Article by Megan Nicole O’Neal

As you’ve likely noticed, thanks to the recent increase in bathing suit ads and “Wanna Get Away?” emails from airlines, summer is upon us. While many of us longingly daydream about the obligation-free days of the summer breaks of our youths, summer as an adult doesn’t have to be a complete wash. We have more daylight hours to play with, and contrary to popular belief, attaining a summer bod is not the only way to improve yourself this season.

At the pleasant risk of sounding a lot like Oprah, I can’t imagine the person I would have become if I didn’t have books in my life. Reading others’ stories, and writing my own, has transported me into the shoes of people who are often wiser, kinder, smarter, and funnier than I am. I’ve found that occupying those shoes, even for just a little while, has a curious way of inspiring you to rise to the occasion.

When it comes to personal development, there’s no better season than the summer.

To supplement your staycations and poolside lounging, below is a collection of self-improvement books to help you put your best foot, or sandal, forward:

1. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama gets incredibly honest about everything from not knowing where your passions lie to taking a chance on love (even when the whole world is watching) and standing firm in your determination to make the world a better place. She inspires readers to be the best versions of themselves by leading with vulnerability.

Favorite quote: “Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.”

Who will enjoy this: Anyone who has only brothers, or who always wanted an older sister, or who has an older sister but wishes that older sister were Michelle Obama.

Wholehearted2. Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up by Koshin Paley Ellison

With a refreshing and surprisingly relatable style, considering Koshin Paley Ellison is in fact a monk (monks, they’re just like us!), this book teaches you how to expand outward. Ellison uses a blend of the 16 teachings of Buddhism, Western psychology, and his personal life experiences to help readers break down the walls we build around ourselves and wake up to the world.

Favorite quote: “People are afraid of — and paradoxically long for — honest, loving, and ordinary conversation.”

This book feels like: A warm cup of hot cocoa, with extra marshmallows, and a fire crackling in the background.

Stop-Doing-That-Sht3. Stop Doing That Sh*t: End Self-Sabotage and Demand Your Life Back by Gary John Bishop

You may think you don’t self-sabotage, but Bishop breaks down how even small excuses like “I’ll go to the gym … tomorrow” affect your success in the long run. This book offers a short, intense jolt to your way of thinking. Bishop tells it straight, because our futures don’t have time for sugarcoating. He also helps readers access their individual psychological machinery to nip negative thoughts and behaviors in the bud and build new thinking patterns to cut through all the sh*t and find success.

Favorite quote: “On one hand you talk about wanting to be an author or a business owner or going back to school, while at the same time you’ve reduced your life’s potential to the lofty aim of getting up at the first alarm buzz or fighting the meaningless battle of prizing yourself away from your cellphone a little more often. … You just can’t keep responding in ordinary ways if you are truly out to live an extraordinary life.”

This book is akin to: Your no-bullsh*t older brother having a heart-to-heart with you over a scotch at midnight. You’ll laugh, you may cry, but at the end of the night, you’ll be better for it.

4. The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives by Katie Couric

What began as a collection of thoughts for a commencement speech turned into a thoughtful curation of advice from some of today’s most successful people. Couric interviews people in politics, entertainment, sports, philanthropy, the arts, and business, sharing their insights on how to take chances, follow your passions, cope with criticism, and commit to something greater than yourself. Plus, all of the proceeds from this book go to Scholarship America, which helps ambitious students graduate from college and realize their full potential.

Favorite quote: “Very few of us get through this life unscathed. Scratch beneath a stranger’s surface and you’re likely to uncover professional setbacks, broken hearts, unspeakable loss, unfulfilled dreams, or worse. Everyone seems to keep going but, God knows, navigating through it all isn’t easy.”

This book is similar to: Chicken Soup for the Soul, but business casual.

Work-Wife5. Work Wife by Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur

These pages are brimming with girl power. Cerulo and Mazur speak with work wives who’ve created thriving businesses across a myriad of fields and demonstrate how empowered female friendships can run the business world. The book dives into a range of topics vital to successful partnerships, such as being co-bosses, tackling disagreements, dealing with money, and accommodating motherhood, offering readers a roadmap to fruitful work-wife relationships.

Favorite quote: “The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, as women, we have a rougher go of it in the workplace — whether on a Hollywood set or in a cubicle — and for all of the camaraderie and mind-melding benefits, being part of a pair also serves as a defense mechanism. Being able to turn to someone and say ‘Am I crazy?’ is a boon because women are made to question their own sanity all the time.”

Best time to read this book: With a bottle of Merlot and your best gal pals on FaceTime.

Unlearn6. Unlearn: 101 Simple Truths for a Better Life by Humble the Poet

This book is centered on the idea that we gain more from letting go, and as someone who recently moved cities and purged all of the extra crap I’d managed to hide in the corners of my closet, I can personally attest to this notion. Humble the Poet breaks down some of life’s most complex emotions into simple, bite-sized truths. Change can be overwhelming, but not when you’re focused on making moves one step at a time. The lessons are short and relatable, reminding you that not everything in life has to be so complicated, Avril.

Favorite quote: “Get out there. Be uncomfortable. Make mistakes. Get embarrassed. We’ll all be dead soon, it’s not a big deal.”

Who will benefit most: hoarders (emotional baggage counts, too).

7. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay

Dr. Meg Jay explains over the course of 239 pages why the 30-is-the-new-20 culture is complete rubbish and how you can use your 20s to propel your future in a direction you’re passionate about. Jay weaves the latest science with stories from 20-somethings and provides actionable steps to create identity capital and make the most of your “defining decade.” This should be required reading for every 20-something.

Favorite quote: Jay’s entire TED Talk on the topic.

Guaranteed to: make every 20-something think twice before swiping right.

8. Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom

This memoir chronicles a series of weekly visits Albom made to his former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz, as Schwartz gradually loses his life to ALS. Their bond is beautifully honest and reminds readers that human connection is at the core of a fulfilled life. In his final weeks, Morrie unloads some hard-won nuggets of wisdom about what happiness is and how to ensure your life is one worth living.

Favorite quote: “As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed as ignorant as you were at 22, you’d always be 22. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

Some friendly advice: If you’re a crier, have tissues nearby.

A version of this article originally appeared on

Megan Nicole O’Neal is a UCLA alum and public relations specialist with a passion for storytelling and a firm belief that only the right photo is worth 1,000 words. An avid adventurist, she has traveled to five different continents, all on an endless quest to find the world’s greatest cup of coffee. Megan currently works at in the PR department for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Los Angeles. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_oneal or on her website,

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