10 books that influenced my life

If you are on Facebook, you might have seen people posting about the 10 books that influenced their lives. I was tagged by a friend of mine to do mine. I thought it might be interesting to post the list here with some brief explanations to inspire you to read more. An article in the Wall Street Journal this week discussed the positive effects that reading can have on your stress levels. Reading for just 30 minutes a day can really help to improve your well being. I hope some of these books encourage you to read more.

Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters

This book is probably one of the two most influential books I have ever read. I have attempted to read a lot of motivational books. Attempted is the appropriate term because a lot of them I never finish. Jon’s book  hooked me in right away. His writing style is witty and fun, while making you really think about what you want to accomplish in life. Start was the inspiration for my other website, Accounting In Focus, which I launched a few months ago (I’ve been working on it since January). It also inspired me to start writing here again on a regular basis. I love the progress I’ve made and I don’t think I would be here if it weren’t for Jon’s inspiration. The book is full of practical steps to get yourself started on the path to awesome.  He has another book coming out next year called Do Over and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The Total Money Makeover

This is the other book that I would consider most influential. Back in 2008 after cancer and lots of debt, Jeff and I knew we needed a plan to get back on track. We were both scared and thought we were doomed. Dave Ramsey helped set us on a path to get our financial house in order. We started using Dave’s baby steps and a budget. While we haven’t been perfect over the years, we’ve paid off over $120,000 in debt so far and are still budgeting each month. I’m not sure where we would be if it weren’t for this book. It really did change our lives.


After two nonfiction books, we need to add a bit of fiction into the mix. I read this book my freshman year in college. At first, I didn’t want to read it because mythology was not really my thing. It was because of this book that I came to love mythology and become interested in ancient history. The story was fascinating, yet not overbearing like the Odyssey. A few months after reading this book, I met my future husband who would have not been nearly as interesting had I not read this book. I honestly believe that this book helped to open the door to my relationship with my husband. It gave us something in common early in our relationship upon which a 13 year marriage has blossomed.

Charlotte’s Web

This is one of my favorite children’s books. It also has an excellent message: you don’t need to be big or important to change someone’s world. This message still resonates with me today. Even little things like holding the door open for someone or smiling when you pass her on the street can make a difference in someone’s life. I think it’s part of the reason I try to be nice to people. You never know when you might be able to brighten someone’s day with a little kindness. It’s a simple message but an important one.

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No

This is the book that taught me how to say no. Before reading this book, I was stretched too thin. I just had too many commitments. If I didn’t have a lot of commitments, I thought there was something wrong with me. After reading this book, I started to make priorities. I was able to set boundaries with other people for the first time in my life. I just wish I had found this book earlier. NOTE: There are a lot of biblical references in the book but the message was still excellent. I am not a religious person but I still got a lot out of it.

The Millionaire Next Door

I actually read this book before I read The Total Money Makeover. This book put me in the proper mindset to accept the direction in The Total Money Makeover. The Millionaire Next Door discusses the money habits of the average American with a new worth of $1 million or more. The average millionaire does not drive a new car or wear fancy clothes. A lot of the folks that do that are not actually wealthy at all because they are spending all their money to look wealthy! It made me realize that if we wanted to accumulate wealth, we couldn’t do it if we spent all of our money on stuff.

Pride and Prejudice

I love this book. I have actually read it four or five times in the last few years and I own the BBC version on DVD which I watch at least four times a year. It is a story that endures the test of time: family strife, embarrassing family members, trying to find your place in the world and misjudging others. It is a story to which most people can still relate.

Julius Caesar

This was the first Shakespeare work that I really enjoyed and the one that gave me an appreciation for his work. Although I had difficulty with the language at first, I didn’t give up when we were assigned this play in my sophomore English class. One of our assignments was to pick a speech from one of the many Shakespeare works we had read and deliver it in front of class. I picked Mark Anthony’s address to the country after the death of Caesar. It begins “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. I was a bit nervous as this one of the first speaking assignments I had ever done. I decided that if I was going to go, I would go big. I wore my leather sandals that day, which my friends and I called my “Jesus sandals.” When it was my turn, I jumped on a chair and then on a desk and delivered the speech. It was the first time I punched fear in the face and that experience broke down the door for future leadership and speaking opportunities. To this day, I channel my inner performer each time I teach a class.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I know this one is going to sound a bit cliche as I have seen this on a lot of lists, but this book reminded me that literature can be a wonderful escape. I remember reading the first book and couldn’t wait to get the second. I started reading them right before the last book was published so I was able to read them all in a very short amount of time. It rekindled my love of reading after finishing college, which was filled with years of reading books because I had to not because I wanted to. Harry Potter reminded me to read because I wanted to.

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

Just as Harry Potter brought me back to reading after college, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey brought me back to fiction after a long dry spell. My husband saw this book when he was purchasing Christmas gifts for me last year. He knew I was a huge fan of Downton Abbey and picked it up for me. At first, I was not that excited about it, but once I started to read, I instantly fell in love with this book. The story revolves around a group of people living in an apartment building who come together watching the show. While many of them have insane lives, they find common ground once a week. It’s one of those books that you are sad to come to the end of because you want to keep enjoying the characters. It is an entertaining novel and spurred me to read other books by Wendy Wax and explore other authors. It got me reading fiction again.

What books have made an impact on your life? What should I read next? 

In the land of learning

Last night, I finished reading Start by Jon Acuff. Mentally, I’m working through all that I have read but I had an “ah ha” moment.

For the past few years, I’ve been working to get into a PhD program. Last year, I finally built up the courage to apply to three programs and was rejected from all of them. This was a huge blow. I started to doubt if I could do the work required for a PhD program because of these rejections. Many of my colleagues told me to keep at it and try again. I contacted one of the schools regarding my application. The head of the program recommended two things: to get my GMAT score up and take Calculus.

Being me, I jumped in with two feet and started to go. I took Calculus I over the summer and did well. I enrolled in Calculus II and purchased an online course for the GMAT. This is where I got stuck. Calculus II is HARD. It is without a doubt the hardest class I have ever taken. I skated through my undergraduate and master’s degrees with very good GPA’s. I’ve never had to study the way I have to in Calculus II. The little voices in my head started to pipe in. Clearly, I cannot do Calculus II, they would say. Clearly, my dream is dead.

But the dream is not dead. I need to learn Calculus. It is not going to come easy. I need to put in the time to learn it. Facing my fears when it comes to trying to do something that doesn’t come easy and punching them in the face (as Jon would say), has helped to reinvigorate my efforts.

Last night, after I came to this realization, I heard myself give advise to one of my students. It’s actually from a conversation we had on Friday. My student was struggling with some of the material we were working on. When I asked her questions it was clear she was struggling with an aspect of chapter 1, but she was trying to do work from chapter 3. I told her she needed to go back to the beginning and solidify her knowledge of chapter 1, then chapters 2 and 3 would come easier. Today, I am going to apply that same advise to my own situation. Today, I’m going to go back to the basics and solidify those concepts before trying to move on.

As for the GMAT studying, I have got to set priorities. Because the Calculus studying is taking up more time than I thought it would, I need to find time elsewhere for GMAT preparation. One way I can do that is to cut out some other things. I’ve really cut back my social media and relaxation time. I’m going to use the blog as a journal on my journey. Some of the activities I participate in are going to be paired back.

At one point in the book, Jon asks the reader to answer a simple question, “If you died tomorrow, what would you regret not being able to do?” One of my items was not getting my PhD. He later asks us to look at what we are currently doing to see if it lines up with that goal. We are all pulling ourselves in 90 different directions but are all of those activities actually getting us to the important items in our lives?

Today, I start to prioritize. Today, I start doing those items that are most important to get me to my goal. What will you start today?

Starting today

I recently purchased a copy of Jon Acuff’s Start. I heard him a few times on Dave Ramsey’s radio show and thought he was a pretty amusing guy. I was reluctant to get the book because the last thing I needed to do was start something else. I am currently teaching full-time at one university, taking calculus at another, running my accounting firm and studying for the GMAT. On top of all that, we are working on home improvements, have a full house of people and I’m serving on the Board of Education in town. What the hell else was I going to start?