There are many, many books that are worth your time. Let’s talk about reading for personal growth.
I will tell you that I am a reader, but my reading was always fiction. Unless I was forced to do it by school or work, I wouldn’t read non-fiction. There were, of course, exceptions. In high school, I was having the social troubles that many teenagers have: dating or the lack of dating, saying really dumb things, testing the limits of society and social norm. I was around 17 and my family was visiting my beloved Aunt Gertrude. In retrospect, I am sure now that my mother told her about my unhappiness with my universe, but in any case, Aunt G gave me a copy of Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The book’s contents were fascinating, basic general observations about what people want and how to get the most out of my interactions with others. I did not follow all of the instructions, so I did not reap all of the benefits. However, I did get two things, a slightly improved ability to observe others’ behavior which in turn lead me to make slightly better decisions based on those observations; and second, I developed a desire to read ‘self-help’ and other non-fiction books.
There are four classes of non-fiction books that I have considered important to my personal and professional growth: general life lessons or spiritual growth; direct personal growth instructions; general professional education; and specific instructions on professional/personal topics.
Spiritual growth / general life lesson books are books like “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. If you have religious or spiritual path that you follow, study that path like you would study for a test. Having read many of the basic texts from major religions and many spiritual texts, my experience is that the key to study the books from the path you are affiliated. For example If you are a Christian, study the bible with an eye to how to apply basic principles in your daily life (How does one “Love thy neighbor as thyself”?) For those of us who have a less defined spiritual path there are books like “The Four Agreements” which offers a simple set of directions that have the depth of the Mariana’s Trench, but can be understood by a sixth grader.
Direct personal growth books are instruction manuals for daily operations. There are many of these, try not to get lost on too many of the side paths, stay in the main stream. One of my favorites in this category is “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This book does have one draw back, the language reflects the era in which it was originally written, but I do like the flavor of that language. Almost all modern personal growth books are rooted in How to Win Friends, and the principles he espouses are universal and timeless. The school Carnegie started is still running strong, it is very much in tune with the times and some companies will pay for you to attend their classes. (we’ll talk more about that in another post)
There are thousands of general professional growth books, millions really. I have read many and their principles show up in my daily work and writing. Go back a few decades for a book called “The Mythical Man-Month” by Fredrick Brooks. It is a book of essays and is sub-titled, “Essays on Software Engineering.” The writing is easily applicable to all types of project management. It’s central theme is ‘Brooks Law’ which states that adding a ‘manpower’ to a project that is late makes it later. Download a pdf version.
Last on this list is this book of very specific instructions. “The Art of Asking” by Terry J. Fadem includes 10 simple rules for asking questions. Learning to ask questions will change how you do business with your coworkers, boss and just about everyone. Asking the right questions is both hard and important, but it is also the way to really be involved in world around us. This book has been on my shelf for several years, I pull it down when I am getting into difficult projects. I have read it through several times and referred to it for help many more times. Asking questions will put you in charge of a situation and clarify your own thinking on a subject.
I really encourage you to read. Don’t try to suck down the entire library in some arbitrary period of time. Develop the habit of reading from these categories on a weekly basis, an hour or two at time or a few shorter periods. Reading these kind of books every week will make difference in your professional development.