Apology by Plato (Age 11)
When I was young, my stepdad would consistently challenge me intellectually. He felt that it’s important for young adults to start thinking about philosophy and politics at an early age in order to become responsible citizens.
One of the first philosophical pieces that I read was Apology by Plato. In my opinion, this should be required reading for every living human being.
This book is Plato’s account of Socrates’s trial where he is charged for being the “gadfly of Athens.” Basically, Socrates pestered Greek experts and knowledgeable authorities on their areas of expertise. He would question their values to explore if they really knew about their fields of expertise.
For example, Socrates would question a war general on the virtue of courage, or he would question a lawyer on the topic of justice.
People often dogmatically accept the state of things as true just because it’s the social consensus. They don’t decide for themselves whether they truly accept certain claims as true.
We see this more than ever in our society today. People are Trump supporters or Trump haters without knowing what his actual policies are; they cite scientific claims as absolute truth without taking into account the inherent possibility of error in the scientific method (an inductive reasoning process).
Ultimately, people rarely question their actual values and opinions on a deeper level.
Plato’s Apology brings this to light. Why did I think certain facts as true? How do I know what I know?
Maybe this life is all a dream. Maybe I was adopted. Maybe people see colors differently from each other, but we just happen to give them the same name.
To this day, I bear in mind Socratic principles when forming my opinions and beliefs about anything.
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Age 12)
“If you’re not liberal by the time you’re 20, you don’t have a heart. If you’re not conservative by the time you’re 30, you don’t have a brain.” This quote accurately describes my political disposition during my childhood, minus 10 years.
During middle school and high school, I was an idealist. I wanted to provide welfare for everyone and save the world.
Although I wasn’t an advocate for communism, I was fully aware of the shortcomings of capitalism at an early age. I see people obligatorily going to their nine-to-fives with disdain and a sense of hopelessness.
In The Communist Manifesto Marx describes why this naturally happens in capitalistic societies. He claims that as the capitalists (i.e. the business owners) grow their corporations, they begin to create more specialized roles for their workers.
A clear example of this is when Ford created an assembly line at his car factory. Workers went from creating a car from start to finish to simply just putting nuts on a tire rim. Their jobs became so oversimplified that they no longer felt connected to their work.
And capitalism encourages this kind of systematic organization because assembly lines are more efficient than having a worker create a car from start to finish.
Although Marx and communism are highly stigmatized in American society due to post-World War II McCarthyism, Marx is one of the most insightful philosophers and economists who ever lived, and his works should not be immediately dismissed merely because of the stigma that communism has in our society.
In fact, this was one of the best books I’ve ever read for management and entrepreneurship. Marx clearly and concisely points out the potential flaws in laissez-faire capitalism.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (Age 14)
During high school, I was obsessed with this book. It took me three days to plow through this tome, but the ideas of creativity and individualism embodied by Howard Roark challenged my paradigm of conformity and social harmony.
It’s actually in an individual’s self-pursuit of his or her ultimate truth that creativity is cultivated and society progresses.
Basically, I stopped being such a people pleaser with my ideas and began my own personal quest to seek truth.
The Fountainhead encouraged me to appreciate my own individuality and to eschew conformity.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (Age 18)
Up through middle school, I got good grades. I thought I was just born smart.
During high school, I got my first C- in Honors Pre-Calculus. I thought that I finally found my ceiling. The other kids in my class were just born smarter than me.
It wasn’t until I read Outliers that I realized that skills are cultivated from hours of deliberate practice rather than inherent talent and ability.
After reading the book, I had a Keyser Soze-esque moment.
I remembered back to elementary and middle school. I used to stay at school with my stepdad until 8pm every night (he taught at the school), so I studied 4 hours more than any of the other kids in my class.
Then I remembered back to one of my friends in my math class. My other friend and I were going to go play tennis, so we invited my math friend along. He said he had to stay in to study Calculus. “But it’s Sunday!” That didn’t matter. So it’s no surprise that he got an A in the class, and I didn’t.
As a result of Outliers: The Story of Success, I worked really hard during college; I made up for my slacking in high school. This a perfect analogy for the fixed versus growth mindset that Carol Dweck talks about in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
I graduated with a degree in Math and minors in Economics and Philosophy. Some of the upper division and graduate level Math classes were obscenely hard for me, but I would study twice as long as the other students in my class. Consequently, I graduated near the top of my class and was admitted to my dream graduate program (although I ended up dropping out, but more on that later).
Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman (Age 19)
When I started learning about Economics as a freshman in college, I began to shift my political thinking.
Along with binge-watching Ron Paul and Peter Schiff videos and reading Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, made me grow sympathetic towards libertarianism. Something about the way Friedman argued that liberty should be the primary value and that government’s role is to support that resonated with me.
Friedman makes strong, logical arguments for the free market and its effectiveness in solving social and economic issues.
Although I had voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 election when I was 18, my perspective shifted by the time I was 20.
A lot of people think that libertarians and fiscal conservatives in general are cold-hearted individuals. However, when it comes to their economic outlook on policy, it’s not necessarily that they don’t want the most impoverished people to succeed; instead, public welfare programs are inefficient and are not the way for these people to succeed.
There are certain people in society in the lowest economic tier who are persistently self-victimizing. The way to help them isn’t by just giving them enough welfare to live, but, rather, to inculcate a different mindset and emotional disposition that they have towards their situation.
Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (Age 20)
This book by Thaler and Sunstein revolutionized my thinking about the way we make decisions.
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness highlights how by making simple changes in the way choices are presented to us (like having chips and candy at the cashier, or having a default subscription option chosen), we can create vast social change without coercing anyone to make that decision.
For example, what if we put fruits and vegetables at the front of school cafeterias (like the candy and chips at the cash registers)? Would this increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables for our children? This was the topic that I helped my professor research while I was an undergraduate.
Now the way that I design my checkout forms for my website directly applies these concepts to my business.
Basic Writings by Martin Heidegger (Age 21)
In college, I was primarily concerned with finding the ultimate truth. I wanted to know what we can know. How do we know that this life isn’t all just a dream? What is this life ultimately?
Basic Writings was the answer to all of my questions but not in the way I was expecting.
It’s a collection of essays that Heidegger wrote about metaphysics and epistemology; basically, it’s his take on the nature of reality and what is knowable.
Heidegger’s perspective is so unique that it took me a full year of studying his work until I was able to comprehend the basics of his philosophy.
For me, this is the most important book that I’ve read. It shifted my perspective from thinking that there is a singular, ubiquitous objective truth to seeing that nothing is deductively provable, but we can still talk about truth from a higher perspective.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki (Age 25)
I went to grad school two years after graduating from BYU. My undergraduate degree was in math, and I ended up studying at the London School of Economics for a Masters in Philosophy of the Social Sciences.
This was my dream program. Throughout my undergraduate career, I sacrificed a social life for time spent in the Econ and Math labs studying and researching. I wanted to be a professor. Then I gained admission to LSE, which has the best Philosophy of the Social Sciences department in the world.
When I first got to LSE, I loved it. I loved my classes, my colleagues, and the faculty. Everyone was so intelligent and witty and I felt like I fit right in.
But then during class discussions, I started realizing that although my colleagues were eloquent, a lot of them did not have enough life experience to substantiate their claims. I became frustrated by the confines of academic thinking and the stifling of real creative and original thinking.
Gradually, I began to lose interest in the program and was thinking about going back to Vegas. I started going to the gym and exploring the city of London instead of going to class.
During Christmas break, I stayed at a friend’s flat. He’s a finance professor, and on his bookshelf, he had Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!. I had heard a lot of good things about the book, so I started reading it.
When I read it, I realized that I could have a better life than just being a professor. I could create streams of passive income and have the freedom to choose the impact that I make on the world.
The way I would create passive income would be through websites and online assets.
After reading the book, I dropped out of grad school the next day.
Reality Transurfing by Vadim Zeland (Age 26)
I heard a lot of interesting things about Reality Transurfing before picking it up. I heard that people who read it would, on average, double their income the following year. That sounded pretty good to me, so I dove into it.
This book is long and becomes somewhat repetitive, but for a good reason. By the time you finish the book, the concepts and new paradigm is so ingrained in your head that you immediately start living it.
I read this book at an interesting time in my life. I had been promoting for 10 months in Las Vegas. During that time, I was living the quintessential hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs, and partying.
Once my time in Vegas came to an end, I knew that I wanted to reset my life. I did a week-long silent meditation retreat in Thailand. After the retreat, I stayed in Thailand and southeast Asia for another three months.
The first book I read after leaving the retreat was Reality Transurfing. It made me rethink the way the world works. I started to see the power of the soul versus the mind, and how each affects our reality.
Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T Harv Eker (Age 26)
This was another book that I read in Thailand, and it was surprisingly influential in my life. I thought it was going to be gimmicky, but it actually changed the way I looked at wealth and one’s relationship to money.
In Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth Eker asserts that the amount of wealth one has is directly related to his or her emotional relationship with money.
This was a revolutionary idea for me. I thought that if you have the technical pieces in place and willpower, then that is enough to generate wealth.
But Eker shows that there’s something more important than that–keeping the wealth.
You can use methods to become rich, but it will be ephemeral if you don’t change our emotional financial blueprint. You’ll simply deviate back to your initial setpoint.
This is why you often see athletes going broke once they retire.
The One Thing by Gary Keller (Age 26)
I read this book after Secrets of the Millionaire Mind also when I was in Thailand.
The main premise of the book is to ask yourself, “what is the one thing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?” Basically, your defining your keystone task for the day. Once that domino is knocked over, all the others will fall. Everything will fall into place.
But taking action on this is harder than you’d think.
Throughout my life, I’ve been a people pleaser who has always been willing to help people out. I enjoy the feeling of altruism. I rarely said “no” to requests.
However, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results made me realize that I need to set some boundaries if I ever wanted to be successful. I’d have to say “no” sometimes (actually, a majority of the time) so that I could get what I needed to get done first.
It was harder than I thought to practice. Saying “no” and disappointing friends feels bad, but once you do it, your friends will respect you more for it.
It’s hard to do at first, but, eventually, you’ll have your values, priorities, and actions aligned. As a result, you’ll take a more direct route to success.