At the beginning of 2018, I made a goal to re-read several of my favorite books. I figured that if they were good enough the first time around, they were worth revisiting. Here are my top five.
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
As the subtitle states, Holiday’s book outlines how you can turn setbacks into successes. Holiday’s advice is largely inspired by stoics, with Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius being the most influential. Here are three of my favorite passages:
- “Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted…So much power…is frittered away in this manner.”
- “It’s supposed to be hard. Your first attempts aren’t going to work. It’s goings to take a lot out of you—but energy is an asset we can always find more of. It’s a renewable resource.”
- “See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must. What blocked the path now is a path. What once impeded action advances action. The Obstacle is the Way.”
I love this book and wish I would have read it before writing my first book. I now keep a copy on my desk for reference. Chock-full of simple yet elegant insights, Steal Like an Artist is a short, wonderful read for anyone seeking to be more creative.
What is creativity? To me, it’s the ability to imagine, to generate new ideas, to create, and to build something original. I’ve never considered myself creative, but over the last few years, I’ve been trying to build this muscle. Even if you don’t consider yourself a creative type (most of us don’t), I think you’ll enjoy this book and find application for whatever you’re pursuing.
John Adams by David McCullough
I’m a huge fan of biographies and John Adams is one of my favorites. Adams was a polarizing figure throughout the American Revolution and held vicious grudges with several of the Founding Fathers. Despite his many flaws, Adams provided consistent leadership and played a critical role during the founding of the United States.
Biographies help me gain insights into how successful people handle crises, solve complex problems, and pursue interesting careers. Other favorite historical biographies include Truman (also by McCullough), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (by Walter Isaacson) and Alexander Hamilton (by Ron Chernow).
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Holiday convincingly argues that ego is the main thing holding us back from reaching our full potential. Early in our careers, ego can prevent us from developing our talents, and when we taste success, it can blind us to our own faults. Holiday shares anecdotes from the lives of historical figures who reached high levels of power and success by conquering their own egos, as well as those who let ego conquer them. These stories drive home lessons that we all can apply.
My biggest takeaway? Don’t focus on what your neighbors, your co-workers, or your classmates are doing. Focus on what you can control. Keep your own scorecard.
I first read this book in 2015 and found it so insightful I decided to read it again. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi is known for saying, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” It makes for a great quote, but it’s completely false. Winners quit all the time, they’re just good at quitting at the right things. Free market systems reward the exceptional, and those who are best in the world at something get compensated 10x more than those who are merely good. Godin argues that we can all be the best in the world at something. To become exceptional, we first need to make sure we’re on the right path, then be willing to push past the point where most people give up.
Five years ago I left the finance world, largely because I didn’t feel I had the talent or desire to be exceptional in that field. I made the decision to forgo two years of income to pursue an MBA and completely switch careers. Several years in it’s clear to me I made the right choice. Knowing when to quit and when to stick isn’t easy, but this book provides a good framework to help with the decision.