I became the person I am today because of the mistakes and risks I took in the previous decade. A lot of amazing things happened during my twenties:
- I met my wife
- Graduated from college (BA & MA degrees)
- Traveled to new places
- Rebuilt important relationships
- Got to know who I really am, and what I want, on a deeper level.
But this period wasn't without its challenges. While all of these good things were happening, I also:
- Struggled with depression and medical issues
- Fell into heavy debt
- Made some terrible career choices
- And took too few risks.
Despite my missteps, I don't carry any regrets because my decisions, good and bad, led me to where I am today — and I couldn't be more grateful.
That being said, I'm writing this article in the hopes that these book recommendations will help you avoid the mistakes I made while setting you up for an even more successful and happy life than you thought possible.
Our 20s are a critical season where we begin to plant seeds and lay the foundation for what the rest of our lives will look like. And at any point, whether you're 21 or 29 (or older!) you can decide to change your life and take one step towards a new direction.
Hopefully, these books will help you choose a direction that's right for you.
The Psychology of Money
Money’s greatest intrinsic value—and this can’t be overstated—is its ability to give you control over your time. — Morgan Housel
The Psychology of Money
Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness.
I grew up in a context where poverty was the norm. Everyone lived paycheck-to-paycheck, chose home remedies over hospital visits, shopped at thrift stores (before it was cool to do so), and thought beach vacations only existed in movies.
I knew I wanted something different for my life. I didn't want money to influence every decision and limit what I could do, but without any good examples to follow, I floundered. It wasn't until I started picking up books on personal finance and investing that I understood what I needed to do to change my financial outlook.
Of all the dozens of money-related books I read, Morgan Housel's title stands out. In it, the author explains not only how to make more money, no matter how much you're currently earning, but also the principles behind how money works in our modern world.
Money is a tool. If you use it wisely, it will give you access to adventure, growth, and peace. And this opportunity is available to you no matter what your situation might look like right at the moment.
The Gifts of Imperfection
Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection. ― Brené Brown
The Gifts of Imperfection
Ten guideposts to wholehearted living.
Some of the hardest work you'll ever do as a human is the internal, emotional growth required to become a healthy adult. Like a lot of young adults, I had unresolved muck I was carrying around from schoolyard bullying to my parent's divorce, along with the heavier stuff that's often tough to write about.
If you've never gone to counseling, or are intimidated by the idea, Brown's book is a perfect first step. It helped me learn to accept the parts of myself I thought were permanently broken. Loving your current self is a prerequisite to becoming the best version possible. And even how we define "best" will evolve as our self-acceptance develops.
This is one of those books I believe everyone should read at least once in their lifetimes, especially if you struggle with feeling unloveable or unworthy. You deserve so much more, and this book will help you get there.
Things can hurt and not harm us. In fact they can even be good for us. And things that feel good can be very harmful to us. ― Henry Cloud
When to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life.
Anytime a friend of mine gets their first leadership position or their first serious relationship, I buy them this book. The concept of healthy boundaries is foreign to us for a lot of reasons.
For example, in America, work consumes much of our lives — so it's only natural to think that's the way it's supposed to be. That getting a work call on the weekend, or taking tasks home with us are all normal. But it doesn't have to be this way.
The same thing goes for relationships. So many of us grow up seeing bad examples of what a marriage or partnership looks like. Then, intentionally or unintentionally, we repeat those same destructive habits ourselves.
The Boundaries book helped me regain control of my life when I felt it was particularly spinning out of my hands. Today, I have a work-life balance and marriage that once seemed impossible. No matter where you need smarter borders in your life, this book will help.
Be So Good They Can't Ignore You
Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it. ― Cal Newport
Be So Good They Can't Ignore You
Why skills trump passion in a quest for work you love.
My career path is the biggest area I wanted to improve at the end of my twenties. I spent a lot of time in school (BA, MA, MEd, and certificates), and that opportunity cost slowed my career progress more than I knew. I ended up working in no-growth positions more many years simply because I didn't know (A) what my options were and (B) how to take advantage of them.
In 2019, I left my career in higher education to pursue freelance writing and take back control over my opportunities. Cal Newport's book was an incredible resource during this time because it taught me how much influence I really do have over what my path looks like.
The book's title doubles as a concise summary of his main idea: the better you are at what you do, the more people will notice, and the more opportunities you will get. For me, that meant writing and knowledge about a specific subject.
At the time of writing this, my current gig came about by following these principles. I spent hours every day, for years, writing and improving my related skills. Plus, I chose to narrow my expertise on a few topics: online business models, the publishing industry, and the creator economy. Now I get to combine all of these factors into a job I love and get paid well for doing.
If there's something you want to do, start now. Practice in public, for free, and let people see how good you are. You'll be surprised by how quickly things change once you do.
Cancer is a disease of the Western lifestyle. ― David Servan-Schreiber
A new way of life and health.
The final book I want to recommend is on the subject of health. Like most 20-somethings, health was one of the last things on my mind. I felt invincible, which often led to me treating my body like crap.
Twice, I was given a rude awakening. The first was when I was diagnosed as dangerously anemic and had to get monthly iron infusions in a chemotherapy ward. There I was as a young clueless dude sitting next to dozens of people fighting for their lives. It may be trite to say I learned so much from them — but find yourself in a similar position and you'd be hard-pressed not to reevaluate every one of your life's priorities.
The second time was when I woke up covered in my own blood after experiencing a ruptured ulcer. I still cringe thinking about the pain and recovery process. Between these two events, I knew that if I wanted to live an incredible life, I needed to start taking my health much more seriously.
This book written by David Servan-Schreiber is a catchall guide to eating better, moving smarter, and stressing less. It's a book I've read more than once and will continue to revisit it annually as a reminder that health is the first wealth.
You're not behind
If I could give my 20-year old self one piece of advice it'd be the following: you're not behind in life, you're on your own path. And the more you focus on your own path, the faster you'll get to where you belong.
Your adventure is just beginning. Take risks, read good books, and live a story worth sharing. At the end of the day, this is the only shot we get.