Last week I was enjoying a late summer dinner with my daughter. We ended up discussing the books that I thought she should read ? books that I think are interesting and have helped me the most in my life. She's a sophomore in college and really wasn't interested in how-to books or other additional educational stuff. Since we are at the end of the summer season and many of us are about to send our kids back to school again, here is a short list of books that will help any person become a better decision maker.
"Animal Farm" and/or "1984" by George Orwell: They might be very different books, but they both speak to the danger of being swept up with the crowd and losing your ability to think for yourself. While "Animal Farm," with its lowly creatures taking over the farm, might have been intended as a commentary on communism, I have always thought of it more as a lesson in the slowly creeping impact of a loss of integrity and the danger of losing your humility. Power and success can make you feel and act superior and lead you to forget where you came from. I was always struck by the hypocrisy of the pigs, and the total lack of integrity in their own behavior. In "1984," Big Brother oversees a collectively sheepish mankind. The core message of thinking for yourself and not taking things at face value are great lessons for anyone when it comes to making financial choices.
"The Picture of Dorian Grey" by Oscar Wilde: This book is more relevant today than it has ever been. The rise of social media, and in particular Instagram and Facebook, has led many to be so concerned with appearances that they lose sight of substance. Dorian is obsessed with his looks and appearance, however his character is lacking and all of his flaws are being captured in a hidden portrait that's slowly decaying in reflection of his actions. Dorian might be living a fanciful life that everyone admires, but there's no hiding from his character. I think of this book as a wonderful allegory of a financial life, too. It's no good looking like you are living the high life if your finances are slowly getting uglier in the shadows.
"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho: It's a fable about the importance of seeing the world through a lens of abundance and potential. It tells the story of the struggles a young shepherd boy as he goes through his quest to become an alchemist who can turn lead into gold. More importantly, it shares, in an entertaining way, the truth about financial success: It takes persistence and the ability to adapt. Most significantly, it illustrates the importance of sacrifice and having the courage to follow the path to your destiny wherever it might lead.
"The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow: In a memorable lecture given at Carnegie Mellon, Randy Pausch, a computer science professor diagnosed with terminal cancer, gave life advice to the audience. With a blend of humility, humor and hope, he shares his thoughts on what it takes to achieve your childhood dreams. If nothing else, this book reminds you of what you are working for, and that money is nothing more than fuel to guide and power your life. It points out that time, not money, is the only finite and unreplenishable resource in your life. It's hard to read this book and not adjust your perspective about what you work for and what you hope to accomplish in your short time in the world.
Nothing in this world is as educational as living life, however reading books that challenge your assumptions and help you to grow as a person is a much easier way to gain life-changing insights. Most great works help the reader to unpeel their own consciousness so that they lead a more deliberate life, even if it's only fleeting. Enjoy what's left of the remains of summer.
Joe Duran is chief executive of United Capital. Follow him @DuranMoney.