15 Essential Personal Finance and Career Books

Over the years, I’ve read more personal finance and career books than I can possibly count. For the first several years of The Simple Dollar, I actually reviewed a book each week on the site. Yet, for all of those books, there were really only a few that had something inside the covers that stuck with me.

Of the hundreds of books related to personal finance, careers, professional growth, and other related topics that I’ve looked at over the past decade, only fourteen have retained a place on my bookshelf. I keep these on a shelf next to the desk where I write and actually refer to them now and again, because I find all of them to be treasure troves of inspiration when it comes to money issues, career issues, and career-life balance issues.

I update this list every once in a while. At my last update a few years ago, the list numbered ten books. Since then, I’ve added five more – all ones that I read a while ago but the message kept coming back to me.

If you’re looking to improve your finances or your career or your life balance, you’ll gain valuable insight from any of the books on this list. All of these have changed the way I handled my money and my professional life. In fact, for each book, I’ll give you three examples of insights that the book gave me.

Your Money or Your Life – Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

If You Read Only One Book From This List, Make It This One

ymoylIf I could point to one single book that was responsible from our family’s turnaround from tens of thousands of dollars of student loan and credit card debt into debt-free homeowners – not even a mortgage! – in about seven years, it would be this book. It was the seed of all of the changes.

Your Money or Your Life isn’t about financial advice, really. Sure, it has sections on how to live frugally and how to invest your money securely, but the heart of the book is all about readjusting your priorities. It walks carefully through the logic of what money actually is and what it represents – your life’s energy – and then forces you to think deeply about what you’re doing with that life.

This book changed everything for me. It made me reassess my entire life and led both Sarah and I to quickly change how we spent money and made us reconsider what we valued. If it were not for this book, we would probably still be living in a tiny apartment in debt up to our neck and I’d still be working at a nine to five office job. I credit this book for igniting all of the change.

If you’d like to know more, I wrote a lengthy series on Your Money or Your Life that covers the book in tremendous detail.

Three Lessons Learned from Your Money or Your Life

The Fulfillment Curve Lies Underneath Many of Our Decisions

The fulfillment curve refers to the idea that as we spend more and more money on something, we eventually reach a “peak” of fulfillment. As we continue to add money, though, we actually move downward from that peak into things like having more than we can enjoy. Check out an earlier article I wrote about the fulfillment curve in detail.

Money Is Something We Trade Our Life Energy For

Whenever we work, we are swapping some of our life’s energy in exchange for that money. That energy isn’t infinite. We spend some of our life’s pool every single day. How much of it do we really want to swap for money? Shouldn’t we make that swap as efficient as possible? I wrote an article about the trading of our life energy for money as well.

Escapism Is Different Than Leisure

There’s a difference between leisure and escapism. Leisure is enjoyed on its own merits, whereas escapism is a distraction from the tasks we need to take care of. I engage in leisure when I spend a Saturday playing board games with my friends. I engage in escapism when I sneak in a game of League of Legends while working. Escapism is almost always a mistake and a sign of problems. I wrote about this concept in detail in another article, What Is Escapism? How Does It Cost Me?

The Complete Tightwad Gazette – Amy Dacyczyn

The Single Best Book on Frugality Ever Printed

Complete!Our first focus when we hit financial bottom was on spending less money. We needed to put a halt on all of our money leaks as fast as possible, so I hit the library and grabbed every book that seemed to have anything to do with frugality.

Most of them just listed money-saving tips in a dry fashion, making them seem as uninteresting as possible. Amy Dacyczyn (the author of The Complete Tightwad Gazette) was different. The book is actually a compendium of her newsletter articles from the early 1990s collected into one volume, but what really makes them stand out is how the pieces mix a human voice with genuine frugality advice.

Amy seemed like a real person that you’d be glad to have in your neighborhood. She didn’t seem like a frugal robot. She seemed like a person working hard to make ends meet who was sharing some of the stuff she learned along with some of the disasters. It was the humanity of The Complete Tightwad Gazette that really made it click with me, though it did contain an absolute abundance of good frugality advice.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

Three Lessons Learned from The Complete Tightwad Gazette

Don’t Be Afraid to Try a Money-Saving Tip

Money-saving tactics might seem strange or very different than the way you’re used to doing things or the way you learned that things should be done. They can also sometimes feel “cheap.”

For one, things change constantly in modern life. Did you use your cell phone constantly fifteen years ago? For another, the things you do at home or when grocery shopping don’t matter in terms of others; they only affect you and your bottom line.

Frugality Is About Cutting Back on the Unimportant Things

Frugality doesn’t mean cutting out things in your life that you find important. Instead, it means finding the areas in your life that are unimportant to you and cutting back hard on those things.

I don’t have a personal need to use more energy, so why not cut back hard on my energy bill? I don’t find the type of soap I use to be personally important, so I cut back hard on that soap.

Secondhand Isn’t a Bad Thing

I used to feel odd shopping in secondhand stores. Now I see them for what they are – a chance to get something useful at a very low price.

Whenever I shop for something – particularly something non-electronic – I’ll start at a secondhand store. If I find something there that meets my needs, I’m usually only paying a pittance for it and I’ve solved the problem. If I don’t find anything I like, it’s no big deal – I just move on from there.

The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey

A Thorough Guide to Managing Debt with Strong Coaching

ttmmWhen you’re in a serious debt crisis, the entire situation can feel disastrous. You feel suffocated, panicky, and often hopeless. More than anything, a clear and unambiguous path forward is what you need and that’s exactly what The Total Money Makeover provides.

The book’s sole focus is laying out a plan for recovering from debt along with some rather intense coaching-style advice to motivate you to push forward with it. In other words, it’s a great book for someone who is buried in debt and struggling to figure out what to do next.

I found this book at a key moment in my life – when I was truly struggling with a debt mess in early 2006 – and it helped me figure out my next steps. I’m free from debt now, but this book was so valuable to me at a key point in my life that it will always have a home on my shelf.

If you’d like to know more, I wrote a lengthy series on The Total Money Makeover that covers the book in tremendous detail.

Three Lessons Learned from The Total Money Makeover

A Debt Repayment Plan Is Vital

If you’re struggling with debt and don’t have a plan for dealing with it, you’re probably always going to be in debt. A “fairy godmother” isn’t going to show up and fix things for you. Your ship isn’t magically going to come in.

Dave suggests a plan where you order your debts by balance and then throw everything you have at your debt with the lowest balance. This will lead you to a debt payoff success as quickly as possible, which will motivate you to keep going.

A “Gazelle-Like” Intensity Is Valuable

If you don’t take debt repayment seriously, you’re not going to ever escape from the debt mountain. It needs to become your focus.

If you make it your focus, you’ll start doing things like spending less on unnecessary things, finding ways to cut back on your required bills (like energy), and taking that extra money and throwing it toward your debt. There’s a certain excitement in doing all of this, particularly when you attack it with intensity.

Strong Motivation Can Really Help

When you’re making a major life change, a shove in the back can make the difference between success and failure. Dave Ramsey – both in this book and on his radio show – really provides that push.

The entire book is written in a motivating style, using different persuasive and encouraging techniques to both excite and motivate you about making financial change in your life. That kind of motivation can really make the difference for someone who’s struggling with making debt repayment work.

The Millionaire Next Door – Thomas Stanley and William Danko

Deep Insights Into the Truth About Wealth

The Millionaire Next DoorThe impression that most people have about wealth is the image that’s portrayed in popular culture. Rich people have fancy cars, dress in expensive suits, eat at expensive restaurants, and so on, right?

In truth, most people who do that are in debt up to their ears. People who actually build wealth live a much lower cost lifestyle. They don’t drive the expensive cars. They don’t live in the McMansions. In fact, most millionaires seem like ordinary “boring” neighbors.

Instead of spending their money on frivolous things and continually inflating their lifestyle, they stick with a less expensive lifestyle and never inflate it. During their prime earning years, they sock their money away so that later in life they don’t have to worry about anything at all.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of The Millionaire Next Door.

Three Lessons Learned from The Millionaire Next Door

Most Millionaires Live Very Frugally

The authors did an extensive study of people who have a net worth in the seven figures (or above) and discovered that most of them live in modest homes, drive modest cars, and are careful about their purchases.

Most of the book revolves around pointing out specific details of how millionaires actually live, mixing together life advice with interesting examples about the life choices of people who have actually built financial independence.

Reliability Is The Best Factor When Buying Almost Anything

One theme that was hammered home again and again in the book is that true millionaires tend to use reliability as the primary factor in almost all of their purchases, from homes to cars to kitchen tools.

They focus on buying items that will last for a long time so that they’re not stuck in a constant upgrade cycle. They’re also rarely caught in a situation where they have to purchase something now to fix a problem in their life, giving them time to find the right price on the item they’ve identified.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Most millionaires don’t look like millionaires. They don’t wear thousand dollar suits – they wear well-made but non-flashy clothes. They don’t live in mansions – they typically live in smaller homes that suit their needs.

The person you see that looks like the pop culture idea of a rich person is usually not rich. They’re often buried in debt because of their need to show off their “wealth.”

The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing – Mel Lindauer, Taylor Larimore, and Michael LeBoeuf

The Single Best Investment Guide I’ve Ever Read

The Bogleheads' Guide To InvestingAs my financial situation improved, I started to realize that I needed to make smarter decisions about where to put my money, starting with my retirement funds but eventually moving on to the “gap” in our personal “spend less than you earn” philosophy. This book, more than any other, has provided that guidance.

The authors – Lindauer, Larimore, and LeBoeuf – offer up a great walkthrough of an investment strategy, from concept and reasoning to execution and specific investments. Very few books do this, as they either focus on the concepts or the specific investments.

The strategy they offer is a somewhat conservative one, relying on passive investing strategies and buying index funds in order to match the stock and bond and real estate markets with very low fees. I’ve been subscribing to their general ideas sincxe 2007 and have been happily using them ever since.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing.

Three Lessons Learned from The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing

A Sound Investing Strategy Spreads to Other Aspects of Personal Finance Beyond Investing

Investing doesn’t exist on an island off by itself. It’s deeply connected to all of the financial choices you make in your life.

If you make smart spending choices and find ways to spend less money, then you have more money to use for investing. If you get rid of debts, you have more money to use for investing. Doubling your monthly amount for investing is no different than earning a 100% return on your investment. It’s all tied together.

Indexing Makes a Lot of Sense

Indexing simply means that you invest your money in index funds. Index funds are simply investments that you can purchase from a company that operate by a set of very simple rules. Since the rules are so simple, it doesn’t take much effort to manage those investments, meaning that the fees are usually very low.

Generally, index funds just own everything that matches a specific rule or two. For example, you might buy an index fund that owns equal shares in every publicly traded stock in the United States. Or, you might buy a fund that owns real estate in every real estate market in Europe. It allows you to invest very broadly at a low cost, which means that you’ll essentially match the ups and downs of the market with few fees.

Investing Doesn’t Matter Much If You Don’t Have Control Over Your Spending

Investing sits on a foundation that’s made up of your own personal decisions about money. When you choose to spend money on something, you directly take money away from investing.

If you have poor financial control and can’t help yourself from making lots of impulse buys, you’re draining your investments, plain and simple. Before you worry about making the “perfect” investment, focus first on getting your spending impulses on a leash.

The Four Pillars of Investing – William Bernstein

An Invaluable Study of the Principles Behind Investing

4 PillarsOnce you begin investing, it quickly becomes very important to truly understand what you’re investing in. Knowledge is power, after all, and the more you know, the less you have to trust an investment advisor when it comes to your money.

In terms of understanding the logic and ideas behind investing, I found William Bernstein’s The Four Pillars of Investing to be the best single book I’ve ever read. Bernstein’s book spells out what to look for in any investment, what to avoid in any investment, and how to compare investments.

Bernstein doesn’t get into the exact mechanisms of what to do – he doesn’t give you URLs or websites to visit – but he does explain what to do once you’ve found the data and what it all means. It simply changed my views on investing.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of The Four Pillars of Investing.

Three Lessons Learned from The Four Pillars of Investing

Every Investment Can Be Measured In Two Ways

No matter what you invest in, two things are key. How much does the value of that investment increase (or decrease)? How much income does it generate? Those two things are the primary things you need to care about.

Take a stock investment. If you buy shares of stock in a company, the value of those shares will change over time. They’ll also generate some income in the form of dividends. Neither one alone gives you the full picture of that investment.

Don’t Follow What’s Hot

The financial media and the mainstream media tend to go into complete hype mode regarding whatever investment happens to be hot at the moment. When something is “hot,” it usually just means that smarter investors who bought in early are selling their stuff to other investors who will be left holding the bag at the peak.

Don’t be left holding the bag. When the news media won’t shut up about a hot investment, avoid it with a ten foot pole.

Be Boring and Don’t Be Overconfident

Unless you have a multi-billion dollar bank roll and work at a hedge fund where you spend your life evaluating investments, you’re going to get crushed by those guys. Individual investors are almost always better off being less confident and, frankly, being boring.

Buy a small number of things that you understand and sit on them. Don’t move to other investments unless you understand the other investment and know the pros and cons of the switch, including things like tax issues. If you can’t spell all of this out, you’re probably making a mistake.

A Random Walk Down Wall Street – Burton Malkiel

A Powerful but Approachable Examination of How Stocks Work

A Random Walk Down Wall StreetI found A Random Walk Down Wall Street to be the single best volume I’ve ever read in terms of explaining how the stock market works. Not only did it explain the ins and outs of the ups and downs of stocks, it also showed me why an indexing strategy works so well in stock investments.

More than anything, this book does a great job of cutting through much of the nonsense promoted through financial media about stocks. Much of what’s talked about on CNBC regarding stocks is basically meaningless or, even worse, attempts to be manipulative of individual investors.

I’ve followed what I’ve learned from this book for years and virtually everything Malkiel describes actually matches the realities that I’ve seen in terms of stock investing. That’s the highest compliment I can provide.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of A Random Walk Down Wall Street.

Three Lessons Learned from A Random Walk Down Wall Street

The Stock Market Is Very Chaotic

There are so many people and groups buying and selling stocks with different motivations that it’s basically impossible for even large-scale investors to fully understand why stocks go up and down. There’s just too much hidden information.

In the end, it adds up to chaos. Specific events might cause certain reactions, but the fluctuations often happen for reasons that are completely impossible for any investor to parse.

Technical Analysis Is Basically Pointless

Many investing programs – particularly those you see on CNBC – use complex graphs to show the history of stocks. They’ll talk about “floors” and “ceilings” and so on.

Malkiel makes a great case that all of this talk is pointless and basically meaningless. The charts might have interesting features, but most of those features are too chaotic to really mean anything. There are too many buyers and sellers doing different things to rely on quirks in charts.

You’re Better Off Matching the Market Than Trying to Beat It

Malkiel’s solution to all of this is to just try to match the market at a low cost. In other words, he basically advocates using an indexing strategy as described in the previous two book sections in this article.

It makes sense, really. The stock market has so many participants acting for different reasons that individual investors are basically at the mercy of the whims of individual investments. The best way to avoid that is to just invest in everything and sit on it.

Born to Buy – Juliet Schor

If You Have a Young Child, You Need to Read This Book

born to buyI’ll be the first to admit that I was scared to death by the prospect of having a child. Parenting can be incredibly overwhelming and it seems quite easy to completely make a disaster of things. When Sarah became pregnant for the first time, my solution was to bury myself in books about parenting for a long while – even now, I still read quite a few of them.

Of the ones that I read, Born to Buy was perhaps the most shocking. It details how companies use many, many techniques to market to children and influence not only their consumer desires, but also how they handle those desires with their parents and also how they develop into consumers as adults.

Frankly, it’s terrifying. Popular culture molds our children to be mass consumers, convincing them that joy only comes from buying more and more and more stuff, most of which they don’t really need. This book outlines all of it and offers some great advice for parents on how to deal with it.

If you’d like to know more, I wrote a lengthy series on Born to Buy that covers the book in tremendous detail.

Three Lessons Learned from Born to Buy

Companies Start Cultivating Consumer Desires in Children Beginning at Infancy

As soon as babies start becoming aware of the environment around them, companies are ready to market to them. They usually do this through marketing to parents, selling them products that include characters or other elements that will be attractive to children and will carry forward from there to the point where the children have some buying power within the family.

The best thing you can do with your babies is to buy products that don’t feature characters or other elements of this type. Keep their items simple and free from marketing.

Much of Children’s Popular Culture Is Engineered to Sell Products

Every cartoon and television program and film your children see is engineered to encourage your children to buy products related to that entertainment, whether it’s the direct purchase of toys or whether it’s other products that feature those elements (like cereal or clothing).

Be aware of this and manage this. Your child doesn’t have to have the “coolest” cereal or snacks. Your child doesn’t need the latest toys, either. It’s about managing consumer desires.

Being Smart About That Culture Can Make Your Children Much Smarter Consumers

Whenever you can, take a teaching approach with your children. Show them how the picture of a character on a cereal box can elevate the price of that cereal, even though the stuff inside is the same. Do the same thing with clothing and other items.

Also, engage in activities with them that don’t require stuff. Take them to parks and on hikes. Play simple games with them in the yard. Don’t allow them to have tons of unmonitored television time.

Raising Financially Fit Kids – Joline Godfrey

The Best Guide I’ve Found on Teaching Personal Finance to Kids

raising financially fit kidsFor many of the same reasons I picked up Born to Buy, this book found its way onto my desk. I want to raise my kids to have a strong sense of money and a good financial backbone when they leave home. Of all of the parenting and personal finance guides I’ve looked at, this one does the best job.

What sets it apart? The book does a great job of separating tactics out by age, identifying ways to teach financial issues to children depending on their individual development. As I write this, I have an eight year old, a six year old, and a four year old at home and they each require different teaching techniques. This book respects that difference.

I also like that the advice is split among topics, such as smart buying decisions, entrepreneurship, and saving. All are important, but different parents will want to focus on different areas.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of Raising Financially Fit Kids.

Three Lessons Learned from Raising Financially Fit Kids

Financial Lessons Grow With Your Kids

A ten year old is going to have a different understanding of how an allowance works than a four year old will. You might give them both an allowance, but the ideas they will generate from the allowance will be different.

This is where parenting plays a real role. Although the basic idea of an allowance – or entrepreneurship, or money management – remains the same, how you teach it changes greatly. The book offers tips for each developmental stage and they seem to match what I’ve observed with my own children.

Your Own Finances Provide a Great Tool for Lessons

The financial decisions that parents make on a daily basis can often be incorporated into lessons for the children. I’ve already started doing this to great effect.

For example, you can pull out your electric bill and show it to your children, pointing out to them how you have to pay for each kilowatt hour consumed. Then, tie that into energy use in the home and work together to find ways to trim it.

Give Children Some Financial Responsibility Early – and Let That Responsibility Grow

Financial lessons shouldn’t be abstract. Children learn well from hands on experience, which means that actually providing opportunities and tools – like entrepreneurial experiences and money management situations – are valuable for them.

A weekly allowance can be the core of all of this, allowing opportunities for earning money, budgeting, saving, and other common financial tasks.

How to Get Rich – Felix Dennis

A Tongue-in-Cheek But Incredibly Insightful Guide to Entrepreneurship

how to get richThere are a lot of great books on entrepreneurship out there and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of them. Yet, at the end of the day, this is the only one that stuck on my shelf. Why?

How to Get Rich succeeds with me for two reasons. One, the book maintains a great tongue-in-cheek sense of humor throughout that doesn’t detract from the ideas. Two, it manages to pack a lot of truly useful entrepreneurial advice into one book.

If there’s one theme in this book, it’s this: hard work coupled with a fierce independent streak is the best pathway to financial independence. Nothing else compares to it.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of How to Get Rich.

Three Lessons Learned from How to Get Rich

You’re Going to Fail

Not everything will go perfectly in your life. You’re going to experience failure sometimes, no matter what you do.

The best protection you have against this is a willingness to pick yourself up and keep going along with a strong wall between your personal finances and your entrepreneurial adventures. Without that wall, an entrepreneurial mistake can drain your finances incredibly fast.

Build Independent Success

The best success is one where you’re actually in control of the future – or in as much control as possible. This means that you’re not reliant on someone else to keep moving forward and success is built mostly on your own hard work, not someone else’s judgment of you or on office politics.

The best first step is to start a side gig doing things that you love. Devote your spare time toward building something from this and see where it goes. If your heart isn’t in it, then it won’t work out.

Be Generous With What You’ve Earned

This doesn’t just apply to money. Share your connections, your experiences, and your insights. When you give to others, it comes back around.

It’s often hard to see this in day-to-day life, but when you give of yourself, you end up positively impacting the lives of those around you, and that positive impact often bounces right back at you in ways you don’t directly see.

Getting Things Done – David Allen

The Single Most Valuable Book Ever on Managing Your Time

gtdTime is money. It’s a statement that we’ve all heard many, many times, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Every moment wasted on professional tasks is a moment taken away from your personal life.

The most effective strategy for time management is to simply maximize your ability to focus. Removing mental distractions and plowing through your work is the surest way to get the things you need to get done as fast as possible.

This book presents a great system for doing just that. More than that, though, the presented system is one you can take apart, using specific pieces in other ways and in other systems. I’ve certainly pillaged the ideas here in many ways and thanks to those ideas, I was able to launch a business in my spare time and then completely alter my career path.

If you’d like to know more, I wrote a lengthy series on Getting Things Done that covers the book in detail.

Three Lessons Learned from Getting Things Done

Get Thoughts and To-Dos Out of Your Head

Whenever you trust yourself to remember a task or something you want to look into later, you’re relying on mindspace to do it. This reduces your ability to focus on the task at hand and also increases your chance of “misplacing” that task in some way.

Neither one of these are good outcomes. The solution is to just write down those thoughts as they come to you so you don’t have to bother thinking about them at the moment. You can deal with them later so that your focus doesn’t get interrupted.

Have a Trusted System for Handling That Stuff

Of course, if you don’t have a good system for dealing with those thoughts, it won’t matter much. You need to be able to reliably deal with those thoughts that you write down.

The book offers a good system for doing this, one that you can alter to your needs. I often just jot down quick notes throughout the day and just process that stack a few times. It works really well for me.

Rely on That System

Once you get used to a system like this, it just becomes second nature. You begin to rely on it and when you do, you start becoming far more productive. It becomes much easier to drop distractions and stop wasting your mental energy on remembering things.

Without this kind of system, I would have never been able to launch The Simple Dollar or make major career shifts while raising three young children. It would have been impossible.

Making It All Work – David Allen

Transforms How You Think of Today’s Tasks in Terms of the Whole of Your Life

making it all workOne of the biggest difficulties I have with time management is making all of the tasks seem meaningful. If the drudgery seems disconnected from the big things I want out of life, it’s harder to be productive. The tighter the connection, the more excited I am to tackle those items.

That’s really what Making It All Work is all about. It’s about tying the things you do each day to the overall meaning of your life in a sensible way, breaking down the large life missions more and more until they make sense on your to-do list and you can connect all of those tasks to something much deeper.

This is probably the least “practical” book on the list, but I found it incredibly powerful. It caused me to deeply re-evaluate the things I do on a daily basis and start changing the choices I was making. Those changes have added a great deal of meaning to my ordinary day-to-day life because I can tie all of the ordinary drudgery to bigger goals in my life.

If you’d like to know more, I wrote a lengthy series on Making It All Work that covers the book in detail.

Three Lessons Learned from Making It All Work

Daily Tasks Are More Meaningful When They Connect to Your Deeper Life Purposes

It’s easy to distract yourself from work by looking at a website, for example. It’s easy to distract yourself from tasks around the house by watching a television show. That’s because it’s often easy to miss out on what’s valuable about that task and why it’s important. Why does a boring work task matter?

Answering that question is vital because if you do answer it, you become far more motivated to do that boring task. In fact, the task feels a lot less boring and you feel a lot better about actually doing it.

Time Spent Connecting the Two Is Invaluable, Even If It Seems “Wasted”

I spend time each week trying to connect the things I do every day to the big goals in my life. I do a review of my life and what really matters and I deeply ask myself how these tasks are connected to it.

I actively try to center my time and focus around things that have a deeper connection to the central meaning of my life. That’s why I sold The Simple Dollar in 2011 – it was the writing that was meaningful to me, not the site administration and not the negotiation with advertisers and not all of that other stuff.

You Define What Matters In Your Life, Not Others

It’s easy to convince yourself that certain things are important when, in truth, they’re really not that important at all. Mass media is constantly trying to tell people how certain things are so vital.

You don’t have to listen to any of it. Make up your own mind about what’s important. Look at the things you do in your life as mere servants of those important things. That’s what life is all about!

Never Eat Alone – Keith Ferrazzi

A Guide to Building Social Networks for Introverts

Never Eat AloneThe idea of “networking” feels really cold to me. Yet, at the same time, I can see the value of social connections. They’re invaluable in your professional and personal lives. A healthy social network provides lots of social and professional opportunity.

The problem is that I’m an introvert. In social situations, I often don’t speak up. I’m not naturally adept at building connections.

I’m basically the person this book was written for. For me, Never Eat Alone has been a valuable guide at building personal and professional connections, helping me to figure out a sensible system for meeting new people, getting to know them, and building a great relationship with them. I’m not naturally good at this. This book has helped a lot.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of Never Eat Alone.

Three Lessons Learned from Never Eat Alone

Meals Are a Vital Time for Social Networking

Try to avoid eating meals alone. I work at home and most of the time it’s easiest to just go downstairs and eat leftovers for lunch, but I make an effort to regularly eat lunch with others, even if it means just bringing leftovers over to their house or inviting them over for something very simple.

A meal eaten alone means you’ve lost an opportunity to share ideas, build relationships, and open up collaborations and social events.

If You’re Introverted, Have a System in Place to Encourage Social Meetings

I’m not naturally good at building or maintaining relationships. If you’re not good at it, either, then the solution is to build up a system to make this routine.

For me, this means making sure to touch base with friends on a regular basis (which I actually schedule to a certain extent) as well as making room in my life for social events where I’m forced to interact with new people.

Whenever You Interact, Provide Value to the Other Person

This isn’t about just adding another name to your contact list. It’s about both people giving something valuable to each other – and you can start that exchange.

Whenever you have something valuable to share with someone, share it. Don’t wait for the right moment. If someone asks for help and you can provide it easily, do it without hesitation. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Those kinds of things are invaluable in therms of building up relationships.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

A Guide for Navigating Social Situations for Introverts

How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleWhile Never Eat Alone is invaluable in terms of figuring out a strategy for interacting with people, it doesn’t really help with the awkwardness of face-to-face conversation – something I’m not particularly good at, either. That’s where How to Win Friends and Influence People steps up to the plate.

The book is basically a guide for making social interactions work. It seems almost perfectly written for someone who’s introverted but wanting to not be introverted, which describes me quite well.

The aspect of this book that I found valuable is that it didn’t assume I was somehow deficient because I struggled with social situations. Instead, it just steps back and describes a lot of techniques for making them much easier while still making them meaningful.

If you’d like to know more, check out my detailed review of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Three Lessons Learned from How to Win Friends and Influence People

Listening Is the Key

If you want to have a successful social interaction, listen. Many people spend conversation time just thinking about the next thing they want to say, which means that they’re not actually listening.

You’re far better off listening to what the person is saying then pausing for a second or two to come up with a response that actually relates to what the person was saying than thinking about your next statement while they’re talking. Plus, if you focus on listening, the conversation becomes much more interesting.

Encourage Others to Talk About Themselves

If you don’t know what to talk about, ask the other person a question about themselves. People often love to talk about themselves because it’s a topic that they’re an expert on.

Even better, when people talk about themselves, you have a perfect opportunity to get to know them better. Listen to what they’re saying and you’ll gain a good understanding of that person.

Remember and Follow Up

It’s worth the extra time to put in effort to remember names and faces. If you can recall someone the next time you interact with that person, you’ve got an automatic connection with them.

Even more important: if a conversation ends with some sort of obvious follow-up in place, it gives you a great reason to continue the connection. After each conversation, I try to know the person’s name, something about them, their email address, and a good reason for contacting that person in a few days. That is often the genesis of a friendship.

Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun

The Best Handbook on Presenting and Speaking in Public

Confessions of a Public SpeakerThe last book I want to mention is on a piece of professional life that often fills people with fear: public speaking. It’s intimidating, but people who get over that fear and learn to speak well in public often have a large leg up in their career and in their social interactions.

My previous job put me on the spot for presentations more times than I could count. At first, I was devastatingly nervous about it, but as I read books like this one, it became easier and easier to make it all work.

This is the best single book on public speaking that I’ve read, and I consider public speaking to be one of the essential skills that a person needs in a white collar working environment and in many social situations.

If you’d like to know more, I wrote a detailed review of Confessions of a Public Speaker that covers the book much more thoroughly.

Three Lessons Learned from Confessions of a Public Speaker

Make Your Points Very Concise

When you present, you should only be presenting a handful of key points and those points should be expressed in only a few words each. The longer and more plentiful your points, the less people will remember about them.

If you’re having difficulty breaking it down, you’re probably trying to jam too much into your talk. Try taking out some big pieces instead of some small ones.

Don’t Memorize – Know Your Stuff

Almost always, you’re better off just knowing the points you want to hit and having a good knowledge of your topic than memorizing a speech. Memorization will just make everything derail if you stumble a bit. If you just have key points to hit, you can get back on track really easily.

Also, having a good background knowledge lets you work with the room a bit. If you can see obvious interest in a particular area, you can talk more about that area, making your talk more enjoyable to those listening.

Practice and Videotape

Even though you shouldn’t memorize, practice is incredibly valuable. Try giving your presentation several times and see how it goes. Where are the rough spots? Where are the smooth spots? A test audience is often a good idea.

Another great tactic is to videotape your practice and watch it, looking for areas that aren’t smooth. Work on fixing the problems that you see.

Final Thoughts

These fifteen books currently reside on the bookshelf in my office. Many of them have been there for several years, yet I refer to them often. I even own multiple copies of some of them as the first copies have become dog-eared and littered with notes and highlights.

Most of the professional and many of the personal successes I’ve found in my life over the last decade or so have come from the insights in these books. I continue to find all of them highly relevant and I hope that you find value in them, too.

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