Your self-image is the foundation, on which other aspects of your life are built. Without a strong self-image and the belief in yourself, you might as well stop reading here because the other books mean nothing without it.
Little disciplines add up to a great victory in the long run. Choosing not to go running today didn’t hurt you…but what about a year from now? What if you decided to never be physically active again and sit on the couch all day? Where would you be in 10 years?
Small gains compounded every day lead to a massive success.
Small errors in judgment compounded every day lead to a massive failure.
Why you should read it: At this age, you can easily make the decision to live a slight edge life. It’s not too late to change habits. Reading this will give you some pause and think about how you can start putting your life on the upswing (if its not already).
He says go find work you can leverage, THEN follow your passion.
Arguing for the development of craftsmanship in one’s profession, Newport asserts that passion only arises when high proficiency in that field is achieved.
Why you should read it: Most of the “greats” about didn’t have a particular enthusiasm for their known field until after they started to develop a degree of mastery in it. Definitely recommend for anyone who wants to find the core of what fulfilling work is.
Also check out: Deep Work
You’ll see this book come up on lists like this again and again and again. This is because Napoleon Hill made the first widely circulated “manual” of success that is still followed to this day. Written in the midst of the Great Depression, this book broke down what exactly made people “successful”.
He spent over 20 years researching and interviewing different self-made millionaires like Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, William Wrigley, and Thomas Edison. The result was this book. Praised by Fortune 500 CEOs and everyday people alike, this book still sells like hot cakes.
Why you should read it: This an essential read for anyone who’s interested in any type of self-development. You could read only this and get practical steps on how to be successful.
A lot of people think this is a “get rich quick” book…but it’s more about how to live a rich life full of relationships with others and most importantly – yourself.
This book is a classic for a reason. It’s easy financial sense in a book that’s super engaging to read. Nothing flashy, nothing sexy, just straight up wisdom from a time loooong ago. Not just financial wisdom either.
Why you should read it: Is money everything? No. Does money matter? Well, 98% of the things you do in life revolve around money…so I’d say it matters. This book will get you thinking a ‘lil bit.
This book was pretty controversial when it came out and still courts its fair share of it. 48 Laws of Power is a no-holds barred look at power dynamics through the lens of history. Filled to the brim with anecdotes, historical records, and comparisons of how power is maintained and dissipated, this puts “office politics” in a new light.
Why you should read it: Most of us don’t have a good grasp on implicit power dynamics that filter through different environments. This book takes a very amoral look at the subtle ways people try to use power to influence you and your decisions.
One caveat…it is a wee bit paranoid. Not everyone is constantly memorizing law 28 in the back of their heads trying to one up you. Neither should you do the same. Just be aware.
Can’t finish anything? Lazy? Unmotivated? Don’t blame yourself. Blame Resistance. It’s the name Pressfield gives to this menacing, omnipresent force that chokes creativity, stifles drive, and keeps people spinning hamster wheels. In this book, Pressfield urges the reader to defeat the greatest enemy they have: themselves.
Why you should read it: I’m gonna bet that you have lots of self-limiting beliefs. This book shows you how to dismantle all of these one by one. He literally tells you that this Resistance is something that must be defeated day after day, or else it will take everything and give nothing back. Definitely a book to check out if you want to operate at a higher level in your day to day affairs.
Deliberate practice is the name of the path you’ll walk to becoming great at anything. Anders Ericsson was/is a pioneer in the field of expertise. This is where people like Malcolm Gladwell got the “10,000” rule.
Why you should read it: In the past, you may have thought that people are inherently talented or “gifted”. This book completely shatters that notion. If you’re trying to reach the top of whatever your field of expertise is, you’ll want to read this book.
Looky here! Another book by Robert Greene. This book is part inspirational, part instructional. In this tome, the path to mastery and expertise is clearly laid down through tons of historical and contemporary examples. The common thread? All of the people we consider “masters” followed a “primal inclination”, a burning light inside of them that they just had to show to the world. They did just that and they ended up winning big.
Why you should read it: In my mind, this is the perfect book for anyone who’s just starting out in the working world to read. This book shows the steps that you will encounter on your own road to mastery and lets you know that it’s quite possible to attain.
Every artist had their own share of quirks and routines that helped them create high quality work and get through the day in one piece. These routines are documented in this enlightening book. And don’t think “artists” are painters, sculptors, and the likes… These include writers, inventors, philosophers, etc.
Why you should read it: This book is important for two reasons: it destroys the barrier between seemingly godlike artists & yourself and it compiles people from various fields and disciplines. All of these artists were normal people with the same thoughts, feelings, temptations, and discouragements as yourself. Creativity also isn’t limited to people who find themselves in an artistic field. Anyone can be creative. Definitely read this if you want an espresso shot of inspiration via the routines of people who made a dent in our world.
Also check out: Creative Confidence
Why you should read it: The book summed up in one phrase: you don’t have a lot of time.That much is obvious. The twentysomething years are a time where you plant as many good seeds as you can, get rid of the weeds, and sit tight for the harvest. While I do not agree with her on everything, I certainly believe the main point of the book is sound: make the most of NOW.
Every now and then comes along a book that causes reflection and pause about what it means to function in the world as a person. Principles is that book. In it, former Bridgewater Associates CEO Ray Dalio and 2nd richest hedge fund manager in the world details the principles that allow him to achieve massive success.
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The secret before The Secret, this book packs a powerful punch in crisp and short chapters. This is the basis for a lot of of the self-help books that litter the shelves but still prove to be inferior in wisdom and impact to this book.
Why you should read it: Why would you not read it? You can blow through this thing in sub-2 hours. Here’s another reason: your thoughts make you. It’s been scientifically proven that our thoughts literally determine how body functions. There’s so many gems laced in this book that you’ll find yourself coming back to it over and over and over again.
Think meditation is some “woo-woo” new age garbage? Think again. Meditation is a way of strengthening the mind and sharpening your focus. This book goes into great detail of why that is and how to attain higher and higher levels of focus and in result – peace of mind.
Why you should read it: Most of us have grown up in a world where we have been surrounded by technology since birth. This is all well and good but it comes at a cost: lack of focus. There’s so many shiny thingies that want our attention.
When attention fragments, nothing of value is accomplished. Those who know how to focus their attention will be able filter out what matters and what doesn’t. The result is a peaceful, well poised life.
Emperor Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome during a particularly rough period in its history. This book is a collection of his journal writings, mostly his thoughts about Stoic philosophy. It is considered to be one of the most influential set of writings in history.
Why you should read it: Meditations can be seen as a book that you don’t read all at once. You read bits and pieces, then come back to it as you see fit. Everything in this book has a practical application to some area in life. A word of warning: some of the writings can be pretty depressing.
Don’t take this as an absolute guide on how to view life but rather see it as one man’s reflections on the world as he knew it. Still, Stoic philosophy is a crucial mindset every modern man should have in his mental framework.
Why you should read it: This book is particularly enlightening. Going into more depth about Stoic philosophy than Marcus Aurelius does in his Meditations, these letter are particularly introspective in mood. It always begs the question “am I living as to how nature/God/life/whateveryoubelievein requires of me?”
17. Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching is one of the most translated texts in history. Written by a mysterious Chinese scribe, this book is filled with seeming contradictions that examine the paradox of nature and the “right” to live.
Why you should read it: This book examines the basic underlying nature of the universe. Chaotic yet orderly, hard yet soft. The main message is this: there is a balance, flow, and harmony to that of life. The more you can attune yourself to this balance, the better off you will be and the less pain you’ll encounter in your life. This can be seen as the Eastern version of Stoicism.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most influential authors in all of history. This is because his writings cut straight to the core of reality and dig up truths that we all know exist, but some of us choose to ignore. This book is a collection of some of his most impactful essays.
Why you should read it: Ralph Waldo Emerson has a lot to say on the act of growing into who you are as a person. All of his works have an overtone of self-actualization, perfect for the young man growin into his own as a person.
We all make “agreements” with ourselves. The agreements that we’ve made with ourselves and others determines the happiness or misery in our lives. Don Miguel Ruiz proposes us to make four simple agreements with ourselves to help us experience personal fulfillment and freedom.
Why you should read it: This book was written by a Toltec shaman but it is rooted in psychology. In the same vein as Psycho-Cybernetics, this book deals with the self-image. The things you say to yourself and to others have a profound impact on the self-image. This book offers really simple and profound ways to help you love yourself but also extend that outward.
Brian Tracy has become known as one of the principal authorities in the arena of success and self-development. He’s authored so many books but this one stands as his magnum opus. If you want to never read another “self-development” book again, get this one.
Why you should read it: This is a powerhouse of game-changing information. Both motivational and actionable, this book proves true to its title’s name. This is a blueprint that you can draw from to enhance your own personal blueprint and philosophy on life. Covering ground from money to personal relationships, if you even implement one of the strategies in this book, you’ll be MUCH better off than you were before. Again, take what you need…throw out the rest.
Why you should read it: You may or may not be interested in eating a Paleo diet, but this book is skillfully argued and defended. The main argument: our ancestors had a certain way of living and eating. The closer to that you are, the better you’ll feel. Even if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you still have to agree that this message couldn’t come at a better time.
One word: classic. This book is super-famous because it’s soooooo effective. Read by vice presidents to corner store clerks, this book shows you how to navigate life in a cooperative and proactive manner and change your mindset from one of passivity into activity.
Why you should read it: As a young person, you must learn how to navigate the world. You must learn how to interact with other people widely varying backgrounds, ideologies, and beliefs. The 7 Habits gives a strong framework on how to do this and become a more effective person in the workplace and in life.
Why you should read it: Lots of takeaways from this book but the main one is this: act with enthusiasm. At this age, that might be all you have. You may not have skills, you may be a newbie in your field, etc… But if you bring the energy and a desire to learn…then you’ll find yourself having lots of people want to help you on your journey. A word of warning: don’t think you have to become a doormat after reading this book. That’s not what its about. It’s about navigating life with as little friction as possible.
Everything we do is governed by habits. These habits can be good (brushing your teeth) or bad (being chronically late). The bad ones are what will inevitably bring us down and prevent us from getting what we want out of life. Charles Duhigg proposes a three point “habit wheel” in the form of “cue, routine, reward”. Change the routine and you effectively change the habit.
Why you should read it: Think of this as an exercise in self-awareness. Most of us are unconsciously on autopilot. This means, we do a number of haphazard things throughout our day. Some of this is good – some of this is bad. If you can manage to change the bad ones into good ones, the entire momentum of your life will shift. Worth it to set up good habits now while you’re not too locked in your ways.
In the same vein as The Power of Habit, this book addresses the process of changing how your brain functions with regards to habits. But this is a different type of habit pattern: the tendency to degrade the self. These show up in the form of anxiety, depression, negative self-talk, etc. Definitely worth understanding to show you the true power of being able to take control of your own destiny.
Why you should read it: You have two sides to your personality. The side that’s in control is your unconscious self which governs your behavior. Think of it as the execution model for the self image. If your unconscious is negatively oriented, you’re in for a world of pain.. This book will show you how to rewire your brain by working to eliminate the mental claptrap that plagues many of us on a daily basis.
Well, there you have it – 25 books to help you in the quest to “go beyond yourself”. I said these books should be read in your 20s just because you’re still building a strong foundation during those years. In actuality, these can be read at any phase in your life. It’s never too late to start learning some things you didn’t before. These were 25 books that helped me quite a bit when I was trying to find some answers, so I hope they solve some questions you had and raise some more.