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A challenge is a good thing. It pushes you to grow, to see the world from a different perspective, to improve yourself.

While we weren’t looking for a challenge when we picked these books up, we certainly got one.

Here are 15 books that pushed us in ways we didn’t see coming. What book challenged you in a way you never expected?


Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Contributed by Jessica Litras

I read this book a few months back and it completely changed my expectations for working for a company. Here, the CEO of Zappos shares his story of how Zappos came to be and how he was able to create a company culture like no other.

I was so inspired by his dedication to not only promoting the best customer service, but treating his employees incredibly well.

I now think of this book when I am at work and compare it to so many situations that could be handled better if we did them the way the book portrayed. There’s laughter, hardship, compassion and up-lifting material that has inspired me to be a better employee. It’s a must-read!

7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders by Stephen R. Covey

Contributed by Rachel Vick

This book totally flipped my idea of how I should be organizing my life. The author explains a lot about how to live a principle-centered life and addressing many topics I don’t usually think about. F

or example, he makes you really think about your listening skills. I always thought listening was just listening–who knew it took practice and hard work?

What I really found helpful is how he suggested ways to get shit done. An entire chapter is dedicated to living your life centered around priorities, which helped me a TON when I started my first real job and couldn’t figure out how to get everything done.

Each chapter is centered around a different habit that really gets you thinking and hustling.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Contributed by Allison Jensen

I read this book a few years ago and it completely changed the way I approach happiness. I learned how to take time for myself to do the things that I love, and how it’s okay to let go of certain things.

It also taught me the importance of setting reasonable monthly goals for myself — something that I’ve found myself doing on a consistent basis this year. It’s a great read and I’m starting the sequel soon!

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult

Contributed by Lindsey Zawila

This follows a school shooting, from the aftermath and the events leading up to it. But Piccoult amazingly humanizes the shooter, a bullied kid whose parents favored his brother. Nothing justifies shooting up a school, but it’s difficult to place all the blame on the shooter.

Piccoult is an amazing author and I love her books. This one was incredibly powerful in the way that I as the reader felt myself feeling sorry for the shooter. It lends the idea that while shootings are terrible, maybe there’s a lot of other injustices that we need to address to prevent things from escalating to the mass shooting level.

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora Purmort

Contributed by Rachel Vick

This book challenged me to do exactly what the title suggests. Life gets hard, and sometimes looking at it from a different perspective is healing (whether that perspective makes you laugh or cry). Really, whatever you do is fine.

Because adulthood is hard, life is hard, jobs are hard, having kids is hard, dealing with death is hard… it’s all hard. And sweating the small stuff isn’t worth it, and worrying about if you’re doing it all right isn’t either.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Contributed by Alisa Tanaka

I used to think that if I didn’t get my desired outcome out of anything I set out to do, that it was a waste of time, until I read Randy Pausch’s book.

A single quote (among many) stood out to me that said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.” As hard as it is to get behind this in times of rejection and pain, I find myself going back to this quote (and other bits of wisdom in his book) time and time again.

15 Books That Challenge You To Think Differently

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Contributed by Mae L’Heureux

Quite simply, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a book that changed my life. It was the first book I was required to read my freshman year of college in a class that was designed to help me think about what I wanted out of life and how to obtain it.

In the book, a shepherd boy named Santiago travels through the desert in search for a treasure that he saw in a dream. As he journeys, Santiago faces many challenges and is forced to make difficult decisions.

When I look back on my time in college, Santiago’s story closely resembles mine: struggle, pain, hard choices. However, Santiago’s determination to never give up, his quest to find himself, and ability to persevere through the pain also resonates deeply with me.

We can’t choose what kind of pain enters our life, but we can decide how we are going to deal with it. By reading The Alchemist, I have learned that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters most as it is in the pain that we come to know joy.

The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

Contributed by Nicole Booz

The tagline of this book is “Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life.” In it, the author discusses the importance of doing something, anything, about what calls to you.

The journey, the act of pursuing what matters to you, no matter what it is, is the most important journey you’ll take in your life. There are interviews with people from all walks of life who do things like seek out exotic birds across or walk across the United States simply because they feel pulled to do so.

This book reminds me of The Alchemist in many ways and is one I keep returning to. The idea of pursing something that calls to you just for the sake of doing it is enchanting and rare.

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

Contributed by Jessica Sharp

This book changed how I thought about leadership. John Maxwell does a great job of explaining what makes some leaders great (and some less than great).

One of the things I love most about this book is how he infuses stories about leaders we all know with tips on how to be a better leader. I frequently reference this book when talking to others about leadership and what makes some of us better than others.

If you lead others, this is a must-read book.

Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Contributed by Jessica Sharp

I read recently Year of Yes  by Shonda Rhimes (who I am obsessed with), and it changed the way I really thought about life.

For Shonda, she needed to say yes more often; I frequently need to say no. But reading her book reminded me that I am empowered to make choices that will make me a better person, as opposed to always doing what other people want me to do.

(And she frequently references her shows and main characters so if you are a fan of #TGIT, you will appreciate all of those references).

The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay

Contributed by Jessica Sharp

This book changed the way I thought about my twenties. It made me realize how crucial these ten years are in all aspects of life, but particularly career and relationships (she also has a really great section about the brain that I loved).

I really believe everyone in their twenties should read this book. It is incredibly empowering and will teach you how to kill it in your twenties.

Honorable Mentions:

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