5 Books that Shaped My Life

There are favorite books, there are books you recommend, and there are books that change your life. This is my Paradigm Shift book list.

Despite the format of this post, this is not a list of books I recommend. In fact, some of these books may even be completely useless to you. Instead, this post is about the books that impacted my personal journey towards getting to where I am today. It’s about the books I read that pushed me onto a new path in life as well as the lessons I’ve taken from each of these books. If you take this reading list as a road map or guide, you may be sorely disappointed.

Instead, I wanted to write about a few books that have shaped by life. Whether these books are “good” or “bad” is irrelevant. Instead, each book on this list provided me with a lesson, or lessons, that stick with me to this day. Most of the details of these books have left me throughout the years, but each of them left me with a lasting lesson that I incorporate into my life today, and I would be a different person without.

Favorite books, or recommended books, are different from paradigm shift books. This is a list of my personal paradigm shift books.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kawasaki

Cover of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Ri...

This book often gets negative reviews. I also agree with some (if not all) of the criticisms of this book. However, it is impossible to exclude Rich Dad, Poor Dad from my list of influential books due to the huge impact it has had on my life.

I first read up Rich Dad, Poor Dad as a freshman in college. I purchased the book less as a strategic read in a quest to grow rich, but rather in an attempt to understand the genre of “get rich” books; a genre made absolutely no sense to me at the time. I was constantly intrigued by books that promised vast riches to the reader, mainly because many of these books were best-sellers yet a very small percentage of the readers would go on to be millionaires.

“Maybe,” I thought, “they’re just not following through for some reason. I’ll be one of the few readers to follow through, and I’ll become a millionaire1!”

I picked up Rich Dad, Poor Dad specifically because of name recognition. I’m not sure how it happened, but Rich Dad, Poor Dad somehow permeated my consciousness as the book to read on the topic of getting rich, despite doing absolutely zero research into any other books. I grabbed a copy at my local Barnes & Noble and read it in a week.

Prior to reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I was very confused about how to get “rich.” I would constantly wonder, “What job do you need to have to be rich?” It’s not really a topic that can be Googled2. It’s not really a topic that an average person, let alone a rich person, can even answer properly.

If Rich Dad, Poor Dad taught me anything, it was that I was asking the wrong question. I realized that trying to find a job that would make me “rich” was the wrong approach. A high paying job would  provide a decent, if not comfortable living. However, getting “rich,” and having the freedom to enjoy those riches, involved making your own job and creating jobs for others. After reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, life was no longer about finding a great job with great benefits, working hard to avoid getting fired, and retiring with (hopefully) enough money to keep you afloat. It was about working for yourself, investing in assets, and hiring competent people to help along the way.

Despite all the book’s flaws, that one lesson stuck with me. After reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I was no longer able to work without asking myself, “who is my work making rich?”

48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

GreeneRobert Greene (author)

48 Laws of Poweris another controversial book, one that many may not even admit as an influence. Much like Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, 48 Laws of Power deals with strategic “maneuvering” to influence people and get your way. The format of the book is absolutely enthralling. Greene lists a “law,” following by a description of the law coupled with a anecdote from history that supports this law.

I read this book3 at the same time as a friend of mine and loved being able to discuss each topic as we made our way through the book. Rather than serving as a ruthless guidebook to seizing power, 48 Laws of Power was more helpful in observing and recognizing the behaviors of others. I constantly found myself thinking, “This is exactly what (Friend 1) does!” or “That’s why (Old Acquiescence) was so popular in high school!” or “That’s definitely how celebrities keep in the spotlight!”

48 Laws of Power put people’s (usually subconscious) actions into a tangible form and explored the cause and effect. While the title and content of the book may be off putting to many, it gave my analytical mind much food for thought, and allowed me to better recognize and deal with different personality types in the real world.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne/Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Cover of "The Secret"

The Secret probably isn’t a book that you often see on lists such as these. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even recommend it. Many people might even be shocked that I’m pairing The Secret with the well known Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. In reality, I’d lump 90% of “get rich” books in this exact same category. They all have the exact same message: think positively.

This sounds trivial or ‘new age’-y, but there is a reason why there are so many books on the topic of positive thinking. It’s because so few people actually think positively. And thinking positively really is the first step to getting what you want out of life. I list The Secret and Think and Grow Rich here because those were two books I chose to read (mostly to understand the hype). There are a plethora of other, possibly better, books that serve the same purpose.


Positive thinking, when it comes to these books, goes beyond “glass half full/glass half empty” mantras. Rather, it’s about behaving in a way that invites opportunities. The message of these books is the same concept behind the phrases ‘dress for the job you want rather than the job you have’ and ‘fake it until you make it.’ I obviously can’t do the topic justice (otherwise I’d publish a book myself) but these books really impacted the way I think and behave for the better.

If you want to be a blogger, start a blog. If you want to start a business, start selling something. The only difference between a CEO and a barista is how they spend their waking hours. It’s one thing to know this, it’s another to really understand this. Books like The Secret and Think and Grow Rich get the reader closer to this epiphany.

4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

Cover of "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5...

All the previous books on this list have been about theory. They’ve worked on adjusting the way the reader thinks in order to make them motivated to take a chance, make a leap, and follow their dreams. 4 Hour Workweek was the first book I read that provided step-by-step instructions for making money. It was through 4 Hour Workweek that I became knowledgeable about passive income and separating “work” from “actions that make money.” While building a passive income project isn’t really my end-goal4 this book taught me how to break down each project into small steps and how to hire help for stuff you don’t feel like doing.

Inspired by 4 Hour Workweek, I was able to finally launch a blog that I had started but left half built for over a year. I had the infrastructure, the theme, and all the pictures taken. I just didn’t feel like spending the numerous hours uploading all the content to the CMS, tagging them, organizing them, and scheduling the post dates. Instead, I outsourced this part of the process, hiring a couple of guys overseas to do all that work. Within a week, I had everything entered into the blog, I did some small tweaking and SEO work, and was able to launch the site.

Since then, I’ve outsourced quite a few projects. Many of these projects don’t actually make me any money (which, I suppose, goes against many of the teachings in 4 Hour Workweek) however it has served as great experience in communication and leadership. It has allowed me to bring that experience to projects that do make money, and I’ve been able to leverage that experience to advance my professional work life.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Cover of "Getting Things Done: The Art of...

I’ve mentioned Getting Things Done a few times on my blog. In terms of personal productivity, David Allen has had an insurmountable impact on my life. Not only did Getting Things Done change the way I view and organize work, but it also allowed me to get more done while doing less “work.” These habits have stayed with me to this day.

If someone is trying to organize their life or optimize their time, I can’t recommend Getting Things Done enough. While I may not have incorporated every aspect of the Getting Things Done® methodology into my daily life, I’ve had two major take-aways from this book: write everything down in a system that is reviewed and processed on a regular basis and if a task will take less than two minutes, do it immediately.

These two things, especially the two-minute rule, have had a huge impact on my life. I now immediately unsubscribe to email newsletters that I don’t want to receive anymore (thus cutting down the time it takes to process my emails). I’ll respond to people immediately rather than waiting and possibly forgetting. I’ll wash a dish as soon as I’m finished eating, rather than leaving it in the sink.

It’s the little things that build into big results. Having a system to collect all my thoughts, and having a habit of completing small tasks as they arise, has made me more confident and motivated to work on larger projects. It’s allowed me to turn previously lofty ideas from “maybe someday” to “in progress.” It’s allowed me to launch Stickers of NYC, build my iPhone apps Reader Tracker and Watcher Tracker, launch Dann Berg Web Design, create Dust Plugs, build this blog to its current size, and teach myself to code more advanced projects…all within two years.

So, yeah, I recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Purposely Omitted

Again, this is not supposed to be a list of the most helpful books I’ve read. Rather, these are the books that have reshaped by direction or approach in life. I can sing the praises of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries or The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Blank. Both of these books also had a large impact on my life and my strategies. However, I didn’t include them because they were read at a time where I was already on a journey shaped by one of the books on this list.

There’s a good possibility that your personal development has evolved beyond the impact I experienced by reading these books. This is simply the path that I took and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. People just beginning their journey towards higher productivity and entrepreneurship may find this list useful, but it is in no way meant as a road map. There are a an infinite number of paths and a innumerable destinations, everybody picks and chooses their own.

What books are on your Paradigm Shift list?

  1. Ah, to be young again.
  2. Want some great examples of SEO-optimized spam sites? Enter “how to get rich” into Google.
  3. I actually listened to 48 Laws of Power on audiobook while commuting to and from work. The voice acting is amazing and I highly recommend the audiobook.
  4. I’d much rather start a company. Building something is actually much more interesting to me than traveling around.

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