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10 Books to Change Your Life

and Make You a Better Person

image by the author

So you say you want to make a change? That’s great. Since we have no control over anything other than ourselves, changing yourself is a great use of your time. Seriously. Self-improvement is a really cool project because it never ends, kind of like the number pi. Well, I guess your personal development does have a finite end—it’s called your death. But hopefully you have a lot of time here before that happens, and you might as well spend it striving to be a better person or know yourself better for clues as to why your life is going the way it is.

People have often asked me what I’ve read that inspired who I’ve become as a coach and as a person. The books below are listed in the order in which I read them over the past 20 years. I include when I read them, why and how they changed me as a person.

They may or may not impact your life as they did mine, but at the very least you will come away knowing a little bit more about something you didn’t before OR rethinking yourself in the grand scheme of this thing called life. And perspective is good for the ego. Not having an ego is even better. But let’s start with who you are, if you even really know.

ISHMAEL by Daniel Quinn

I read this book early in college and it blew my mind. Evolving as conversations between a man sitting across from an ape who is communicating with him telepathically, it initiated my intellectual capacity as a free-thinking young adult. For the first time, I thought critically about life (and other people and beings) outside my small, self-absorbed world, and considered my individual impact on society. It sparked my maturation process, indeed.

THE CELESTINE PROPHECY by James Redfield

Upon graduating from college, I fell in the love for the first time. It was such a heightened state of consciousness, I literally felt like I was floating on air. Synchronicity then brought this book (about coincidences) into my life, and I don’t know if I gave it to my lover or she to me. Initially, I found it far-reaching and abstract but full of some interesting concepts. In recent years, I’ve experienced much of what happens in the book in my actual day-to-day life and really ‘get’ what the author was conveying through this adventurous story revolving around human behavior and enlightened thinking.

LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME by James W. Loewen

This book explores history from a revisionist perspective and challenged everything I’d been taught as a middle-class white suburban student from New Jersey. Whether or not I believe everything the author implies, I learned to not believe everything I hear, read or see as ultimate truth ever again. When I began my own teaching career at the age of 22, I was also exploring my political activist identity and supplemented my Social Studies core curriculum with chapters from this book, delighting as my students’ jaws hit the floor in shock.

ROOTS by Alex Haley

Also from my teaching years, I came upon this book while researching the unit on slavery. I was going through a break up at the time and read this each night for its cathartic effects, sometimes sobbing out loud as I connected with the human suffering on each page. Having not previously known the gruesome details of American slavery, I considered myself transformed in my identity as a white American. I’d turn off the lights in my 8th grade classroom and read chapters aloud to my students who later told me they connected with and remembered this content more than anything else I taught.

WHEN THINGS FALL APART by Pema Chödrön

In my late 20s, I was still grieving my first breakup. I was yet totally unaware that my suffering was actually coming from behavioral habits and thought patterns stemming from core wounds in my youth. Two dear friends, both women well-versed in world religions, handed me this book written by the Tibetan nun, Pema Chödrön. I have read the words so many times, I’ve practically memorized them. This book inspired me to pursue Buddhism for the next 15 years. Since reading this book, I’ve met Pema twice in person and was even lucky enough to ask her a question about anger, the bodhisattva path and its impact on my own life.

ALL ABOUT LOVE by bell hooks

Reading this work of essays by bell hooks greatly influenced my understanding and experience of love. It changed my awareness of myself and my tendencies in relationships of all kinds and helped me develop more insight and compassion about human beings and why we do the things we do when it comes to love. I tried to go back and read this book recently and experienced in differently, since many of my viewpoints around identity politics have changed and I don’t agree with as much of what hooks says now as I did years ago. Regardless, it’s an incredible body of work.

WHY ARE ALL THE BLACK KIDS SITTING TOGETHER IN THE SCHOOL CAFETERIA? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD

The intriguing title inspires the transformative content. Anyone seeking insight and awareness about racial identity development, no matter how you identify or how others identify you, should read this book. I read it in my early 30s to help me understand myself as a white person in American racial politics. Tatum’s easy-to-read and relatable writing style made things come together for me in ways they had not before. She illuminates how all people come to know themselves in comparison to others in a society that uses race, as one of many ways, to lump and split us all together.

JUST ADD HORMONES by Matt Kailey

I read this book, a first-person narrative of a transgender man’s gender transition process, about six years before making the decision to transition, myself. My own identity was so repressed, I could barely connect to his words and lived experience but was nonetheless transfixed and inspired. Years later, his untimely death occurred early in my own gender transition process and left me grief-stricken. Prior to that, his selfless and open-hearted correspondence with me via Facebook messages helped soothe my late-adulthood turmoil. When I consider my personal role models, Matt is high my list.

THE HAPPINESS HYPOTHESIS by Jonathan Haidt

This book explores the search by human beings for truth, meaning and everlasting happiness over the ages. I read this just having left a long-term relationship in my mid-30s, two years into a gender transition and with one year left of graduate school. I didn’t think I would make it out alive. Attuned to my grieving process, my dear friend Amy, who recommended Things Fall Apart to me many years before, came through once again and mailed me The Happiness Hypothesis. It helped me crack through and find light again, bringing an eventual end to my profound hopelessness and despair.

7 HABITS OF HIGHLY-EFFECTIVE PEOPLE by Steven Covey

I heard about this book for years before I finally decided to read it. It found me in some second-hand state from where I can’t recall, its pages yellowed from age. But Covey knows his stuff and I added this book and the truths buried within to the content of my own resources and courses for personal transformation. I have yet to organize my life as effectively as I perceive he does…his organizational chart is a real challenge to keep current!

 

A lot of people read books to expand their minds but I’ve found the combination of reading and taking action, despite my fear or hesitation or lack of confidence, actually helped me change habits and patterns of thinking and acting. Every time I think I’ve reached a summit of awareness, I find another thing to work on or address. It keeps me humble. It keeps me on the path toward being a better person. In addition to this list, find the books and resources that bring you hope, inspiration, insight, and courage to keep developing yourself to become the person you like and admire.

Because when you thrive, the world transforms.

Stay in touch with me on social media @dillandigiovanni and my website dillandigiovanni.com 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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