Books you can read to change your life


This is a guest post from my friend Stephen Heiner, originally posted at Medium – Stephen has the unusual (unique?) situation of having successfully sold one business in Kansas City only to move to Paris, France and start several more. He’s got an interesting perspective and reads more books (and different kinds of books) than anyone I know.

I’m 36 now, have engineered a move to a dream city where I knew no one, didn’t hold a citizenship, didn’t have a job waiting for me, and only passably spoke the language. The daring that took didn’t come from books. It came from the certitude of a world-class education which my parents sacrificed greatly to provide for me, and from a character formed in a home environment in which I was encouraged to think, reflect, and dream. But a good part of the leap I made had come from the books I have read.

When I turned 30 I made a list of the books most impactful to my life (it got to 127, I think). I won’t do that today. What follows is a brief list for those interested in the life of travel and entrepreneurship you can create for yourself through deliberate and personal lifestyle design. If you are feeling stuck living a 9–5 you don’t care for, if you are uninspired or unhappy, or just feel that something is wrong or missing in your life…perhaps it’s because you haven’t started to live your life yet. I hope you do.

“Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.” — Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

The Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss — I’ve read this book several times (as is perhaps, necessary) because it helped to destroy many of the received ideas I accepted as gospel but are really expediencies. The first lesson I always share from this book is the question, “What is it that you want to do with your life?” If we can answer that question, we can figure out how to make money while accomplishing that. If we can’t answer that question, what are you doing?

The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber or Daily Rituals, Mason Currey — The first book only applies to current or aspiring business owners. It’s about how to create a business, not merely own a job. If you can’t leave your business for more than 14 days without it burning down, then you simply own a job. When you can be gone for more than 30 days and things are still running — and perhaps, even thriving — then you own a business, and that’s down to systems. This book hammers that home.

Daily Rituals was something I came across as a follower of Tim Ferriss’ Book Club. It chronicles the daily habits of artists, authors, inventors, et al. It makes the point that even the most creative in our society thrive by having a regular routine that made sense for their temperament and work. Do you have a morning routine that sets you up for a successful day?

Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper — There are those peripatetic people who simply can’t be happy in one place. They are happy when they travel. I rarely meet such people. But I often meet people who travel because they are trying to escape their lives. They experienced unbridled joy and freedom during these trips because, for whatever reason, their everyday lives shut that out. Put another way: if you’re always looking to “escape” perhaps you’re living the wrong life. This book asks the real questions about “recreation,” whether it’s in the backyard or in the Outback. We have to re-create. And leisure, the proper kind, is a true enabler of greatness.

The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman — There is a part of me that wishes I had kept my money and skipped an MBA. But another part of me knows that a good part of the success I enjoy today is built upon that degree. Josh Kaufman’s book title is misleading. It’s much more than an “MBA equivalent” in content. He goes past coursework and gives you tools and book recommendations. He can’t give you his unbelievable work ethic but if he can inspire just a fraction of it in you, your life will improve.

The Lean Startup, Eric Ries — Before the crowdfunding era, I’m not certain that I believed anyone could start a business. But since I’ve spent time chatting with people who have successfully done basic crowdfunders, I know that just the experience of operating a business even in a short-term, perhaps one-off instance, will help you see things differently. This book destroys the outdated notion that you need business plans to start a business. No you don’t. Read it to find out why not.

The Poetry of Robert Frost— I was first truly introduced to his poetry when I lived in the New Hampshire woods surrounding Thomas More College. While his poetry is easy to read in that state’s lovely forests, I’m always taken back there when I read him, and that bit of travel, accomplished wherever you are sitting, provides a refuge.

Essentialism, Greg McKeown, and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,Steven Covey — I see these books as companion pieces. Greg McKeown’s book asks why you do what you do and challenges you to do a mental house cleaning. What is it that is essential to your life? You’ll find that when you remove the truly nonessential, and take steps to prevent them from re-invading your life, that you’ll find you have time: perhaps the most precious commodity we have.

While I can’t profess to embody all of Covey’s listed habits, I do find myself constantly referencing his lessons, which is saying something given it’s been nearly two decades since I first read it. He lived what I consider to be the most important of his habits: First Things First. If you only took this one habit from this book the quality of your life would improve immediately.

How to Be Rich, J. Paul Getty — The clue is in the name. Getty was a billionaire before that sort of thing happened at an IPO. In this short and under-appreciated volume, Getty offers gentle but firm advice based on a life at the top which many don’t realize started at the bottom.

Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence, Bl. Claude de Colombiere — As an unabashed Catholic, it makes sense for me to read a book thus entitled, but what if you are an atheist, as a number of my friends are? Read it to get a better sense of the moral universe that some of us live in. For us, chaos does have a master. For us, everything does happen for a reason. For us, surrender is not an imitation of Buddhism in which we allow the universe to “take over” but rather an active and enlivened sensibility of the direction of our lives and why every moment matters. Perhaps you will find some useful truths to bring into your life.

The New Testament— Would you learn patience? Kindness? Thoughtfulness? Care for others? Within these pages you will find the totality of life — not just the life and death (and resurrection) of one man, but a calling to be more than we are. The rise above our first, untrained instincts. Living a life that matters, whether you are in the public eye or are among the most anonymous in our society. Yes, the NT is written in faith and it is vivified by charity, but it is its hope that perhaps inspires us this side of eternity.

I’ve listed the works above in no particular order so feel free to start anywhere. I’m also hoping you might add to this list with favorites of your own so that I can learn more too!

Honorable Mentions:

Vagabonding — Rolf Potts

The Art of Stillness — Pico Ayer

Small Giants —Bo Burlingham

How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie

Stephen Heiner manages majority positions in 6 different small businesses from his apartment in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, France.  You can find him on twitter @stephenheiner and read his Parisian adventures at