The 6 Books You Must Read to Create a Life of Meaning

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About 1 in 4 Americans don’t read. Not even 1 book per year!

The worst part is that this number is increasing. Almost 40 years ago that number was closer to only 1 in 10 Americans.

On the other hand, most CEOs and executives read between 4 and 5 books a month. Do you still doubt that you should be reading?

The truth is that it is really up to you. You only have to read if you want to be able to define and achieve success on your own terms.

If that is not you, then you should probably stop reading this article. If you do agree that reading will empower you, then please continue.

Matt and I consume information and books in every way possible. Books, audiobooks, podcasts, articles, TED talks, you name it. If we are curious about something, or we want to master a certain skill, we will find the best books, and resources, about that topic and will obsessively consume them.

In fact, I’ve been questioning if I should slow down my reading so that I can let the knowledge sink in. After all, knowledge is power only if we put it into action. Yet, the topic of how we make the most out of the books we read is something we will cover later on within this series of articles (in about two weeks from today you can expect that article).

Recently, Matt and I were speaking at a leadership event and we were asked a great question. One that we actually weren’t expecting. “What are you currently reading and what would you recommend us to read?”

I could recommend probably all the books I’ve read this year because most of the books I read are usually recommended by great sources (and usually I buy them after receiving recommendations for the same book from several sources), yet it is virtually impossible to read all the great books that are out there.

So what can we do about it?

Today, we will focus on the reading essentials. The books that we think everyone should read.

Ahhhhh… so many books! Read them all!

This is not an easy question to answer! But we will do our best to do so.

Also, we would love to hear your answer to that question. Leave us your top 3 or top 5 books that you think everyone should read.

Books Everyone Should Read

MATT:

As Alejandro said, we put this article together because we were asked what books we would recommend at a leadership event. At first, I didn’t know how to respond as there are so many amazing books. Alejandro and I each read 35-50 a year.

When you read that much, it is difficult to come up with just a few picks. Then there is the complexity of audience and topic. Let me explain. 99% of the books I read fall into three categories. 1) books that deepen my faith, 2) books for professional development, and 3) books specifically on becoming a better marketer. Most of those books would not fall into the category of “books everyone should read.”

I struggled to come up with my top 3 recommendations as I really wanted to focus on books which are valuable for a broad audience. After thinking for awhile, and by thinking I mean sitting in Houston traffic, I have come up with the 3 books I would tell anyone to read no matter their industry, stage in life, or preferred reading style.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. Simply put, Holiday is my favorite author. I have read all of his books . . . multiple times . . . in multiple formats (audio and print). In my opinion, this is his best book as he explains the power of pushing aside your ego for true growth personally and professionally. His writing style flows from chapter to chapter where he progressively dives deeper into the benefits of Stoicism. In a culture where vanity and entitlement reign supreme, we can all use a little humbling.

Greatness comes from humble beginnings; it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room—until you change that with results.
— Ryan Holiday

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Again, the goal of this article is to provide recommendations which apply to everyone, and this book fits that purpose exactly. I have read many books on leadership and this is the best, no exception. Willink and Babin provide an exciting style by writing about their experiences as SEAL leaders and, now, as executive consultants who train individuals and groups on the value of leadership. This book is both action-packed and packed with action items. Read when you are ready to elevate your leadership abilities.

Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.
— Jocko Willink

The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield. I read this book 3-4 times a year, seriously it’s that good. Yes, the main intended audience is “creatives,” but you quickly realize we are all creating our lifestyle through daily actions. What life do you want to create? Pressfield is a master author who has penned numerous best sellers from fiction to nonfiction. The War of Art is both inspirational and actionable with each chapter giving you more and more to consider the amount of work necessary to create your desired life. Buy the audiobook and listen to it multiple times throughout the year to get you closer to your goals.

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
— Steven Pressfield

I could go on, yet the 3 above will get you started to instantly improve your life. We look forward to hearing from you and the books you think everyone should read.

ALEJANDRO:

All the books that I read have no other purpose than to improve a skill, or area of knowledge, I want to improve. Thus, I read to do, not just to know.

I started reading because, as a kid, my mom would not let me do anything else until I read at least a certain amount of minutes per day. Then, as the habit was made, I read books such as Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings. Later I shifted to reading about anything that I was curious about or wanted to be better at.

Yeeees, yeees! I know that there is more to life, and reading than non-fiction. There are a lot of great novels out there. But that might come later for me.

I do realize I might be a bit obsessed with this theme, especially when I’m doing Improv comedy because all my ideas are business-related or about a story/research I read in a book. Yet, at this point in my life getting better at what I am currently doing has become my one thing.

I’ve read many great books about Poker, Weightlifting, Self-Help, Investing, Marketing, Negotiation, Networking, Job-Searching, Influence, Behavioral Psychology, and Business in general. This is because at some point in life I was working on getting better at any of those topics, and I’m sure I’m missing some others. Yet, for “must reads” I have to go broad.

These are books that will help anyone live a better life. Oh, and I’m thankful that Matt has already recommended Ego is The Enemy and Extreme Ownership because I was having a hard time deciding if those would be in my top-three.

Book #1:

The first book that everyone should read is Crucial Conversations. This book was recommended in our MBA Business Communications class, and I have no doubt that if everyone read this book the world would be a better place.

The majority of the problems we face in our lives are either to misunderstandings, and emotions flying around and clouding our judgment because of bad communication. Just think about it for a second. Think back about the problems you’ve had in the past 3 or 6 months. How many of these could you have avoided if you would’ve handled a conversation better?

This book will give you the tools to have those uncomfortable conversations when stakes are high, and there are different points of view, and emotions, involved. As Tim Ferriss says, success in life can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations one is willing to have. This book will give you the tools to embrace those uncomfortable conversations to succeed.

Book #2:

This is a book that I heard about for years and years but I avoided reading because the title sounded a bit sleazy. Whenever I heard about How to Win Friends and Influence People, I always thought that it sounded a bit manipulative and that I already had a lot of friends, I wasn’t a loser in need of learning how to win friends.

As like many other things in life, I was wrong. In the same line of thinking of my first book recommendation, most challenges that we will face in life are when dealing with other people.

When I was doing my undergrad studies, I picked Economics because I thought that would give me the fundamental knowledge to then be a great businessperson. Then I almost changed to psychology because as I kept reading I realized what you really need to understand, to be good at business, is people.

This book will give you the fundamentals to create meaningful relationships with everyone around you. The book was written almost a 100 years ago, and it is still relevant. It worth noting that there is no similar book out there. Most likely, because everyone realizes there is no way to top this book. Maybe you can update the stories that are told in the book, but the principles remain the same (and are very simple).

Book #3:

This is a book that I think Matt and I were reading at the same time.

The first two books are essentially about how to deal with and treat people because most of life is about that. Yet there is one person that is likely to cause most of your challenges, or victories, depending on how you deal with him/her. That person can lead you to complete darkness or to complete bliss.

It’s a person that you must love no matter what, and that you must believe in no matter what. No doing so will cause a lot of pain to yourself and to others around you.

That person is yourself.

Before dealing with others you have to deal with yourself. Thus, self-awareness and introspection are the most important skills you can have. Period (If you think differently, share in the comments).

There is a quote that says that when we are young we spend a lot of energy trying to change the world, then we mature a bit and realize that it is almost impossible to do that so we focus on changing those around us, and then we get older and realize that the only person that we have to change is ourselves.

So why wait until we are old to realize that we have to change ourselves? Let’s start doing that now!

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, is a book that made me look deep inside myself. It is about embracing and exploring uncomfortable situations. Is about always leaning into your fears and being comfortable with uncomfortable.

This is a book about understanding that vulnerability is part of life. If we don’t accept we are vulnerable how can we actually get stronger?

This book is about going into “fights” that we know we might lose, and we might get punched in our mouths and even get knocked down. But it is exactly that pain what will create the space to having meaning in our lives. That pain will actually lead us to gratefulness and appreciation later on.

Your Favorite Books?

What about you? Have you read any of these? Would you add these to your top or would you pick others?

Share with everyone in the comments.