Best Books of 2018… So Far!

In the first six months of 2018, I was extremely fortunate to have picked some reads that left indelible marks on my life. As frequent readers of this blog know, I am a believer of continuous improvement and that reading can not only have incredible impact, but be life changing. In this post, I will share my top reads and recommendations. I hope you take as much joy and meaning from these books as I did!

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Most of my reading has been non-fiction, as I work to explore new ideas and get better at executing what I’m good at, and also where I need improvement. And sometimes you need a break from high quality research and data driven arguments, so a good fiction book or story can add some enjoyment to all of that learning and growth! Fun is important, too!

Overall, in the first six months of 2018, I have read 29 books. This puts me on pace to be ahead of my goal of 50 books to be read by the end of the year. I am a believer in rating books as it helps me to recall which are the most meaningful and where I might want to refer back to the digital highlights to refresh what I learned.

The chart below breaks out how I rated the books to date:

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Generally, my star break outs get defined as:

  1. Can’t get past the beginning. Skipping ahead provides no value. I’ve found flaws or disagree with the book from an ethics standpoint. ALWAYS a “did not finish” (DNF). This has happened perhaps twice in the past three years or so.
  2. I can get a few chapters in, but it is difficult to read. I question what the author is trying to convey and the methods used. This is rare and almost always a DNF.
  3. This was a decent book. I wouldn’t quite recommend, but there was value in either information or entertainment to keep plowing through as best I could.
  4. A “4 star” book is one that keeps me focused on the message, sometimes difficult to put down, and I would always recommend for the right reader. If I enjoy but it doesn’t blow me away, this is where I rate the book.
  5. A book with this rating is impossible to put down, keeping me mesmerized every page. For the days and weeks following, I am telling everyone I see about the book as a must read. It becomes a small obsession!

So what are those best books, you are wondering? I’ll describe some of my favorite four and five star books below.

Here is a list of my 4-star books that I would recommend:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote. It is easy to see why this is a classic! It was impossible to put down, and even what you might expect to be mundane was dramatic.
  • Authorpreneur, Jesse Tevelow. As one who is aspiring to be a published author (more later in post!), this book was brimming with practical advice for self-publishers.
  • How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen. Contrasting the “all in or else” expectation in business, this book presented a refreshing lifestyle approach.
  • Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson. I was riveted by the data, anecdotes, and actionable suggestions in this book to build relationships with all kinds of people.
  • Success Under Stress, Sharon Melnick. Instead of succumbing to unhealthy stress, the author provides opportunities for how we can use stress in our favor for success.
  • The Art of Everyday Assertiveness, Patrick King. Assertiveness is a personal goal and a form of self-respect. Everything offered spun a positive view on the topic.
  • What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith. This was a reminder that we need to grow, adjust, and remold ourselves as we grow and take on new roles.
  • You Are a Writer, Jeff Goins. The author presents a great case that what we see ourselves as if how we are and project to others. So why not be what we want to be?

Here are my 5-star books and why they were worth reading (in no order):

  • The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh. What a book to start the year with! It was a great re-framing of what power actually is and means and how we can take better control of our lives, ourselves, and our relationships.
  • Necessary Dreams, Anna Fels. Even before I finished this book, I was talking about it to almost everyone I came in contact with. The author stated the issues faced with incredible depth and in a fresh way – I felt like I wasn’t alone, and loved the focus on being active in all areas of life like marriage, social environments, and civic engagement.
  • Own It, Sallie Krawcheck. Though skeptical coming into reading this book, I quickly bought in to all it offered. I loved the practical advice that didn’t encourage me to change who I was, but to be more of me with actionable skill development.
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz. The title is a perfect reminder that nothing great worth doing is without effort. The stories were magnetizing and the forward commentary was captivating, a look into the real life of technology startups without the glamour we expected.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood. It was a wake up call for me to take more action in advocating for what is right – and since then I have been more civically active in standing up for what I believe. Because if I don’t and you don’t, this dystopian fiction could become reality.
  • I’m Not For Everyone. Neither Are You., David Leddick. This book reminded me of the importance of individualism and, though this phrase is everywhere, authenticity. We are who we are for a reason. I was uplifted for days after reading this book..
  • The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. While the stats might be out of date, but the concepts are magnetizing. How simple personal finance blogs and authors make things seem, but often without the social science or scientific background as to why certain exercises are indicators of wealth. The conspicuous consumption can be an illusion of wealth.
  • Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert. This book found me more than I found it. The concepts of courage and curiosity when it comes to creativity caught my attention and kept me engaged the whole way through. The concept of being ready for the creativity that finds us was interesting to me because I often have ideas that linger without action, and a year or two later I see MY idea in execution by others.
  • Grit, Angela Duckworth. I loved the sense of what could be if we put into practice what had been successfully researched. The approach to having a philosophy and a driving goal as part of what we were doing on a daily and long-term basis was inspiring to me. The book was not just research and anecdotes, but instructional and actionable on how we, too, can develop grit and help others (namely, our children) develop it also.

Rating all of these books and understanding the impacts they each had on me makes me excited for my own book coming out this fall! The reason I’m excited is not only to achieve a lifelong goal of becoming a published author, but to help fill a needed gap in the sorority experience that connects it with creating career success.

My enthusiasm for this purpose and passion project has been supported by positive feedback from women who have read early editions of the book. I sent copies to 22 sorority women across the USA in eight different National Panhellenic Conference organizations. Everyone believed it hit a sweet spot of what is missing in our mutual sorority experiences, helps explain how to differentiate our valuable experience, and creates an opportunity for positive conversation not just in recruitment, but as alums and women who want to achieve success in our careers. More info to come!

What are the books you are reading? What have been your favorites? Is your rating system similar, or how do you rate differently? I am curious to hear your recommendations as well!

Check out some of my other book recommendations!

2017 First Half

2017 Second Half

Focus On What Matters (#2 of 6 – Lessons That Impact Life)

This is second in a series of six posts about lessons I learned from my grandfather that apply to career growth and development, in addition to just being generally good advice for life. This is in his memory and in honor of Father’s Day.

In middle school and high school, I spent countless hours playing basketball with my siblings and the neighborhood kids. There was seemingly no significant improvement over the years. But for me, it was fun anyway: an excuse to be social, play, and exercise. In seventh grade, my skills compared to the other girls were obviously lacking. So to help compensate, I worked hard and hustled every practice. In high school, I was last on the bench, but at least on a team with girls who were fun to play with and cheer on from that front row in the bleachers. I lived for practice; games were not as fun for me.

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Though effort was frequently rewarded, my grandfather saw very early on that my siblings and I were not going to have even a chance at competing for lucrative college scholarships. Forget playing at a professional level. In a way only a grandparent can say without bruising a teenager’s ego, Pops stopped by the driveway game one day to remind us that there were other ways to spend our time than playing basketball. If we weren’t going to make it to the pros, shouldn’t we concentrate our efforts on other things?

This moment, though I can’t exactly place it at a certain age or specific date, has stayed with me. Why do we spend so much time on what isn’t going to matter, and not enough on what does matter?

Figuring out what matters takes time and mistakes. We are not born so smart to know everything that matters instinctively. Priorities can change over time. What mattered to me at 10 and at 20 is inconsistent with what matters to me most now. Certainly, the same is largely true for you. We have to learn through getting to know ourselves better, and we have to learn from those around us who are also on the journey or even confident in knowing what matters to them.

Setting goals is another area where I often confront if something matters, and especially consider the why of it mattering. Is it important to me, or to someone else? Will the goal get me to where I want to be? A goal without a meaningful reason behind it is a recipe for failure. It must matter to me. And, it may even have to matter to the world around me depending on the size of the the problem I am working to solve. What does it matter if I am never a “40 Under 40” recipient? It is wonderful for those who are winners, but that award doesn’t change my mission and what I want to accomplish in this life.

Problems by their very nature are not easy. When I become frustrated, whether by lack of weight loss or missing communication by others, I am often reminded by others of the Serenity Prayer, which contains an ever insightful request “to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Usually after I have settled down from whatever rattled me to react and remembering the Serenity Prayer, I think of that driveway moment with Pops, wondering about what does and doesn’t matter.

Intense soul searching often helps me reflect and focus on what matters. I can journal during morning coffee or take a long walk on a weekend morning. Sometimes I will talk it out with my husband or a friend. Ultimately, you need to make a decision or nothing gets done. Take reflective time and opportunities to have those deep conversations, internally and with others, to narrow down what you should focus on. Not everything can be a priority all the time. 

Lately, I’ve had to do some prioritizing of my time. It means I need to say “no” to more, and focus on only what is important. I was honored to be asked to fill some prestigious and inventive roles for the Alpha Gamma Delta Volunteer Service Team, including opportunities to work directly for some of my mentors and role models in the organization. I ultimately put myself forward for the Philanthropy Committee so I could focus my time on making a difference on a team guiding the organization’s fight against hunger. That was what mattered to me – to impact the work thousands of women will do to help even more people affected by hunger.

Who do you want to be in life? Where do you want to go? Understanding the journey you want to have in life has incredibly impact in determining what you should to do head toward the destination. Whichever direction you choose at the fork in the road, keep reminding yourself to focus on what matters.

The remaining four posts will be published in coming days. Please check back soon!

Stop Waiting: Give Yourself Permission

It blew my mind as a kid and all the way past college when my family or friends would order at a restaurant and customize their request from what was a detailed description on the menu. If the establishment already laid everything out for you, why would you change something? Wouldn’t you get something different if you didn’t want one component of the meal?

I wasn’t jealous of these family and friends, but perplexed (okay, maybe I was jealous at what seemed like freedom to do whatever they wanted!). And it was because I never felt like I had permission to make those changes, and I wondered what authority they had within themselves to be able to do something, that now when I look back is extremely simple, as customizing a menu item to their liking.

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One of the greatest barriers life gives us is feeling like we need permission to begin. It goes beyond a restaurant menu. Living life without permission can make someone feel trapped and without options, leading to constant frustration and feeling like they have no control. Or at least that is how I’ve felt.

Over the years, I’ve been granted permissions by friends and colleagues and family – not that they signed a permission slip or always explicitly said “I grant you permission” (thought sometimes they did!). On most occasions it is a suggestion I felt was out of the realm of possibility. When I was dealing with a vendor who was frustrating me and falling down on the job and seemingly not caring about it, a colleague told me to “go red” and lay down the law. It was not something that was comfortable or natural for me. My natural expectations include making a professional request, expecting the same respect with communication and timeliness, and then if my request cannot be met, be told about that and how it will be addressed. This situation went beyond that, multiple times. To do something like “go red” and express my frustration about what needed to happen felt like something I needed permission to go do. And, oh gosh, do I wish I had given myself permission to do this years ago!

Even on the home front, I do silly permission requests like asking my husband if I can get extra seltzers this week because they are on sale, or maybe now that it is getting warm, the sugar free fudgesicles would be a nice treat to have in the freezer. Thankfully, my husband gets a kick out of this and laughs at the ridiculous nature of my requests. “Why do you need to ask permission?” he always wonders to me.

Why don’t we go after what it is we want? Or need to do? In the example at work, it might have been a fear of what will happen if I do XYZ, not knowing what was coming next. Another potential could have been fear of achieving success or the desired outcome, as strange as it sounds. Part of it was definitely fear of leaving the comfort zone.

The most difficult times with asking for permission are when we keep the requests inside of us. Yearning quietly and secretly for permission does absolutely nothing. The importance of voice is  that its absence may be stronger than its presence, for it creates a black hole that sucks in opportunity around us, instead of expanding our opportunities and impacts if we just go out and take action.

I also see that with needing permission, it holds us back from taking risks, and therefore from the potential to fail. But it also holds us back from the opportunities for success personally and making a difference in the community, the office, or the world.

So what is it we need to do to move on from waiting for permission to be granted, or even asking for it? Here are a few tools that I use, and am constantly working on, to move forward with my life and what I want to accomplish. The more this is top of mind and practiced, the more success I have with getting to what I need to get done, in any situation.

  1. Remind myself I am worthy of having what I want.
  2. Explain internally the rationale of doing what I am thinking of doing, and what good it will bring to a situation.
  3. Tell myself I have permission to do the task or take the new approach or speak up.
  4. Actually do what I gave myself permission to do. Take action, without agonizing about potential steps. Like Nike says in its ad campaign, “just do it.”
  5. Recognize the results of that permission, and congratulate myself for taking the risk.

The congratulatory piece is a little strange and even silly, but it also provides validation on the rewards for the risk taken. This encourages me to give more permission in the future. Almost always, I come out with my desired result or some positive variation of what I wanted when I give myself permission. This reinforces my capabilities, talents, efforts, ideas and goals are all moving in the right direction. It erases another layer of self doubt each and every time.

Figure out what you need to do to grant yourself permission. Feel the freedom of no longer denying yourself what you want and need, in your career and in the rest of your life. There may be a time that you extend yourself too much permission, but that provides learning opportunity. Giving yourself permission is one of the greatest things we can do for ourselves, our happiness, our creativity, and even our relationships. It is free and freeing, expanding the richness of life. I am granting you permission to give yourself permission. Go see the doors the world will open to you now!

Now that you have granted yourself permission, what are you inspired to go off and accomplish?!

The Concept of Self vs. Other Awareness and How We Interact

Everyone from psychology blogs to the Harvard Business Review and beyond are covering the topic of self awareness lately, and why shouldn’t they? Having a sense of self awareness can help us become healthier mentally and emotionally and also better communicators about what we want and need. It encompasses your character and helps us be knowledgeable about how we want to be, be seen, and interact with the world.

I see one important fact of life missing from the discussions on self awareness: awareness of others. It isn’t about you, or me, all the time.

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There is an altruistic spirit that some have, where these type of people always put others before themselves, and this isn’t what we are missing. While this is admiral behavior, it isn’t always healthy or productive for the person putting others before necessary personal needs.

Maybe the concept of awareness of others transcends self awareness, and we need to master one before the next. The journey certainly doesn’t end at self awareness, and we need to consider that. Inner searching and development of how we treat ourselves builds an important foundation, but it doesn’t encompass the building going on top, the parts that people see and know to come and (hopefully) love.

We should consider awareness of others in a couple ways. Communicating with others is a first example, because the power of communication is not about what is being said. What matters is how we are heard and the message that is heard. How many times have you said something that was misportrayed? Is that actually on the other person, or is that on us? We need to consider our words, our tone, and our style before speaking. It is a lot to think about at first, but like any habit, becomes easier over time.

Another interesting piece is that how we make others feel has a lasting impact on them. Author Maya Angelou is attributed with one of my favorite quotes, and it applies here: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When we put an emphasis on creating positive experiences and interactions for ourselves and others, it can create positive memories that last a lifetime and even influence other actions and later other people. Think of the possible domino effect!

One other way we should consider awareness of others is to stop taking things personally. It creates a dark cloud over our lives, and can ruin friendships and relationships in many environments. When we have awareness of others, we recognize that yes, it isn’t all about us, and that maybe someone has a lot going on in their lives. This attributes both a problem and blame where there may not be any, and that can be toxic. As much as friends and family who love each other try to offer support, sometimes they need to focus personally, no matter what you did or didn’t do. We all need breaks and the opportunity to take care of our business.

We should certainly continue to strive for self awareness. Self improvement over time helps us be better people and certainly kinder to ourselves and our reality. But since we all live in an interconnected world, developing and practicing an awareness of others can be impactful on both those we relate to and our relationships with them. We can accomplish more if we consider the perspective of others in communication, how we make them feel, and stop taking things personally (and removing blame).

How are you cultivating your self awareness and awareness of others? Do you think you need to master one before the next? Have you experienced the impact of this before, and what was it like?

 

Magazine Round Up: The Ideas that Shape and Inspire on the Printed Page

Though magazines aren’t as instant as social media, it is impossible to stay on top of every article posted at all hours of the day. Plus, who doesn’t love getting mail?! Each month, I save the magazines that come in for an empty weeknight or weekend morning. I enjoy having a few hours to pour through the pages and think about the ideas shared. Self-education and continuous learning are important, not just for the joy of reading or escaping boredom. Learning more allows us to think with more dimension and color, and make connections we previously couldn’t see. It allows us, as you’ll read below, to solve old problems in new ways and new problems in creative ways.

Here are some highlights of what I’ve read in two recent issues!

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From Inc., March/April 2018 issue.

  • Page 18: “The Future and the Farm” – One area identified by author Lauren Barack that was underhyped, but with related excitement about the area, was security. Digital security and physical security are both important because without them functioning well, there is fear amongst us normal folks and specialists alike. We have to be careful about the perception of security, and balance the need for privacy and safety with community and ease of use.
  • Page 26: “Rising and Grinding with Daymond John” – I love the approach to goal setting Daymond John has, and not just related to setting the action and timelines for the goals. He themes his goals around areas of life that are most important to him, and he reads them twice a day as a reminder, no matter how long range or immediate they might be. He understands the impact his goals have on other people, and this is probably one of the mindsets that has led to his success.
  • Page 36:  “Here’s a Crazy Idea for Startups: Profits” – This article focuses on the concepts of business sustainability, rather than how the founders exit and get paid. It seems like a smarter business ideal, smarter investment approach, and a better way to treat customers and employees.
  • Page 42: “Keeping Your Workers Well” – “…18 percent of American adults suffer from some form of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.” This is a staggering statistic that shows we need to do a better job taking care of ourselves and helping others care for themselves also. Treating mental health issues before they hurt who they afflict can impact business productivity, but we have to remove the stigma.

 

From Entrepreneur, April 2018 issue

I may not own a company, but I find the articles to be relevant to work and my interests and the intersection of both of those. Occasionally, we need to change our perspective and the way we think to implement new ways of doing things.

  • Page 22: “Always Serve Your Customer” – Having customers provides the ability for a business to exist, but the company has to pay attention for how they treat their customers! Investment in this area is crucial. Author Boyd Farrow quotes expert Maryli Karske on the fact that good service follows satisfied employees.
    • Personal note: my husband recently had a third-in-a-row bad experience as a newly opened sweetgreen near our home. We submitted a complaint about inventory and customer service. The customer rep responded in a way we couldn’t imagine (in under an hour to an online form!), explaining the actions the company would take to make sure this didn’t happen again. Not only were we heard and received a response, but I was given three options on how I would reward the employee for five-star service. How cool is that!
  • Page 30: “90 Meetings in 90 Days” – Stephanie Schomer highlights the efforts RubiconMD founders Gil Addo and Carlos Reines made to learn about the applicability of their idea to potential markets and customers. The results were surprising! This is a great indicator of the importance of socializing our ideas, asking questions, and understanding the problems that people may not be able to define, but need solved. It was a short but inspiring article reminding us that business is more personal than we let ourselves remember.
  • Page 42: “When Disaster Strikes, Can Entrepreneurship Save Us?” – Hurricane Maria left island nations and Puerto Rico in ruins, without communication or power. Entrepreneur Jesse Levin traveled to understand the biggest issues impacting those on the island. Simply communicating and asking questions led to executable solutions to help large groups of Puerto Ricans – a $33K investment led to $3M in grocery transactions to feed the hungry island residents. The article goes on to detail what is referred to as “expeditionary entrepreneurship” and the resolve and creativity of many Puerto Ricans, working together to build each other and their communities back up.
    • Personal note: The story notes that Levin hopes to focus on emergency preparedness, rather than disaster response. There is so much sex appeal around building new versus taking care of what we have. We NEED, as a society, to take care of what we build. Whether your home, the local school, the state bridge, or the federal highway. Infrastructure investment is essential and forgotten by our government officials, and even regulated and quasi public industries like utilities for water, wastewater, and power.

 

Which topics resonate the most with you? What new ideas are you thinking of after reading about what others are doing? Are any inspiring to you?