5 Books That Changed My Life

by | Feb 2, 2021 | Life Lessons

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” ~ J.K. Rowling

As a child, I didn’t enjoy reading.

I suppose at some early age, I did enjoy it, but by the middle grades, I don’t remember liking it very much. I remember vividly ordering books from the school reading program and reading as many as possible, because the person who read the most books received gold stars, extra credit, and other teacher recognitions. Reading turned into a sport for me, a way to satisfy my high achievement needs.

In high school, I loved English literature. That’s the only way I knew I had a latent infatuation with stories. Also, by then, teachers didn’t reward students for the number of books they read. Instead, we read longer and explored concepts like conflict, heroism, identity, and adversity – the real stuff.

Then, I went to college. Reading was unbearable. It was just too much of it to take pleasure in it. The pressure of memorizing so many facts and details sucked the joy right out of me. My grades and, ultimately, my success were tied to reading. It became something to conquer, not something to love.

After college, I became a casual reader. I read magazine articles and an occasional fiction book. I started way more books than I finished.

It all changed in 2006. I found that I loved non-fiction, specifically memoirs, biographies, and personal development books.

Today, I am an avid reader. I’ve learned so much about myself through books. They have helped me to grow personally and professionally. I want to share a few of my all-time favorite books with you. They changed my life, and I believe they will have an impact on yours as well.


Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert 

This is the book that started my love affair with reading. Published in 2006, this book showed up at just the right time. It’s a beautifully written memoir about Gilbert’s travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia following her divorce. It so happens that in 2006, I decided to separate from my husband after a long marriage. I found strength reading EPL, not because Gilbert and I were both going through a divorce, but because her memoir affirmed for me that it was okay to choose the life I wanted. It was not okay to live according to someone else’s or society’s expectations. At some point, if you want happiness and joy, if you believe you deserve them, then you have to be courageous enough to take the actions that will lead you to them.

Gilbert’s nor my story is about divorce. They are about choosing joy over fear, awakening to yourself and what you want, and having the courage to act.

Favorite quotes:

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.”

“I think I deserve something beautiful.”

“The Bhagavad Gita–that ancient Indian Yogic text–says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”

This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”

BOOK #2 

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer

No other book has given me the clarity about my professional choices as this book. Palmer is a wonderful storyteller who shares his own zig-zag journey through joys, burnout, and depression to find fulfillment through his life’s work. This book taught me that discovering my vocation involved getting to know myself, listening to the voice within, and trusting that life’s twists and turns were leading me right to where I was meant to be. If you are asking questions about what to do next with your life or career, and you want to live life on your terms, find meaning and purpose in it, then read Let Your Life Speak.

My favorite quotes:

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”

“Trying to live someone else’s life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail — and may even do great damage.”

“Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about — quite apart from what I would like it to be about — or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.” 

“In fact, I could have done no other: teaching, I was coming to understand, is my native way of being in the world. Make me a cleric or a CEO, a poet or a politico, and teaching is what I will do. Teaching is at the heart of my vocation and will manifest itself in any role I play.”


The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coelho

After reading this book, Coelho became my favorite author. I’ve read more of his books than any other single author. The Alchemist is an enchanting fable about a young Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago in search of his dream to find buried treasure and his Personal Legend. After all of his travels, gains and losses, Santiago returns to the place where he had the dream and discovered the treasure had been there all along. This is a poignant reminder to follow your dreams, to not let fear hold you back, and also to know that often we’re seeking something “out there,” when the treasure is right where we are.

My favorite quotes:

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.”

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

“My Heart Is Afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”


The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, Ruiz offers a code of conduct (four agreements) to help you overcome self-limiting beliefs and live with more joy, freedom, and love. Each agreement emphasizes personal development and opening your mind to new ways of thinking and behaving, resulting in greater happiness. Agreements: 1. Be impeccable with your word. 2. Don’t take anything personally. 3. Don’t make assumptions. 4. Always do your best. 

My favorite quotes:

“Love in action only produces happiness. Love will give you inner peace. It will change your perception of everything.”

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”

“Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.”

“Your point of view is something personal to you. It is no one’s truth but yours.”


Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

A moving memoir by Frankl of his experience inside Nazi extermination camps, including Auschwitz, from 1942-1945. He writes of finding meaning in the midst of tremendous suffering, and that while we cannot avoid suffering, we have within us the power to cope with it. In addition to its historical significance, this book is one of my favorites because it shows how essential meaning and purpose are to our wellbeing, our very lives. Still, let us never forget the Holocaust, the mass murder of over 6 million Jews.

My favorite quotes:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” (quoting Nietzsche)

“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.”

If you haven’t read these books, I highly recommend them. If you have, I’d love to know what you think of them and how they’ve impacted your life. Email me at tonya@yourahalife.com, tweet me @tonyacornileus or comment on IG @tonya.yourahalife. I also invite you to sign up to be a part of the Your Aha! Life Global Community and receive free perks every month in 2021. On March 23rd, all global community members will be invited to participate in our first MeetUp. I am planning an event that’s filled with fun and learning. More details and the link to register will follow later this month.

Note: The links to the books are for your convenience only. I am not an Amazon affiliate, and I do not receive any compensation if you decide to purchase a book.


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