Head to Head: Competing Advice for How to Succeed
To save you some of the legwork of finding the advice that works for you, we've rounded up a list of the best self-development books with conflicting perspectives to help you compare the options and choose wisely to advance your personal journey.
July 26, 2021
When trying to reach a goal or make a lifestyle change, it’s tempting to latch on to the advice of the first expert who promises to have all the answers. Dig a little deeper though, and you might find that the opposite of what you first heard may have been what you needed all along.
The truth is, everyone is different: the steps you need to take depend on your personal preferences, priorities, habits, and experiences. To save you some of the legwork of finding the advice that works best for you, we’ve rounded up a list of top self-development books with competing messages to help you advance your personal journey.
Change your mindset
Self-development authors and influencers generally love to sing the praises of positive thinking—just check out our list of top Audible listens for positive thinking. But what if the opposite is also true? After all, thinking positively may not always be the best way to plan for the future if it means you’re flat out ignoring potential roadblocks. Unpack The Power of Positive Thinking with Norman Vincent Peale, or explore the benefits of looking at the glass half-empty with Oliver Burkeman in The Power of Negative Thinking.
Check off your to-do list (or not)
We all have Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In to thank for the image of the high-powered career woman running between meetings, social gatherings, and family commitments. For many, “leaning in” can work, if it’s the motivation you need to be your best self. On the contrary, Lean Out by Marissa Orr is a rallying cry for women who feel that maybe we just can’t do it all—and that’s OK.
Get ahead at work
There’s so much advice for women in the workplace that it can be overwhelming to know what to do: Be nice. Don’t be nice. Worry about if you’re liked. Don’t worry at all. Get it all done—no, drop the ball—no, but really, you have deadlines. The truth: everyone’s path to success is different. Hear from two successful women who took opposite approaches and find out what works for you. In Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, Lois P. Frankel, PhD, urges women to be more assertive and engage in office politics or risk sabotaging their careers. Fran Hauser, on the other hand, has staked her career on bringing her most authentic self to work.
Hone your leadership style
Other ways to get ahead? Many leaders swear by the ancient battle lessons taught in The Art of War by Sun Tzu. To name a few: know your strengths and weaknesses, know your opponents' strengths and weaknesses, and “ponder and deliberate before you make a move.” In sum, be aware of your surroundings and outside forces. For when you’re more focused on inner battles, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield offers advice on how to break through creative blocks to generate new ideas.
Find your calling today…or tomorrow
Nothing screams “what are you doing with your life?” quite like watching a child build a successful business. Some find "kidpreneurs" such as Moziah Bridges, better known as Mo's Bows, inspirational, and would benefit from giving his A Young Person's Guide to Start-Up Success a listen. (Hey, if a kid can do it, why not you?). For others? Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard serves as an important reminder that not everyone is successful in their tweens... or twenties… or thirties… or, well, you get it.
Learn to learn
Being told you can be successful so long as you Think Like a Rocket Scientist may encourage you to reach for the stars. Former rocket scientist Ozan Varol thinks so, anyway. Ready to burst your bubble is David McRaney who wants you to know that You Are Not So Smart. The truth is probably somewhere in between—those of us who aren’t rocket scientists can still learn from them, but we also need to be aware of the many ways our brains will try to trick us into thinking we know more than we do. Listen to both of these books to balance hubris with humility.
Face your challenges
Speaking of aerospace, in his inspiring memoir Failure Is Not an Option, NASA flight director Gene Kranz recounts the amazing—and terrifying—moments of the nearly unsuccessful Apollo 13 launch. While hearing about that level of mental fortitude can kick some of us into shape when it comes to meeting our own challenges, sometimes it’s comforting to know that what we’re doing isn’t rocket science and therefore doesn't require the same amount of attention to detail. Laugh (and cry) along with relatable dad and comedian H. Jon Benjamin (you may know him best as the voice of Bob in Bob’s Burgers) as he regales his life’s lowlights in his hilarious memoir, Failure Is an Option.
Form better habits
Even if you're comfortable with the possibility of failure, you might still want to work on forming some better habits. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: maybe you don’t have to be the best… just better. Now, to be fair, there’s a lot of similar (and helpful!) advice in these two quintessential books on forming better habits. The difference is whether you’re someone who’s motivated by Atomic Habits—making big changes (through smaller steps) that will alter your life—or Tiny Habits—making little, incremental improvements that may or not lead to larger goals.
Make difficult decisions
Last but not least, it comes down to what we’ve been exploring all along: how to choose. Maybe you’re the type of person who makes frequent, life-altering decisions that impact people around you; if so, you could really benefit from a 12-hour long instructor-led Great Course called The Art of Critical Decision Making. Or maybe, you’re the type of person who just needs to hear hilarious author Reese Owen tell you to Just Frickin Pick One. Either way, the fact that you’re interested in making better choices proves that you’re already on the right path.