Inspirational Books to Read

Inspirational books to read when you’re thinking about starting over

12 min read
Ashley Grant

What is it about fairy tales that makes them so popular, to the point that they are redone over and over and over again in Hollywood? I like to think it’s the fact that everyone loves a feel-good story where the star of the show overcomes astronomical odds to have a happy ending. Perhaps that is why inspirational books are so popular, too.

People love an underdog who faces some struggles, and then comes out on top.

With that in mind, I went in search of the best inspirational books to read, and for advice from the experts about starting over.

8 of the best inspirational books to read when starting over

  1. Choose Yourself, by James Altucher.

  2. The Year Of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes.

  3. The School of Greatness, by Lewis Howes.

  4. The 5 Second Rule, by Mel Robbins.

  5. The Last Lecture, by Randy Paush.

  6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson.

  7. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

  8. Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.

Let’s look at each of these books in more detail …

1. Choose Yourself, by James Altucher

Inspirational Books Choose Yourself

This book is first on my list of inspirational books to read for several reasons — but primarily because it taught me to choose myself. James Altucher has started over many times, and in his book Choose Yourself he explores the realities of failure, and how choosing himself is what turned it all around for him.

He opens the book by sharing how he could kill himself to give his kids a good life. He had a $4 million dollar life insurance policy after all, and that would take care of them for a while. This is a man who has started over not once, but many times after one failed business after another. What has saved his life and his sanity every time? Choosing himself, and deciding that he will succeed on his own terms. He writes:

“We can no longer afford to rely on others and repeat the same mistakes from our pasts. … The middle class has caved in, jobs are disappearing and every industry is in the process of transformation. In order to keep up, individuals have to transform also. That means every second, you have to choose yourself to succeed.”

For James, choosing yourself means creating new ideas, and then acting on them. He discusses how you need to decide what your version of the American dream is, and live life by your own terms to achieve what that American dream looks like to you. His belief is that if you’re working for someone else, you’re working for their dreams and not choosing yourself.

How can this book help you?

Even if you have no desire to become an entrepreneur, this book can help you transform your mindset from idle employee to one who is going to work every day for their own desires. Learn how to become an idea machine, exercising your creativity like a muscle to build it up.

James suggests writing down 10 ideas every single day: “About anything. It doesn’t matter if they are business ideas, book ideas … the key is that is has to be ten or more.” They should all be related to one subject, though, and cause “your brain to sweat.” Over time you will find that it’s easier to come up with ideas, and this can transform your life overall because you’ll have new and inventive ways of thinking about any struggle you might face.

Top takeaway about starting over

“STOPPING IMPROVEMENT is death. There is no goal. There is no final destination. There is only direction. Live life by themes and a set of values. A code ... And then all life is a side effect of that. A code to live by, values to stand by, creativity to fuel my heart’s desires … this is what goes into a good life.”

2. The Year Of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes

Inspirational Books Year Of Yes

You know Shonda Rhimes as the creator of hit television shows like “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Scandal.” But, did you know that for a period of her life she was intensely unhappy? During a stressful Thanksgiving dinner preparation, her sister said, “You never say yes to anything,” and this statement brought to light how miserable Shonda truly was.

In that moment Shonda realized that though she was successful and had all the makings of a charmed life, she never took the time to enjoy herself or her success. She decides to make the next year her year of yes, and you guessed it, this means she will have to say yes to opportunities that come her way instead of backing out.

How can this book help you?

The main theme — and a reason this should be on your list of inspirational books to read — is about stepping out of your comfort zone and into the greatness of your life’s potential. Are there things you want to try in your life that are scaring you into inaction? Perhaps it’s time to just go for the discomfort to get to the good stuff. Sure, stay afraid, but do the action making you uncomfortable anyway!

Top takeaway about starting over

My favorite bit of advice came from her Dartmouth Commencement speech, when she said:

“You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don't have a job? Get one. Any job. Don't sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.”

Though the speech is a few years old now, it still speaks to the heart of the lessons in her book, and what I truly feel is her philosophy on life — if you want something, just do it.

3. The School of Greatness, by Lewis Howes

Inspirational Books School Of Greatness

Lewis Howes dreamed of greatness. Through high school he dreamed of becoming an All-American athlete, and that dream became a reality playing football. Then, suddenly after accomplishing several of his goals, all those dreams began to lose their luster and he couldn't quite explain why.

He realized it was because his dreams had shifted to bigger and better things — going pro. Fast forward a little, and he was picked up by a professional Arena Football League team, but his career was cut short in his first year “due to a series of frustrating injuries and recovery setbacks.”

Sports and being an athlete was all he'd ever known. How was Lewis going to start over now? How did he go from 24 and broke, sleeping on his sister's couch, to the powerhouse behind The School of Greatness, author of several books, amazing salesman in lucrative online webinars, and more?

He found a purpose greater than being a pro athlete. He found a purpose bigger than himself.

He began interviewing people for his podcast, The School of Greatness, and it lead to all that he has and does today.

How can this book help you?

Each lesson in The School of Greatness is formed from interviews and lecture notes Lewis has acquired of some of the greatest minds and teachers he could find. It’s the lessons he wishes he had had access to when he was dealing with his injuries, and trying to make sense of his next steps after his sports aspirations had came to a grinding halt. The ideas in this book are geared toward helping you to be great, regardless of the path you want to take.

Top takeaway about starting over

Lewis has a plethora of golden nuggets on starting over, and here are some of my favorites:

  • "Like my friend Sean Stephenson says, 'If you have a heartbeat, there’s still time for your dreams.'"
  • "Start with where you are right now."
  • "Aim high and set your sights on your dreams. You owe it to yourself and to the world."
  • "After all is said and done, though, and no matter where you are in your life right now or who you have or don’t have with you — Begin within. What exactly does that mean? It means connect to YOU. However you can, connect with your deepest self, your highest self."
  • "Be sure you are living the life you want to live. Not the life your parents told you to lead, not the life the media feeds you or the life you were told you were limited to. This is your life … Begin again."
  • "Get up to the mirror, look yourself in the eyes and say, 'Enough is enough ... I’m going to make something of myself, and I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.' Write down in a journal who you are and what you stand for and why it’s important for you to get off the couch."

Great advice, right?!

4. The 5 Second Rule, by Mel Robbins

Inspirational Books 5 Second Rule

Mel Robbins and her husband were headed for divorce and bankruptcy, their professional lives were in turmoil, and she knew she needed a change. While up too late one night, she saw a commercial for a rocket ship launching, and was inspired to do a five-second countdown to force herself to do anything she didn’t necessarily want to do.

Mel believes that the real underlying cause for inaction is that we are all waiting around to “feel like it.”

But, because nothing we do will ever make us feel like doing anything, we sit in stuck mode wondering why we can’t change our lives for the better.

How can this book help you?

This is a top inspirational book to read if there is any action you have ever wanted to take to propel your life into a new path. The 5 Second Rule could be that launch method you’ve been looking for.

It’s so simple that even Mel calls it silly, but the book explores the science behind why giving yourself a countdown can actually disrupt your patterns and change your behavior, inspiring you to make real change. She says that whether it’s losing weight, getting a new job, or wanting to makeover your entire life from the ground up, this simple five-second technique can transform everything one action at a time.

Top takeaway about starting over

Mel recommends focusing on one area at a time. She writes:

“I’ve learned that the best way to make change is to focus on one thing at a time. You see, according to psychologist Richard Wiseman, who works at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, your chances of success are much greater when you channel all of your energy into one thing. By focusing one just one area at a time, you can invest more of your time and energy into that area. So instead of trying to eat healthier, start making more money, and improving your relationships all at the same time, start with just one area.”

I highly recommend you check out Mel’s Ted Talk, too.

More inspirational books to read

While those four books top my picks for inspirational reads when you’re thinking about starting over, I couldn’t resist adding a few more that might give you the push you need to make your dreams come true.

5. The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

This amazing book was written by a man who learned he had terminal cancer. He famously gave a lecture at Carnegie Mellon University that later went viral as The Last Lecture, and eventually turned into this book.

It stresses the importance of going after your deepest desires, because life's too short to wait for the tomorrow that might never come.

Get the tissues before you read it, trust me. Although this book is a little older (2007), I find myself thinking of it many times when I am feeling lost in my aspirations. It’s certainly worth reading if you are considering a big change in your professional or personal life.

6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson

The idea of this book is that caring about everything is more dangerous than caring about nothing. The trouble with most self-help books, according to the author, is they focus too much on the things you don’t have as the basis for goal setting. What should really matter is your core values, and achieving the things that actually mean something to you — not focusing on society’s ideas of what wealth, success and happiness look like.

7. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Come on now, I’m a creative. You had to kind of know this book would get a mention. Its main focus is that to live a truly creative life, you have to give up things like perfectionism, self-restraint, and fear.

I particularly liked the author’s discussion of the “shit sandwich,” because it speaks to the fact that regardless of your path, at some point it’s going to suck: “What is your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?” that you will still be willing to eat when times get tough?

8. Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

There are few things as hard to overcome that will force you into starting over as losing your spouse. However, the unfortunate truth is death is one thing that is certain in life, and picking up the pieces after a death is a requirement so that those left behind can survive. You can’t change the cards you're dealt, but you can change how you play the hand.

Ready, set, restart!

Whether you’re looking to start over on your own career path or just hoping for a renewed sense of passion for where you are right now, I hope the books mentioned here motivate and encourage you to give your life a firm kick in the pants so you, too, can come out on top!