If you wanted to learn a subject in the university, there is a structured way to do that. For example, to learn economics you might start with Economics 101 in which you have to read book A, do assignment B, and so on. If you followed the path, you are more or less guaranteed to have a good understanding of the subject.
But how can we learn about life? How can we learn about the best ways to live our lives?
This may be the most important subject to learn, yet there is no curriculum on it (even if there is one, I doubt it’s good enough).
So what should we do?
I believe that one of the best ways to learn about life is to study the lives of exceptional people. Find those who live great lives and learn how they do it. And the way to do that? Read their biographies. That’s why I have increasing interest in reading biographies. For me, biographies are among the best books to read.
Why You Should Read Biographies
There are many benefits you will get from reading biographies. Here are four:
1. It teaches you about the pitfalls to avoid
There are pitfalls on the way success. Instead of learning about them the hard way, why don’t you learn from those before you? Biographies can teach you about what make people fail in the past so that you can avoid them in the first place. Of course, it’s impossible to avoid failure altogether (I’ll talk about it in the next point), but at least you can save yourself a lot of time.
2. It teaches you about how to respond to failure
No matter how good you try, you will still fail. It’s simply inevitable (if you have never failed, maybe you aim too low). So, even more important than learning about the pitfalls is learning about how to respond to failure.
Great people can teach you a lot about it. Why? Because one important reason for their greatness is the way they respond to failure. It’s not that they never fail; it’s that they have the right response to failure. Reading their biographies will help you form the right mindset about failure so that you, too, can respond correctly.
3. It opens your mind about what is possible
This is one of the most important things about reading biographies. Often we limit ourselves and think too small. We might think that we will never do anything big in our lives.
But the truth is, every big thing in this world has a small beginning. Wal-Mart, for example, started as a single shop in a small town. Who would have guessed that years later they will become one of the biggest businesses in the world? Reading the story of how something with a humble beginning grows big and changes the world is really inspiring.
You might be doing something that looks small today. Perhaps you have never dreamed that it will become big someday. But reading the biographies of these people will open your mind about what is possible. It will inspire you to dream big.
4. It teaches you about the great principles to live by
Behind extraordinary people are extraordinary principles. They live by them and that’s why they become extraordinary. The principles set them apart and make them stand out in the crowd.
Reading their biographies can teach you about these extraordinary principles. Sometimes they are not explicitly stated, but by studying their lives you can discover the unstated principles that drive them.
True, lasting success comes from the inside out, not the other way around. That’s why these principles are treasures. Make finding them your focus when reading biographies and strive to apply them in your life. Then your life, too, will become extraordinary, starting from the inside.
Photo by Linda Yvonne
Inspiring article! Thank you!
nice article, can u list some books with inspiring author?
This is great advice. Donald, do you have some good biographies to recommend? Or any you have read and you think others should read them too?
Great post Donald!
When I first started reading, I was never really much into biographies. But, when Steve Jobs’ came out – I just had to read it. I have to say, no book has ever had such an impact on me than that one.
@Harry, I’d definitely recommend that one.
Great article. I have always read biographies of people who interest me or those who have had the same kind of success that I am working for. The idea is to model the behaviors that got them that way. I tell people when they want to something similar just to pick one or two traits and model them for a couple weeks. This way it stays manageable.
I agree with everyone, can you please recommend a few of the best biographies?
Excellent article, Donald!
I’ve been reading biographies for some 20 years or so. I think my first must have been Gandhi’s autobiography, then Benjamin Franklin’s. The options are so vast too. From Sam Walton to Winston Churchill to Mother Teresa and on. So much about life can be learned by those who lived it well.
Thanks for the reminder!
Thanks for the comments, everyone! For me, the most inspiring biographies are those of spiritual role models, which in my case are Christian figures. In addition, I enjoyed reading the biographies of Sam Walton and John Wooden.
I must say that I haven’t read as many biographies as I’d like to though. But I do plan to read more in the future.
Great article, Donald. We can all learn from those that have done what we aspire to do. Just make sure you don’t try to be them. Add the spices of your own personality.
The best autobiography I have read and can recommend is Nelson Mandela’s “Long Road to Freedom”.
I also enjoyed “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that’s a good read.
My top tip: Try to live so well that your name appears someone’s list!
Ken and Jason,
I’m glad you give us recommendations. I’ll definitely check them out.
For everyone else,
If you have recommendations, please let us know 🙂
Great article by far! I love it and I just happened to purchase Steve jobs biography yesterday before you published this! Thank you for your articles.
I enjoyed and recommend the autobiography of Malcolm X and the collection of Maya Angelou’s autobiography (The caged bird is a must-read book).
Just now I read the Biography of Diosdado Bannato, the Billy Gates of Philippines. He’s from from Cagayan Valley to Silicon Valley. A very inspiring individual who started a humble beginnings now a multi million dollar investor in the field of information technology.
I really like how you said that every big thing in the world had a small beginning somewhere. It seems that reading biographies would be a good way to kind of get the big picture of something starting out small and then building up to what it is that we recognize it as today. That could bring hope to someone who is struggling and help others see that their dreams are possible if they work hard for them.
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