Self-Improvement Books
Photo by Benyamin Bohlouli on Unsplash. Design by the author.

Do you know what sucks about growing up?

Paying bills.

Want to know what sucks even worse?

Learning that most of what you have spent those precious years of your life studying won’t do you any favors in paying bills or living better.

Imagine the utter confusion, not knowing what to do with your life. This feeling can break you.

Make no mistake. It’s the beginning of your career. And your opening moves do, indeed, play quite a significant role in how the rest of the game will turn out.

Don’t worry: it’s never too late. You can still play it well. You can still score disruptive wins. But, first, you have to know the basics.

Simple things like how to manage your pain, how businesses make money, and what else you need besides solid finance to live a happier life can be game changers. Don’t you think?

Here are some self-improvement books that help me do so. And here’s why I wish I had read them earlier.

Courage to be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness

by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi
Goodreads Score: 4.1/5

We cannot alter objective facts. But subjective interpretations can be altered as much as one likes. And we are inhabitants of a subjective world.

Ichiro Kishimi, The Courage to Be Disliked

In its essence, this book breaths stoicism. However, the lessons here also come from the works of Alfred Adler, one of the three pillars of 19th-century psychology alongside Freud and Jung.

The thing about this book is that it can get so honest that it’s offensive at times. It’s not by any means an easy read, especially for those who enjoy their state of eternal victimhood.

But if you are smart enough to take the lessons with some nuance and apply them to your life when they fit, this book will allow you to find happiness even in the darkest times.

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When we are down on our luck, we are quick to blame it all on our past misfortunes. After all, it’s far more comfortable to chalk it all up to things beyond your control instead of taking ownership of your own action.

What to learn?

Yes. Your past experiences have had a fair share of their power over you. However, you can break out of it through your deliberate actions.

It all comes down to one question.

Who is in charge of your actions, you or your emotions?

For example, take anger. If a waiter accidentally drops a cup of coffee on you, you will get pissed, won’t you? Of course, that’s only natural.

What’s not natural is when you start yelling at him.

You might blame it all on the moment of anger or on not being your best self at the moment. But in reality, you are the one in control of your actions regardless of how you feel.

One day, a mother and daughter were quarreling loudly. Then, suddenly, the telephone rang. “Hello?” The mother picked up the receiver hurriedly, her voice still thick with anger. The caller was her daughter’s homeroom teacher. As soon as the mother realized who was phoning, the tone of her voice changed and she became very polite. Then, for the next five minutes or so, she carried on a conversation in her best telephone voice. Once she hung up, in a moment, her expression changed again and she went straight back to yelling at her daughter.

So no. Your past or emotions don’t hold much power over your present goals.

You can choose your feelings, your actions, and most importantly, you can choose to write your own story.

The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business

by Josh Kaufman
Goodreads Score: 4.09/5

Business schools don’t create successful people. They simply accept them, then take credit for their success.

Josh Kaufman, The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume

I wish I were the only one who tried to make it as a casual entrepreneur. That too, not knowing how it worked. But that’s not how things are. Are they?

Too many peoples confuse sleazy salesmanship for the true mark of a good businessman. Let me say it out loud. They are wrong. Yes, deal-making certainly is crucial. But it’s not everything. Not even close.

So if you are only honing your sales pitch, hoping to earn millions, you are setting yourself up for a dire reality check.

Or you could get an MBA at the price of a book.

Best Self-Improvement Books
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If you only want to read one business book, I recommend this one by Josh Kaufman.

While working as a newbie assistant brand manager at Procter and Gamble, the author found himself competing against MBAs who graduated from the top Universities.

So in an attempt to outsmart & outperform his highly qualified peers, Kaufman started reading — a lot. And the more he read, the more it came clear to him.

What to learn?

He realized that there are five building blocks behind any sustainable business, stacked one on the top of another.

Every successful business (1) creates or provides something of value that (2) other people want or need (3) at a price they’re willing to pay, in a way that (4) satisfies the purchaser’s needs and expectations and (5) provides the business sufficient revenue to make it worthwhile for the owners to continue operation.

If you topple any of those building blocks off balance, your venture fails, and you lose money.

① If your work isn’t providing any real value to the market, it’s nothing but a glorified hobby.

② If you put together a killer product that can fill a wide market gap; but fail to market it effectively, it will fly under the radar.

③ If people aren’t buying your thing, there will be no revenue.

④ If your product fails to deliver on its promise after the purchase, your business becomes a scam.

⑤ And lastly, when you fail to make more money than you spend, you lose the battle.

On the contrary, if you get them right, you can make the big bucks. Don’t worry. You can pull it off even on a tight budget.

Ego Is the Enemy

by Ryan Holiday
Goodreads Score: 4.1/5

Most successful people are people you’ve never heard of. They want it that way. It keeps them sober. It helps them do their jobs.

Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy

I have written about this before. There’s something teenagers do better than we grown-ups. They take swings, try to innovate, fail spectacularly, and get back up with no shame.

We can’t do that because we have already garnered quite a few small wins. And it has spoken to our ego. Now, we spend more and more time overestimating what we already know.

And what happens when your ego exceeds your capabilities? You implode! Believe me or not, that’s not even the worst part.

The worst part is when your unwillingness to grow out of your ways keeps you from ever coming back stronger. And that’s something the author, Ryan Holiday, has seen happening from up close time and time again.

That’s why when most crappy self-improvement books are busy glorifying an unrealistic idea of success to make money by selling hope, Holiday offers a more grounded take on it.

With success comes the temptation to tell oneself a story, to round off the edges, to cut out all the lucky breaks, and add a certain mythology to it all… But a story like this never honest or helpful.

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Two years after dropping off from college, at 21, Holiday became the strategist for American Apparel, then one of the hottest fashion brands in the world.

Sometimes later, he went on to hold the position of their marketing director.

So you can say he scored quite a few wins early in his life. However, it changed soon enough.

What to learn?

The very people who groomed him to be such a winner self-destructed themselves down to taking refuge on a friend’s couch. As he remembers:

To go from wanting to be like someone your whole life to realizing you never want to be like him is a kind of whiplash that you can’t prepare for.

So what’s the solution here? It will be to see yourself for who you are instead of what you want people to think you are. Cut out the hype and self-importance. Focus more on the substance.

One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly ego makes it difficult every step of the way.

The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success

by Darren Hardy
Goodreads score: 4.2/5

Small, Smart Choices + Consistency + Time = RADICAL DIFFERENCE

Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect

It doesn’t matter whether you are in a 9–5, self-employed, business owner, or into something creative. If you want to do better in your career, you need to be more skilled than the crowd.

But that’s not easy to do. Is it?

It can be if you know what you are doing.

But first, you must have a pretty good idea about your dreams and why they matter as much as they do. As Darren Hardy quotes:

If you are not making the progress that you would like to make and are capable of making, it is simply because your goals are not clearly defined.

5 Self-Improvement Books
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Once you have what you want and why you want it, it’s time to find out how to get there. And the best way to do this is to break your bigger dreams into smaller, more actionable goals.

Now, all you have to do is to put in slighter yet consistent efforts towards your big visions. The results will be tremendous. But would that be instantaneous? No. And that could lead to some problems.

What to learn?

The lack of any cinematic victory moment might make you feel like you are wasting your time. You can even get swayed away by the lure of instant rewards.

But when you give it a serious thought, you will start looking at things differently.

Promise yourself that you’re going to let go once and for all of your lottery-winner expectations because, let’s face it, you only hear stories about the one winner, not the millions of losers.

So if you want to win big, you need more than a lucky break. You need a process.

Don’t try to fool yourself into believing that a mega-successful athlete didn’t live through regular bone-crushing drills and thousands of hours of practice. He got up early to practice — and kept practicing long after all others had stopped. He faced the sheer agony and frustration of the failure, loneliness, hard work, and disappointment it took to become №1.

Speaking of athletes, let’s elaborate on that in the next book.


by Andre Agassi, J.R. Moehringer
Goodreads score: 4.2/5

Weak legs command, Gil says. Strong legs obey.

Andre Agassi, Open

Coming from 8 times Grand Slam winner and the best tennis player in 1995 and 1999, Open is one of my favorite memoirs.

That begs the question. What makes a good memoir? Is it about the stature of the figure? Or is it all about how engaging their stories are? If you ask me: my vote goes to authenticity.

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Imagine buying a book written by your favorite celebrity. It is a classic underdog story. It is thrilling, inspiring, and even if it is a little bit self-absorbed, it makes you cry.

Okay. Now. Imagine finding out it’s nothing but a pile of BS with sprinkles on the top.

How would you feel?

That’s not how you would feel after reading Open by Andre Agassi.

In this book, Agassi openly discusses his struggles with the same anxiety, insecurities, and self-destructive patterns as you and I.

What to learn?

For example, he made things harder than they needed to be. He did it by making it all about himself v. the world.

They say I’m nothing but image, I have no substance, because I haven’t won a slam. They say the slogan is proof that I’m just a pitchman, trading on my fame, caring only about money and nothing about tennis.

So, he retaliated.

I lash out at linesmen, opponents, reporters — even fans. I feel justified, because the world is against me, the world is trying to screw me.

But he learned soon enough. Just like he had paid the price for declaring unnecessary war against the world, he also ripped the bounty for letting the right people in his life.

If I must play tennis, the loneliest sport, then I’m sure as hell going to surround myself with as many people as I can off the court. And each person will have his specific role.

It is this attitude. That is what brought Agassi to Brad Gilbert and Gil Reyes. And along the road, both these figures played instrumental roles in Agassi’s success.

Here’s an interesting quote by Will Rogers:

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

These self-improvement books can help you not become the third kind. Like what you read? Please, feel free to…