#1 Most Influential Book in My Life

The #1 Book

Big dreams. Goals. Resolutions. Even the most cynical amongst us sets one or two in the back of our mind at this time of year. I don’t blame you. Each year I would sit down and create a laundry list of goals and milestones that I wanted to achieve in the upcoming fresh calendar year. I still do, although I narrow my goal setting down to just 4 big goals, one in each of Mark Ford’s top categories: Health, Wealth, Social Self, and Personal Enrichment.

There are many books that can help you with goal setting. I’ve written one myself that is available on Kindle for less than a dollar. There are countless books promising great inspiration and motivation to keep you going through the year. And some help. For business goals, I can’t recommend The Secrets of the Rockefeller Habits enough. If you’re serious about building a 7-figure business and a cohesive team, you need to read it. But there’s one book that has nothing to do with business or goal setting or motivation that you need to read. It is the foundation of my success because it reminds me, at all times, in every circumstance, that what I’m going through is easy and that what this man accomplished, and the way he did it, shows me that I can get through every struggle.

There are two ways to interpret this book…

The first is that, physically, we can all handle a lot more than we think. The second is that, mentally, your attitude determines not only your success, but also your well-being. You will find this a surprise book recommendation for motivation, but it inspires me everyday, whether I have to go walk the dog in the rain or whether I have to glue my butt to a chair and write three one-thousand word articles over the next two hours to meet publishing deadlines.

These are all easy tasks. I can do them. Because I have an easy life, and no real fears or threats, not like what the people in this book went through. This book helped me develop a few rules for my life, including #7 that states:

I am guided by these two phrases:

a) “Nothing matters.” – I can only work towards the major, massive goals and my vision of helping others, while the opinions of others do not matter to my goals.
b) “It will all be over soon.”

What does this mean, particularly part b?

It means that even the toughest times, the darkest days, the greatest physical struggles, they will all end. The divorced spouse’s heart will mend, new relationships will spread sunlight in your life again. It might take time, but all the drama and hurt will be over one day. For the indebted, it means that if you keep taking action, you will get back on your feet again. And one day, no matter how bad things are going now, you’ll be able to look back on these times and realize how strong you have grown.

Likewise, it means that the good times we are enjoying will also end soon, and that we must savor them, be present (truly present!) for them, and that we must make memories in these opportunities. Take photos. Express your love. Capture these times in your mind.

This powerful book helped me see this lesson. And this lesson is far more important than any specific resolution we could create, such as earning a million dollars or losing weight. This book helps you forge the foundation of determination and tenacity that you’ll need to achieve any goal. It’s only with this foundation that any specific success stories will be possible in your life.

This is not a business book, but instead a book about the human spirit and what people can overcome. Let me tell you about it so that you can order it today, or hopefully pull it from your shelf for a re-reading. It’s not long, but it is life altering and powerful.

The book is called Man’s Search for Meaning. It is Viktor Frankl’s chronicles of the horrors of World War II as seen through the eyes of a concentration camp survivor, and should be mandatory reading for every high school student (and adult) in the world, in my opinion. After you’ve read this book, you’ll never have a “woe is me” attitude towards life or business again. Or at least you won’t let things get you down for long.

Everyday I hear someone say,“Oh, I could never do that,” but the truth is, if they stopped complaining and tried, they’d learn pretty quickly they could do a lot more than they think. Despite the depressing circumstances of the book, there is still a positive lesson to take away from Man’s Search for Meaning. We need to understand we are capable of much, much more than we might initially believe. Never, ever, EVER give up.

“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.” – Viktor Frankl

I always recognized this book as special. It’s estimated that 12 million copies of this book have been sold, and if I had it my way, every high school student in the world would be given a copy and required to read it. But there’s even more to the story than I knew. Not only did Frankl survive years in a concentration camp, but he practically chose to be there. Here’s the incredible backstory that I recently discovered in The Atlantic:

In 1941 Viktor Frankl had a decision to make, a decision that would change his life. With his career on the rise and the threat of the Nazis looming over him, Frankl had applied for a visa to America, which he was granted in 1941. By then, the Nazis had already started rounding up the Jews and taking them away to concentration camps, focusing on the elderly first.

“Frankl knew that it would only be time before the Nazis came to take his parents away. He also knew that once they did, he had a responsibility to be there with his parents to help them through the trauma of adjusting to camp life. On the other hand, as a newly married man with his visa in hand, he was tempted to leave for America and flee to safety, where he could distinguish himself even further in his field.

“As Anna S. Redsand recounts in her biography of Frankl, he was at a loss for what to do, so he set out for St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna to clear his head. Listening to the organ music, he repeatedly asked himself, “Should I leave my parents behind?… Should I say goodbye and leave them to their fate?” Where did his responsibility lie? He was looking for a “hint from heaven.”

“When he returned home, he found it. A piece of marble was lying on the table. His father explained that it was from the rubble of one of the nearby synagogues that the Nazis had destroyed. The marble contained the fragment of one of the Ten Commandments — the one about honoring your father and your mother. With that, Frankl decided to stay in Vienna and forgo whatever opportunities for safety and career advancement awaited him in the United States. He decided to put aside his individual pursuits to serve his family and, later, other inmates in the camps.”

You want to talk about integrity, commitment, and being a man? Can anything trump that story?

I’ve read Frankl’s book twice, and I think it’s time to read it again. It will remind me of the strength of the human spirit and what people can overcome. It is the most influential book of my life, and at this time of annual reflection, one that should be on your list to read as you prepare for an incredible year ahead and to live a happier life. Fittingly, in describing the power of the human spirit, Frankl shows us the true path to happiness:

“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. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.” – Viktor Frankl

I hope you enjoy this book. And I’d love to hear what has been the most influential book in your life? Leave a comment below!

[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise (Join him on Facebook here) and the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with a web-based business that you can operate from anywhere in the world – including a coffee shop, your kitchen table, or anywhere around the world where there is Internet access. Discover how you can achieve the American Dream and your financial independence here. You’ve never seen anything like this before.]
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  • Alan

    Great article. Didn’t know that Viktor Frankl was a Buddhist! … only joking, but the idea that not clinging to “success” may actually help bring it to you seems to fit with Buddhist (as well as other spiritual) views on non-attachment.

  • valentine

    Evil should never be glorified as wise teacher or role model. There are too many benevolent souls to lift up. Eugenicists who lead oppression and tyranny are not heroes. Let’s properly reflect history. God bless your good work.

  • marie grabo

    “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”.

    I’m confused by this. Everything I read says to aim for success. Set clear goals…perhaps he was talking about survival and not success in business?

  • Luciano Del Monte

    Craig, loved the way you use Frankl’s book as foundational to all your areas of a well lived life.

    Below is a book I found useful in unpacking Frankl’s book in small bite sized portions.

    Prisoners Of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work

  • scotirish

    I read this book by Victor Frankly while I was in solitary confinement in prison. It is awesome. I still go to the Bible as no. 1 but this follows close behind.

    • Thank you, appreciate the feedback.

  • Molly

    Awesome article! I was just looking for a meaningful book to read

  • I was feeling a little down, and chanced upon this post. It made my day (: Am going to order this to read. Thanks Craig!