By Brian Tracy
April 28, 2008
Some things in life are optional, and some things in life
are mandatory. Taking your next vacation to the Caribbean
is optional. Building a personal library and becoming an
excellent reader is mandatory. It is no longer something
you can choose to do or not do. It is absolutely essential
and indispensable for your success.
A great many people do not read very much. Fifty-eight
percent of adult Americans never read a nonfiction book
from cover to cover after they finish school. The average
American reads less than one book per year. In fact,
according to a Gallup study of the most successful men and
women in America, reading one nonfiction book per month
will put you into the top 1 percent of living
It takes regular, persistent reading and studying for you
to improve, to move to the front of your field. It is not
There are a variety of reasons why people don’t read as
much as they should. One is that probably 50 million
Americans have been graduated from high school with poor
Another reason why people don’t read is because they have
not been told how important reading is. Lifelong learning,
lifelong reading is the minimum requirement for success in
any field today. If you are in sales, management, service,
administration or any other field that relies on the
written word to convey information and data, your ability
to read well is absolutely critical to your success.
Some people don’t read because they are simply lazy. They
are surrounded by so many distractions, especially
television, radio, socializing and other activities, that
they just never get around to doing any serious reading.
They are so busy and caught up in day-to-day activities and
amusements that they put off reading and then never get
around to it. If continued, this pattern could have
Another reason why people don’t read is that they probably
are not working in the right field. One of the best tests
for compatibility with your work is your desire to read and
learn more about it. If you are doing the job that is right
for you, you will naturally be eager to read everything
that you can possibly find about your field. You will want
to get better and better. You will be hungry for new
knowledge. You will be determined to become excellent. And
every single bit of new information motivates and
stimulates you and makes you excited about learning even
However, if you are in the wrong field, you will look upon
reading about it as drudgery. If the reading and studying
is a required condition of your job or profession, you will
do it, but only under duress. You will want to get it over
with, like a visit to the dentist. If, for any reason, you
are not eager to learn more about what you are doing, it
could very well be that you are wasting your time and your
life in the wrong field.
In one 22-year study of self-made millionaires, the
researchers found that one of the common characteristics of
those special men and women who went from rags to riches
was that they were absolutely fascinated by their work.
They didn’t think so much about making a lot of money. They
were more concerned about becoming better and better at
what they did. Their work absorbed them completely. In
almost no time at all, because of their commitment to
reading and self-development, they were paid more and more.
And once they reached a high level of income, their
fascination with their work still continued. Instead of
drawing extra money from their business and spending it
frivolously, they reinvested it in themselves and in their
career. As a result, they became more and more proficient
and wealthier and wealthier. Then, one day, they opened
their eyes, looked around and found that they were worth
more than $1 million. And the continuous learning, the
nonstop reading, was the key ingredient.
Some years ago, a young man came to me and asked for
advice. He had been graduated from high school without the
ability to read. He told me that reading a whole paragraph
actually made him tired. His problem was that he was
working at a dead-end job at minimum wage, and he had been
there for two years. He was living in a small apartment on
a limited budget. All his friends from high school, none of
whom could read either, were in pretty much the same
predicament. They all were working at low-level, low-skill
jobs with no future. He had been out of school for two
years and had made no progress. What advice could I give
I told him that he had to learn to read, and read well. He
said he didn’t like to read, and he wanted to be successful
at something that didn’t require reading. I told him that
this was not a matter of choice. The only jobs that didn’t
require reading were the kinds of jobs that he and his
friends were already doing. And even they soon would be
surpassed by younger, more eager people with better
Much to his credit, he thought about this for a while and
then accepted the fact that he had to become a good reader.
He began taking community-college courses in remedial
reading. Eventually, he applied for entrance to a technical
institute, and he managed to get in by the skin of his
teeth. Because of his poor high-school education, it took
him almost three years to complete a two-year program in
biomedical engineering. He stuck in there and worked hard,
and he finally came up with a degree.
A small company hired him as a sales representative, to
call on hospitals and clinics in a rural territory. It
wasn’t much, but he took it and ran with it. He continued
to read and studied sales and communications. He started at
$22,000 per year, and within two years, he was up to
$30,000 per year. In his third year, he was hired away by a
rival company and paid $40,000 per year. Two years later,
an international company heard about his success in the
marketplace and hired him at more than $50,000 per year,
with a company car, an expense account and substantial
In seven years, he went from being a semiliterate, minimum
wage worker to a highly paid biomedical technical
representative working for an international corporation.
And he was back in the big city with a town house, a new
car, a wife, children, and a great life. The interesting
thing was that as he went around to renew his old
friendships, he found that most of the people he had
graduated with were still working at dead-end jobs.
Seven years seems like a long time in the course of a life,
but it passes in a flash when you are busy doing something
you enjoy and getting continually better at it.
The last great obstacle to regular reading and continuous
learning is that most people have been brought up with what
we might call the old paradigm, the outdated way of viewing
education. It’s likely that as you grew up, education was
looked upon as something that was done to you by other
people. For the first 18 years of your life, you went off
to school and education was done to you as though you were
a passive object. Even when you went to college, you signed
up for the courses that were recommended, you learned the
subjects that were required, and you took the exams that
were given. When you came out, you were the product of an
education. It was almost as though the education had "just
happened" to you, while you merely went along and did your
share at the right time.
However, after you finish school, you are responsible for
your education. From that moment onward, you are
responsible for buying your books, planning your courses of
study, learning your subjects and continually upgrading
your skills. It’s not the responsibility of anyone else.
You are in charge. It’s all up to you.
Many people think that it’s up to their company to educate
them if they need additional training. Well, if your
company provides training, you should take every minute of
it that you can get. But if it doesn’t, and most companies
don’t, you are still solely responsible for maintaining and
increasing your value through continuous reading. There is
no other way.
Let me share with you some ideas that helped me to go from
high-school dropout and dishwasher, working in the kitchen
of a small hotel, to chief operating officer of a $265
million company. These are practices of most of the
successful men and women in America. Their cumulative
effect on the quality of your life can be amazing.
First, if you are not a good reader, make the decision,
right now, that you are going to go any distance, pay any
price, overcome any obstacle and spend whatever amount of
money it takes to become an excellent reader. If you do not
know how to read particularly well, stop everything else
that you are doing outside your work and dedicate yourself
to reading. Spend every spare minute reading as if your
future depended on it, because it does.
It may take a week, a month or a year to become a better
reader. It may take even longer. But it doesn’t matter.
Your becoming an excellent reader will kick open doors of
opportunity for you that you cannot now imagine.
Second, if you are already a good reader, or when you
become a good reader, learn to speed-read. The Evelyn Wood
Reading Dynamics program is probably the best that has ever
been developed. Also, many communities throughout America
offer speed-reading classes. Speed-reading is like
touch-typing. In typing, you can use the hunt-and-peck
method all your life, or you can learn how to do it right
and increase your speed to 50 or 60 words per minute. In
reading, you can take your speed from 50 or 60 words per
minute up to 300, 400, 500 or even 1,000 words per minute,
with no loss of comprehension. Speed-reading courses are
absolutely essential to the success of really ambitious men
and women today.
Third, build a personal library. Although public libraries
are extremely helpful for research, you should buy your own
People often ask me what books they should buy. To decide
this, you can use the Law of Relative Importance. Buy the
books that are most important to your life at this moment.
The key word here is relevant. Adults learn best when what
they are studying is extremely relevant to their needs,
their work, their life, and their present situation. If you
read material that is not relevant to what you are doing,
you will find it difficult. You will not be drawn to the
material, and you will forget most of it as you go along.
But when you read material that is both relevant and
applicable to your work, your mind sparkles with all kinds
of ideas on how you can use this new information to be more
effective. The prospect of learning new methods and
techniques that you know will improve your life is both
exciting and highly motivating.
Next, in building your own library, ask the most successful
people in your field what books they would recommend. Then,
go straight to the bookstore and buy them.
One of the marks of the professional, and professionalism
is a state of mind, is that he has a library in his field.
If you are in sales, you should have a library of sales
books. You should be reading at least one hour per day in
sales, one book per week, 50 books per year. You should be
a consistent, persistent student of your craft. You should
know more about the field of selling than anybody within
500 miles does. You should set a goal to become so
knowledgeable about your field that you would be able to
give advanced classes in your profession within a few
years. With this idea as your guiding star, you will find
yourself learning and remembering far more than you would
if you were just browsing through the material.
Should you buy hardcover books or softcover books? I
recommend that you purchase any book, of either kind, that
can help you. Some books cost $20 to $30. The average
person complains that he can’t afford such a book. The
superior person recognizes that the information contained
in that book can save him a year or two of hard work.
Remember, it may take an author 10 to 20 years to learn his
subject. It may take him two to three years to write a book
on it. It then may take one to two years to get the book
published. By paying a few dollars for a book, you probably
are getting the results of 20 or 25 years of effort by one
of the smartest people in your field.
Never scrimp on your education. It is one of the most
damaging things you could ever do.
Get some good bookshelves, and begin categorizing your
books by subject. Have a section on sales. Have a section
on management. Have a section on family and child raising.
Have a section on personal motivation and success. If you
like novels, have a section on fiction, or on history.
Organize your sections in alphabetical order, either by the
title of the book or by the author. You don’t have to make
it too formal or structured. The point is to set up your
library in such a way that you pretty well know where each
book is, you know whether or not you have a book, and you
know where to go to get a piece of information when you
Once you’ve bought a book, read it with a red pen in hand,
underlining and making notes at every key point you find.
If you read a book twice, use a different-color pen to
underline points you may have missed the first time.
I have books that I have read 10 or 20 times and that look
like rainbows from page to page. They are literally covered
with all kinds of colors and marks. Needless to say, the
information and ideas in those books has soaked so deeply
into my psyche that I can recite much of the material in my
You need to read an hour or two each day just to keep
current with your field. You need to read newspapers,
magazines, newsletters, correspondence and other materials.
But you don’t get ahead with regular reading. You must
invest in the future while you keep current with the
present. If you want to get ahead, you must read things
that give you new ideas and insights, not merely things
that confirm what you already know.
Becoming a proficient and persistent reader may not be easy
to do so, but it’s certainly possible. The future does
belong to the competent. Those who know more will always
win out over those who know less. The more you read, the
better you get. The more you learn, the easier it is for
you to learn. And the more you challenge your mind, the
smarter you get.
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