Are you in your 20s? Being in your 20s comes with great challenges:

  • Finding your true calling in life
  • Learning to advance your small talk beyond, “How’s the weather?”
  • That feeling of wanting to just grow up… only to realize you hate being an “adult.”

Despite facing these challenges, there were certain books that completely changed my outlook in life for the better.

These are the 20 life-changing books that stuck with me. Let’s dive in!

What is a Life-Changing Book?

A life-changing book challenges your current way of thinking or offers deep insight that leaves you contemplating for days. Life-changing books shake you to your core, latch on, and influence your behavior for years to come.

I found that the best life-changing books have 3 components:

Life-changing books have 3 components.
  • Thought-provoking: Does the book make you question your current life- or world-view? Does it compel you to make changes in your life?
  • Resonance: How well does the book resonate with you? Is it written in a way that’s engaging and meaningful to you?
  • Hidden Nuggets: Often, the best life-changing books contain hidden gems that can only be revealed after you’ve reread them.

Here are my top 20 life-changing books that fulfill these 3 criteria. Starting with…

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Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

Strengthsfinder 2.0 book cover

Goodreads score: 3.94

Do you know what you’re good at? This is a great book to read to know your basic strengths. Strengthsfinder helps you find out exactly what you’re good at and what to do with your strengths.

This book gives you ideas for action and working with others who have these strengths. Excellent to take with others or as a remote team!

“The key to human development is building on who you already are.”

Key Takeaways:

  • There are 34 strengths, and each person has 5 key strengths they are good at.
  • Instead of fixing our weaknesses, focus on capitalizing our strengths to maximize potential.

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The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

The 5 Love Languages book cover

Goodreads Score: 4.25

Did you know every person has one major love language? Their love language determines how they prefer to feel loved. It can be either:

  • Physical touch
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service

I loved this book so much that I even put it in my best-selling book, Captivate. I LOVE this book because it helps you identify how you want to receive love. I also know everyone in my life’s love language so I show them the love they want!

“I am amazed by how many individuals mess up every new day with yesterday.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Most romance in relationships only lasts for 2 years.
  2. You can use your partner’s love language to do things that make them feel loved.

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The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race by Daniel Z. Lieberman & Michael E. Long

The Molecule of More book cover

Goodreads score: 4.22

If you want to know how you work, this one is incredibly helpful. I love dopamine, and most people will know it as the pleasure or happiness chemical. But there’s so much more to it… 

This book talks about exactly how motivation and achievement works in a scientific perspective.

Daniel Lieberman quote

Key Takeaways:

  • Dopamine controls our levels of passion and willpower.
  • Nothing is ever enough for dopamine—winning, feeling good, and drugs all lead you wanting more.
  • Dopamine doesn’t care about the means. It only cares about attaining the result.

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Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps: How We’re Different and What to Do About It by Allan & Barbara Pease

Why Men Don't Listen and Women. Can't Read Maps book cover

Goodreads Score: 3.77

I picked this book up from my mother’s nightstand (more like stole it), and WOW did it change my views! This book accurately describes why:

  • Men can’t find the mayonnaise in the refrigerator, but women can
  • Why women are bad at driving at night
  • Why men are good with maps and women often turn them upside-down
  • Why women are great talkers and can multitask, while men often grunt and need focus

And wow, did I understand my father, brother, and husband a lot more. It also helped me communicate with the precious women in my life.

“Under pressure, men drink alcohol and invade other countries; women eat chocolate and go shopping.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Women have a wider peripheral vision that allows them to “scan” their surroundings, while men have tunnel vision.
  2. Men can detach themselves from their problems, while women can’t stop thinking about them and analyzing them.
  3. When talking to a man, keep it simple.
  4. If a woman is talking a lot, it’s a good sign she likes you.

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Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

Emotional Intelligence book cover

Goodreads score: 4.02

Do you know your intelligence type? Emotional intelligence is key to not only forming successful relationships but controlling your own, too. This book was the gateway that taught me all about emotion management. And yes, you CAN develop these skills!

"Resonant leaders know when to be collaborative and when to be visionary, when to listen and when to command.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Our mind reacts to present situations based on our past experiences, and can be irrational if situations change.
  • People with high emotional intelligence are more successful and more resilient to stress.
  • Work on emotional intelligence by changing your inner dialogue and mirroring body language.

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Hello, Fears: Crush Your Comfort Zone and Become Who You’re Meant to Be by Michelle Poler

Hello Fears book cover

Goodreads Score: 4.78

My dear friend, Michelle Poler, wrote this amazing little book that is basically the remedy to all your fears. From the beautiful layout of the book, to the colorful pictures and helpful infographics, Hello Fears captivated me right from the beginning. 

This book is also super interactive (you get to write in it) and feels more than just reading words on paper. If you’re in need of some inspiration, what’s stopping you? See how Michelle conquered her own fears and how you can, too. Feel free to also check out Michelle’s TEDx talk:

“Our comfort zone expands as we face our fears and contracts as we limit ourselves. The problem is that our ignorance is feeding our fears by the minute!”

Key Takeaways:

  1. We take our time for granted, so we should say “yes” to the things that we truly want.
  2. Write down your own definition of success, not according to society.
  3. Fear of the unknown often leads us to believe we don’t like things.
  4. Let go of control to truly cherish the moment and go from autopilot to living fully.

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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens book cover

Goodreads score: 4.42

This one’s not exactly brief, but well-worth it! Have you ever wondered about what humans went through to get to where we are today? This book is literally History 101 in 443 pages—without the extra fluff. Yuval does an excellent job of summarizing the most important beliefs, technologies, and advances, starting off before we could even think and ending the book with what will happen in the future.

“We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Large, complex communities of Homo sapiens 70,000 years ago allowed them to invent hunting tools and use language, allowing them to hunt, have common understanding, and explore the world.
  • The agricultural revolution allowed huge population increases and allowed us to settle down in one area.
  • Scientific advances are now helping the Gilgamesh Project, the scientific quest to achieve eternal human life.

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The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

4 Hour Workweek book cover

Goodreads Score: 3.89

The 4-Hour Workweek is one of the most popular books ever… This book taught me to ditch the conventional and has saved me countless hours of work.

Tim Ferriss describes the 4-hour work week as a lifestyle of freedom, where mini-retirements are taken and there’s no need to go to the office anymore. And if you think it’s not possible, think again! We are now in a day and age where remote work is more popular than ever.

I’ve literally saved countless hours (and dollars) every week by applying the principles I learned in this book, such as the Pareto principle and product-testing.

"Conditions are never perfect. 'Someday' is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it's important to you and you want to do it 'eventually,' just do it and correct course along the way.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. 80% of the results are often accomplished by 20% of the effort.
  2. Establish credibility and find a “muse,” or your best idea that can make money.
  3. Test your muse by seeing if people will buy your idea first before going all-out.
  4. Go with a bold promise of your product to gain customer loyalty and confidence.

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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Influence book cover

Goodreads Score: 4.20

Influence is one of the best psychology books ever written, period. First published in 1984, it has since sold 3 million+ copies and has been translated into 30 languages. The book contains various psychological strategies that great persuaders use, and Robert even takes up jobs as a car salesman and waiter to demonstrate these strategies in-person.

If you’re an entrepreneur, salesperson, marketer, or want to influence people in any way, I highly recommend giving this book a read.

“Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. People feel obligated to reciprocate “favors.” A good strategy is to give something before asking in return.
  2. In negotiations, ask a very high amount, then retreat back to what you really want.
  3. When something is hard to get, we want it even more.
  4. We value something more if it is harder to achieve.

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance book cover

Goodreads Score: 3.77

Nope, you don’t have to know a thing about motorcycle maintenance—or even know how to ride one—to scrape some valuable tidbits from this book. Robert bridges the scientific train of thought in the Western world with the Zen-like spiritual mind of the East, creating a magical, thought-provoking book that aims to help you live a richer, more balanced life.

“You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Classically minded people classify and divide things they perceive in the world, creating order out of chaos.
  2. Romantics admire the complexities and live in the chaos of it.
  3. The approach of “Quality” combines both and strives for balance.

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver book cover

Goodreads Score: 4.13

This book is an absolute must for dystopian fans and is about a society that has no pain, fear, or hatred. Sounds amazing, right? Except it’s not—everyone is essentially the same, overly-polite, and there’s no choice. Spouses and jobs are even picked for everyone!

The main character, an 11-year old boy named Jonas, is chosen as the “Receiver of Memory,” where he receives both good AND bad memories… and this is where he realizes how bland and stale this “perfect” society is. Armed with this new knowledge, Jonas sets out to create change and bring back the human experience.

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Both good and bad must coexist in order to have a fulfilling life, and there is no true happiness if there is nothing to compare it to.
  2. Emotions are extremely valuable, and should be let free.
  3. In life, we have to make choices. We may not know the result of our choices, but the freedom to make choices is infinitely better than having things chosen for us.

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The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle is the Way Ryan Holiday

Goodreads Score: 4.16

If you’re a fan of Stoic philosophy, you’ll love this book. The Obstacle Is the Way focuses on ancient Greek principles and uses many examples of Greek philosophers to explain key Stoic ideas and how they apply in the modern world.

“Tolstoy expressed his exasperation at people who didn’t read deeply and regularly. “I cannot understand,” he said, “how some people can live without communicating with the wisest people who ever lived on earth.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. The biggest hurdle to our obstacles is our uncontrolled emotional responses to them.
  2. Change your perspective to transform obstacles into your advantage.
  3. Consistent, disciplined action leads to effective results.
  4. Having more important goals to focus on pushes us past our self-imposed limits.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book cover

Goodreads score: 3.84

Does what you own “spark joy”? Or is it sitting in your closet, collecting dust?

This book was recommended to me by a dear friend, and it did not disappoint. This book is more than just cleaning. It’s more than just simplifying your life. It’s a whole philosophy, packaged in a way that makes you excited about cleaning up.

You’ll start to see your possessions in a totally different light.

“The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Visualize your ideal lifestyle and living space, and keep the things that fit in. Discard the rest; don’t even reuse them.
  • Ask yourself if current possessions fulfill your future self or your past self. Don’t hoard items in others’ living space—only give away items (especially sentimental ones) to family or friends if they add value to their lives.
  • Tidying can take a long time. Even months. Take as much time as you need, and you’ll see an impact that lasts forever.

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Linchpin by Seth Godin

Linchpin book cover

Goodreads Score: 3.84

Linchpin challenges you to take your work a step further. Don’t just follow the rules you’re assigned—become truly indispensable. Seth says that linchpins are the essential key players in any great company, and without these players, the company would not be the same.

Does this sound like you? If not, this is the book to read to level up in your career, whether you’re a CEO, manager, or employee. Become a linchpin, and become indispensable.

“Art isn't only a painting. Art is anything that's creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator."

Key Takeaways:

  1. Linchpins pour all their energy and passion into their work.
  2. Making great art requires emotional labor, or investing your own emotions into your work.
  3. The best artists create and send out their product, despite the fear of criticism.

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Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Predictably Irrational book review

Goodreads Score: 4.13

“Money, as it turns out, is very often the most expensive way to motivate people. Social norms are not only cheaper, but often more effective as well.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t forget the power of “free”—people perceive free things as more valuable than what they are really worth.
  2. Our opinions are like objects—we cling stronger to them when we feel as if we “own” them.
  3. We tend to be a little dishonest if we won’t get caught, but simply thinking about the value of honesty keeps us from cheating.
  4. When we decide on a goal, we must also decide to close our doors to other options.

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Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist book cover

Goodreads Score: 3.92

Did you know the greatest creators can actually be quite… unoriginal? As a writer myself, I know the struggles of staring at the letters on your keyboard and wanting magical words to appear. But Austin brings forth the idea that good artwork is actually just a mash-up of other pieces of work until finally… you’ve got an “original” piece of art.

If you’ve got a creative block or feel guilty “copying” others’ work, I highly recommend this fun, quirky book. The images and creativity alone are worth picking it up!

“If you ever find that you're the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. All art is not completely original; it is influenced by other artists’ work.
  2. Have backups that distract your mind, such as hobbies or even dull tasks like doing the dishes.
  3. Be creative in your work space. Opt for pen and paper, and personalize it the way you like.
  4. Change your environment once in a while. Move away from home at least once to avoid boredom.

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Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

Self-Compassion book cover

Goodreads Score: 4.16

Are you lacking kindness and love in your life? This straightforward book doesn’t only talk compassion—it’s also filled with exercises that you can implement! The exercises are simply amazing, the studies are rock-solid and compelling, and this book changed my outlook on life in a positive way. No preachy, esoteric writing. Just straight science and application.

The only regret I have is not reading it 5 years ago!

“Rather than wandering around in problem-solving mode all day, thinking mainly of what you want to fix about yourself or your life, you can pause for a few moments throughout the day to marvel at what’s not broken.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Self-criticism can make us anxious and stifle our success.
  2. Practicing mindfulness will help you solve problems that cause stress.
  3. Reminding ourselves of our shared humanity lets us embrace our mistakes and flaws.

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You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

You are a Badass book cover

Goodreads Score: 3.95

Think of this book as the only book you’ll ever need for an inspirational boost. In You Are a Badass, Jen uses her humor and inspirational rawness of her writing to motivate readers to take action. Just like the title suggests, her book is very straightforward with a “fun” tone that’s different from other books.

While some people may find this book off-putting with its “Law of Attraction”–based philosophy, there are some golden nuggets in here and many people I personally know have found this book to be life-changing.

“If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Do your own thing, despite others’ criticisms or lack of involvement.
  2. See yourself as a lifelong learner, instead of a professional, to take more risks and be more playful.
  3. Create a new environment, lifestyle, and surround yourself with people who help you achieve your dream.

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Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

1984 book cover

Goodreads Score: 4.19

Ahh, the old classic by George Orwell. Almost everyone has read this book, and if you haven’t… this is THE book to read! Another dystopian book, Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in London where the ruling Party sees all. They watch through TV screens, control the language by eliminating rebellious words, and limit all aspects of individualism.

It’s a thought-provoking, powerful book on what life could look like in the future… or, what life looks like right now in some parts of the world. This book reminds us how important our freedom is and how powerful the government is that “controls” us.

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Language is so important—without the right words, we won’t be able to express our ideas or even think.
  2. Distractions can serve to take us away from the big picture and stifle change for the better.
  3. If we want change, we must speak and not hold back just to keep the peace.

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game book cover

Goodreads Score: 4.30

I’m not usually one to dig into sci-fi, but Ender’s Game (also now a movie) is just so good. It tells the story of a young boy named Ender Wiggin, who is sent to Battle School to one day become a soldier and save humanity from the “Buggers,” an evil alien race.

This book is more than just fiction—it really changed the way I interact with others. Since reading Ender’s Game, I started thinking a lot more strategically. How could I solve this problem in my business in different ways? How do I push past resistance despite the odds? This book teaches valuable lessons to teenagers and adults alike.

“Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.” quote

Key Takeaways:

  1. Every puzzle has a solution. And it might not be that apparent, so it’s critical to think outside the box.
  2. Even if you are great or a genius, you might also be lonely. But the world needs great people.
  3. Being empathetic is one of the greatest traits you can develop.

What’s your favorite book that didn’t make the list? Leave a comment below and let me know your favorite!

4 replies on “20 Meaningful & Life-Changing Books You Should Read in Your 20s”

  1. Whitney Dickinson

    Hi! I just want to thank you for your book lists. My niece turned 18 on Sunday and I chose 18 books, mostly from your lists but I threw in 3 that were my personal faves (Food Freedom Forever, Women’s Bodies/Women’s Wisdom and Tiny Habits. I wrapped each book individually with a printout of your summary. It was a lovely 45 minutes, watching her carefully unwrap each book and read the enclosed note. She started reading Flow that evening! When her mom asked what the books were about, she replied, “life lessons”.

    She said I could borrow any that I hadn’t already read!

  2. Kelli

    Pam Young and Peggy Jones
    Sidetracked Home Executive: from pigpen to paradise
    This was before computers were a big part of our lives. This book teaches you how to keep a orderly home and life!!! But it teaches with humor and life experience! As a young wife and mother I shared it with all my friends. It changed their lives also.

  3. Dale Collins

    After starting a book club where I work last year I have become acquainted again with my thirst for reading and learning something new each day. We had a great time reading and discussing the books along the leadership and personal development genre. After we tabled the club until next spring, I was left wanting to find a great book or two to tie me over. I did, captivate by one of my new favorite authors Vanessa Van Edwards and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell Recommended by Vanessa. And both excellent reads. Now freshly finished with both, I was just thinking that I in need another great read, and boom! this list appeared just in time. I’m going to give Influence by Robert B. Cialdini a read. Vanessa, you give great recommendations and I am excited to start Influence. Thanks, and hopefully sooner rather than later I will be able to sign up for People School, I love the topic and am fascinated by the science. Best regards, DC.

  4. Joanna Scellier

    This is great, I really enjoyed reading the 20 great books, but it struck me that the ratio between male and females authors is disappointing. I want to support more amazing female authors who have a strong voice: like Brene Brown etc.. she could be in here.

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