I Read Non-Fiction for a Year – 3 Books Changed My Life

A year ago, I committed to reading non-fiction — for the entire year.

I’ve always been an avid reader, but I primarily read fiction because it provided a great escape from work or any source of stress in my life.

But, last year my husband and I decided to quit our jobs to explore the world (more about that here), and I decided that it was critical that I find a way to keep learning. So, I read non-fiction for the year.

The three non-fiction books below were life-changing. Specifically, they taught me how to:

  • Be more self-compassionate
  • Simplify my life
  • Have a better relationship with money

(And I added another book to the bottom of the list—a favorite of all time. It’s a page-turning true story that’s so entertaining that it seems like fiction.)


Top 3 Life Changing Books 

1) How I Learned to Be More Self-Compassionate

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

This book was so powerful that I plan to read it once a year. It gave me the courage to write a book, one of the hardest things I have ever done, and the strength to be more compassionate towards myself when I feel like I’ve failed. 

Dweck’s life-changing concept is the growth mindset, which involves adopting the perspective that you are always developing; your abilities are not fixed. 

With a growth mindset, no setback is a failure — you’re just learning and developing your skills. And, you can learn your way to personal success and fulfillment, in all areas of your life.

2) How I Learned to Simplify – and Organize – my Life

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

As someone with mild hoarding tendencies, this book was life-changing. I always wanted to live a more simplistic life — to be less encumbered by “stuff,” but I had a really hard time giving things away. (Like the dress I wore on a date with my husband ten years ago or the coffee mug a friend gave me that I’ve never used, but it looks really cool.) 

Kondo provides solid advice on how to clean out your home — and how to simplify your life. The basic principle is simple: only keep things that “spark joy.” 

After applying her methods, I successfully gave away fifteen large garbage bags full of “joyless stuff” to Goodwill. And we are living happier, less-crowded, more simple lives as a result.

3) How I Cultivated a Better Relationship with Money

The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources by Lynne Twist

If you asked me about my relationship with money, the answer would be: “It’s complicated.” But it’s less complicated after reading this book. 

Before reading this book, I saw money as a source of stress, guilt and scarcity (i.e. never enough!). But, this book enabled me to see money as a source of good in my life. 

I realized that money can be a powerful way to express my values — and to do good in the world. For example, I now make a conscious effort to buy more sustainably produced goods. And, I recommitted to giving 10% of my entire savings each year to non-profits whose missions I support.


A Fascinating True Story

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

Okay, my reading wasn’t all serious. This was just a really entertaining true story — a non-fiction book that reads so much like fiction that I stayed up until 4am two nights in a row to finish it. It’s one of those rare books where I felt sad to finish because I knew that it would be a long time before I found another true story that was this good.

What non-fiction books have you read that have changed your life?  Share in the comments.

For more non-fiction book recommendations, check out my reading list: http://heatherhund.com/reading-list/

How to Negotiate.  And Make Half a Million Dollars.

People who don’t negotiate miss out on $500k or more over their lifetime.

I initially doubted this, so I ran the numbers. And — it really is true. If you were offered $50k and negotiated to $55k, you would make $504,607 more over 50 years, assuming a 2.5% annual salary increase. If you negotiated from $50k to $60k, that increases to over one million dollars. One million dollars!

That’s enough to buy a nice house.  Or a small island.  Or to pay for private college – for two kids.

When I got my first job out of college, I was so grateful that someone hired me that I couldn’t imagine negotiating.  So, I didn’t even try.  I was afraid what the company might think if I tried to negotiate.  Would I come across as ungrateful, confrontational or entitled?  What if they rescinded my job offer?

According to research, I’m not alone.  These fears are so common that only 37% of people say that they consistently negotiate salary.  Women are four times less likely to negotiate than men – and when we do negotiate, we ask for less and receive 30% less than men.

Yet, employers expect candidates to negotiate.  By not negotiating, you leave money on the table that employer expected to pay you.  After all, the company made you an offer you because they really want you!  If the company is afraid they might lose you, you’ll often be amazed what they will offer.

I recently interviewed hiring managers, and many said that they viewed negotiating candidates even more favorably.  Think about it:  negotiation will likely be a skill you will use in your job – to influence others and to get work done.  So, by negotiating your job offer, you are showing them your ability to succeed at the company, too.

Negotiation is misunderstood.  When people view negotiation as scary, it’s often because they perceive it to be done in conflict.  But, there are ways to negotiate that are objective, fact-based and collaborative.  Below are the three best ways to negotiate – in a more agreeable way.

3 Best Ways to Negotiate

1)  Use other offers

Regardless of whether or not you are going to take a job, negotiate your offer.  Why?  Because you can use this offer to negotiate other offers.

I used this approach in a prior job search.  I negotiated each offer that I received, even when I knew I would not take the job.  When I finally got my dream job, the company played hardball.  I was told “The max we can pay is X.  Final offer.”  Because I had data, I was able to confidently say, “I really want to work with you, but I received three other offers at a 20% higher salary.” Two days later, they came back and matched my other offers – with an offer they originally said was impossible.

2)  Use data from other companies

If you don’t have other offers, or if you are employed already and trying to negotiate during a promotion or a year-end review, use data!  Try to find salaries for comparable positions to yours – and use this data. A great source for salary data is Glassdoor.com, which includes thousands of companies and salaries for specific roles.

Another good way is to get salary information is through headhunters and recruiters trying to fill open jobs.  Take their calls, and ask for the role’s compensation package, including salary, bonus and stock options.

(I always recommend taking recruiter calls for open jobs, even if you are happily employed.  Use these calls to get salary information 1) to see if you are being paid fairly and 2) to use when you try to negotiate internally, during a promotion period or annual review.)

3)  Use personal reasons

I was chatting with someone the other day who received an offer and wasn’t sure if he could make ends meet financially if he took the job.  His wife was currently unemployed, and they were expecting a baby.  “But, I can’t tell them these things,” he said.

Why not?  Of course you can – and should.  Recruiters are human – they understand if you need more money to support your family.  So, if there are personal reasons you seek a higher salary, tell the recruiter.

What do to when companies won’t negotiate salary

While it’s ideal to always negotiate your base salary (since annual salary increases are based on this), sometimes companies are legitimately unable to increase it.  But, this doesn’t mean that all negotiation is off the table.

Get creative!  Other things you can negotiate include:  job title, bonus, stock options, vacation days, or working from home.  Of course, don’t try to negotiate all of these things.  Instead, think about what is most important to you, and focus your negotiation efforts accordingly.

Don’t stop negotiating

A common perspective is that once you’ve negotiated your job offer and taken the job, you’re done negotiating.  But, by stopping here, you are leaving more on the table.

While it is easiest to negotiate before you take a job, look for opportunities to continue to negotiate in your job – like during promotions, annual reviews or role changes.  And use the tactics discussed above to continue to ensure that you are paid well.

Have you ever negotiated successfully?  How did you do it?  Please share in the comments.