Self-improvement: Uniquely Human

There are many things that separate humans from other animals. One of those things is our interest in improving ourselves. Many of us are motivated, especially this time of year, to learn languages, better our health, develop leadership qualities, or increase wealth. There is an entire genre of literature dedicated to self-improvement, also known as self-help, that gives advice from dieting to time management. Each book promises that, if you follow what the author prescribes, your life will change for the better.

Self-improvement books are not a new phenomenon. Some of the most ancient are the texts of the world’s major religions. Other early works gave advice about manners and how to behave in royal courts. The 18th century autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is still held in high-regard and is one of the most read self-improvement books of all time.

Before the growth of these books over the past two decades, there were a few modern books that have stood the test of time. My favourite is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill published in 1937. The title is a bit misleading. Just thinking about something will not help you attain your goals, but a thought, or idea, is the first step. Twenty-five years ago, I decided to make a big career change. This book taught me to desire this change enough to let nothing stop me, and it worked.

Another book that remains popular is The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen R. Covey written in 1989. I read this book right after I became a database administrator. What I remember most from the book is the first habit, to “be proactive”. What great advice for a DBA or anyone in technology! Looking back at the list of habits today, I see that I have followed most of Covey’s recommendations including the 8th habit, to “find your voice and inspire others to find theirs” from his follow up book.

While those two books made a big difference in my career, I still enjoy reading the latest self-help books. I often recommend two books to other women working in technology. The first is The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. This book has great advice for anyone who struggles with confidence. The second is Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes. This book is a modern take on Think and Grow Rich, advising readers to stop dreaming and start doing.

Modern technology has also influenced this genre of books. Steve Kamb who wrote Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story treats his life like a video game with achievements to unlock and levels to attain. I must admit that Kamb’s writing has inspired me to travel for fun more often without worrying so much about expense and time. Another popular author in this category is Tim Ferriss who wrote The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body. These books are full of ‘hacks’ to improve one’s life and work.

Many of the books in this genre give great advice, but you must follow the advice to see results. Has a book made a difference in your life or career? Tell us about it in the comments.

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