Steal These 11 Influential Books to Become a Leader

Okay, so here’s the thing: the books you’re about to see here aren’t exclusively about travel. These books aren’t going to teach you how to live cheaply or how to strike a deal for that pink tutu you want to rock Saturday night. But these books will answer the questions about life you’re going to have on the road. 

Questions like: What is a Meaningful Life? How do I not care when dealing with terrible people? What do I do when shit really hits the fan?

And most importantly: When I’ve partied for two months straight and now want to get serious about life, what do I do?

Many of these books actually were read while I was on the road because they answered specific needs I had. So, without further ado, here are the eleven books you can steal from me to become a better leader.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

I read this book at an uncertain, and kind of shit time in my life. It snapped me right the fuck out of it.

Basically, what Mark addresses is the “problem” of feeling like shit. He says people feel like shit because they give a fuck about the wrong things in life: attention, fame, making more money.

And when we give a fuck about these things, when we look at our lives as being divinely entitled to have these things, that’s when we feel like shit.

Once you get over the idea that you’re “due” an amazing life, you free yourself of the expectation you’ve unknowingly been carrying on your shoulders this whole time.

He also has some pretty gnarly passages about life and death; Death, as I’ve said before, is a sure-fire way to re-establish priorities in life:

“Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life.

While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: What is your legacy? How will the world be different and better when you’re gone? What mark will you have made? What influence will you have caused?

They say that a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa can cause a hurricane in Florida; well, what hurricanes will you leave in your wake? As Becker pointed out, this is arguably the only truly important question in our life. Yet we avoid thinking about it. One, because it’s hard. Two, because it’s scary. Three, because we have no fucking clue what we’re doing.”

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin

Simply, this book is about chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin’s life at the top: in chess and in his subsequent mastery of Chinese “push hands” martial arts.

It’s meant as an instructional text on learning, but it also doubles as a hell of an inspirational story. I couldn’t put this book down. And Josh’s explanation of learning hacks (like how to learn macro-sized concepts from micro concepts i.e. learning the influence of empty space in chess by working only with a king and pawn) make this book a great read.

“The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I’m sitting at a wooden picnic table typing out this post. Earlier, some friends sat down with me and I largely ignored them, earbuds in. Working. Then, they told me they were leaving for the lagoon (a pool/beach type area) and asked if I wanted to come. I said no, I had work to do, maybe I’d meet them there. As I cracked my laptop back open to get back to it, my Dutch friend, Zijan, said, “That’s what you always say, and you never come, man.”

It was in jest, and I kind of shrugged with a smile on my face. I’m being “anti-social” because I want to work and don’t want to dick around at the lagoon all day doing jack-shit. Introverted behavior. Introverted behavior that Quiet by Susan Cain, makes you feel okay with doing.

It’s okay being introverted and doing your own things when you don’t want to talk with other people. It’s just the way some people are. And Susan makes a pretty strong case for why I’d rather be an introvert than an extrovert anyway.

“Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama.

So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.”

Letters from a Stoic (Penguin Classics) by Seneca the Younger

Philosophy wasn’t created to answer pointless questions that had nothing to do with our actual life: ancient philosophy was meant to solve the questions that plague the average person.

This book is one of the classic Stoicist texts. Want to know what it means to be a good man? What an honorable life is? How to deal with Death? Suffering? How to live a Life of Meaning? All manner of issues? Read this book.

Eminently quotable, Seneca is a personal favorite of mine. And I wish I had my copy with me on the road.

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) by Marcus Aurelius

One of the most well-known Stoicist philosophers, Marcus Aurelius was, perhaps, the best Roman emperor to have ever-lived.

Meditations is a collection of personal writings from maybe the most powerful man of his era. They were never meant to be published, and thus, they’re a strikingly personal look into the mind of an emperor who only sought self-improvement, and to live a better life.

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

A seminal self-discovery text, Siddhartha travels the world in search of spiritual awakening. He renounces a princely lifestyle in favor of an ascetic one. He then renounces the ascetic one to learn whether a luxurious life actually promises happiness. Flipping through both contrasts, he eventually moves to live by a river and spend his days humbly ferrying people back and forth across the river with a friend, Vosudeva.

A fantastic story that will have you contemplating what you really want: more followers on Instagram? Or peace?

Think and Grow Rich: The Original, an Official Publication of The Napoleon Hill Foundation by Napoleon Hill

This book dove-tailed with my meeting an enterprising dude named Michael Assadi who made $80,000 at the age of nineteen. We actually read it together in a book club we started a few weeks ago. Basically, it’s the art of how to be successful. From it, endlessly quotable and practical passages about persistence, the difference between men who are failures and men who are successful, and the importance of having a definite aim.

A must read for anyone who’s looking to accomplish anything in life. Be kind on the intro; Napoleon tends to start quite New Age-y and like every other cheesy motivational book you’ve ever read, but he quickly devolves into unique, and useful tips on how to take the nebulous realm of desire, and turn it into reality.

Fun fact: It’s also one of my most noted books. Meaning, for every book I read, I highlight key passages and then write them up in a Google Document. Most books come out to around five or six pages. Think and Grow Rich came out to 23 pages of gold.

“Before success comes in any man’s life, he is sure to meet with much temporary defeat, and, perhaps, some failure. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and most logical thing to do is to quit. That is exactly what the majority of men do.

More than five hundred of the most successful men this country has ever known, told the author their greatest success came just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken them.”

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Stephen Pressfield

Few people know I was burned out of writing. In a daily blog I ran for about a year, I created work I thought would be useful to my readers. Then, I started a new blog (this one) and struggled for ideas. Couple that with traveling in Thailand for two months, and you have a recipe for disillusionment with writing.

This book kind of changed everything about that for me. And it influenced some of the posts that got me back into something that sort of looked like a working mindset.

Basically, if you’re writing, or really creating anything, for the applause and the likes, Stephen gives you a kick in the ass and a reminder of why you should actually write. It’s not for other people. It’s so you can stay sane.

Here’s a favorite quote of mine.

“How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?”

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

This is a book I read recently along with a more contemporary novel (When Breath Becomes Air by the now late Paul Kalanthini) that attempts to answer a base question: What is a life of Meaning?

A little background on Victor Frankl; He was Jewish during the Second World War, and was abducted, then sent to various concentration camps for three years. The survival rate at these camps is roughly 1 out of every 30 prisoners. During those three years, he thought up a book on what it means to live a purposeful life. When he was freed, he wrote the book that I’m speaking of right now.

It’s powerful, even if it’s only for the description of what living in a concentration camp meant. Brutal, and horrific — it put my problems into serious perspective.

Think on These Things by Jiddu Krishnamurti

Objectively, a total mindfuck.

Jiddu Krishnamurti was a spiritual teacher born in the late, late 19th century. He was the chosen spiritual prophet of an organization called The Order of the Star in the East. This is an order he subsequently dissolved when he was eighteen, with the striking pronouncement:

“I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path…

This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies.”

For the rest of his life, Krishnamurti wandered and gave speeches to whomever wished to listen. This book is one collection of his speeches on education, religion, politics, greed, love, lust, anger, power — and everything in between. A must read. It changed my view on shit pretty effectively.

Mastery by Robert Greene

You know how I said The Art of Learning is an incredible story that helps you along the path to mastery of a subject? Well, this is literally the guidebook for attaining mastery. Written by the award-winning writer Robert Greene, it’s a lengthy tome chalk full of incredible advice and instructional tips on how to achieve mastery.

“Those qualities that separate us are often ridiculed by others or criticized by teachers.

Because of these judgments, we might see our strengths as disabilities and try to work around them in order to fit in. But anything that is peculiar to our makeup is precisely what we must pay the deepest attention to and lean on in our rise to mastery.”

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