The term personal development first entered my world as a teenager when my father gave me a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Of course, the idea of getting better occurred to me long before then, which is why I’ve always thought it was a little funny that there’s a name for this genre. I’m not sure we need an official category for the things we often do without conscious thought. It’s natural for humans to strive for more, so we try to eat healthier, move our bodies and learn new things.
What I’ve come to learn, though, is that this field of personal development acts as a reminder or reinforcement of our potential beyond what we see around us every day. If we measure our opportunities based only on what we see around us, we’re fairly limited. But if we can measure our opportunities based on what we can imagine, the opportunities can be limitless.
Of course, there are factors outside of our control that can affect our ability to achieve, but I truly believe there is massive growth available to anyone, no matter where you are in life or what you’re dreaming about. The power of personal development is that it’s inherently personal and endlessly customizable. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure road map. It provides a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable existence.
Beyond a road map, personal development provides motivation—a why for the dogged pursuit of better. My why is leaving my fingerprint on the world, and leaving it better than when I found it. When I stop feeding my mind—when life seems to get in the way—I lose sight of that why, which can feel a little like losing myself.
The difficulty, as with any new challenge, is knowing where to start. The personal development industry is massive and continues to grow. A quick internet search reveals hundreds of thousands of results for coaches, trainers, speakers, classes, seminars and programs.
As with any industry, the number of quality offerings are matched by unscrupulous players. It’s easy to hang out a virtual shingle as someone who has the answers to certain questions. It’s much harder to keep at it long enough to build a reputation that stands the test of scrutiny and time.
Now entering the 125th year since it was first published, SUCCESS has done that. The magazine has been a constant presence and companion as the canonical works of this genre have been developed over the past century-plus.
I always tell people to start with the classics. There’s a reason that names like Stephen Covey, Jim Rohn and Napoleon Hill have staying power, too. Their messages were often simple and seemingly intuitive, but they were able to help people change their lives in big, lasting ways. Decades upon decades later, their books are still at the top of successful entrepreneurs’ most-gifted book lists.
The classics helped me overcome shyness and talk to strangers, which led me to a successful sales career and eventually to build my company—and SUCCESS—into what it is today.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from the books on this list is to begin with the end in mind. Identify your North Star—your biggest goal—as a point you can always come back to when you feel overwhelmed by the thousands of tiny decisions of daily life. You won’t have all the answers, but you’ll have a guiding light. If what you’re learning and reading about helps you see your North Star more clearly, you’re on the right track. If the people you’re with and the paths you choose dim that star, it’s time to reevaluate.
And that’s really the point of this, right? To take the time and energy required to reevaluate, to ask ourselves if this is the road we still want to take. We must ask ourselves if the way we think, feel, act and talk about ourselves and others is the legacy we want.
It’s never too late to change course and it’s never too soon to learn a new way.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by singleline, Shutterstock.com
My Reading List
- Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz
- The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino
- Tough Times Never Last But Tough People Do by Robert Schuller
- The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale