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

The Emotional Reason Why Reading Has Added Value (#1 of 6 – Lessons That Impact My Life)

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

Most times when I walked into my grandfather’ house, next door to where I grew up, he was reading. The entertainment value of reading was important to my grandfather, who was retired for many years and lived on his own. My grandmother died the year before I was born, so he had spent many years without her. Reading filled the time, the loneliness, and gave ideas for discussion when visitors stopped by.

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My grandfather’s favorite book was Jack London’s Call of the Wild. At one point, he had bulk-bought copies so that he could hand out the book to people who hadn’t read it before. It seemed to be his mission to expose the world to this story. The summer I was heading into middle school, Pops decided that the time had come for me to read Call of the Wild.

At twelve years old, I loved reading, so it didn’t take too much prodding to have me do this. Nancy Drew had been my series of choice for years. The downside of my girl-detective obsession was a limited vocabulary (as was suggested to my parents by teachers), so to read Call of the Wild I needed to carry around a dictionary with me. Wasn’t I the coolest kid at camp, carrying around not just a book while everyone was on the playground, but a book accompanied by a dictionary.

While I often have to refer to Google to remind myself of the plot of Call of the Wild, (it clearly did not become one of my favorite books!) I do remember how accomplished I felt when I finally finished. I was more confident in what I could read, feeling like not book was truly out of reach. Referencing the dictionary slowed me down when I couldn’t figure out the “context clues,” but I was proud of the effort it took to finish and actually know what was going on. Looking back, I also realized that:

  • I was learning how to overcome small obstacles with my own initiative. In order to make Pops proud and complete the task, I had to assess options to get through the book. Carrying the dictionary around, so be it.
  • My capabilities would extend as far as I would let them. I could have struggled and given up, or I could resolve to find solutions and succeed.
  • My goals are my goals alone, for no one else to judge. While it was Pops’ idea to read the book, it was my decision to do it. I was teased for carrying a dictionary, but I’d bet I accomplished a few more personally meaningful things than other campers.

My grandfather had to drop out of school in the 8th grade, during the Depression, to help his family. Though he never attended high school, he understood the value of educating yourself both formally – he encouraged all three of his sons to go to college, and they graduated – and informally, by choosing your own adventure. He was a role model by both showing and telling the importance of reading outside of school assignments. It wasn’t just for show, and it set the stage for how important continuous improvement and constant learning can improve our lives and our careers.

While there were some strange times when he might have been reading the obituaries from an out of town newspaper (Dad would often bring him newspapers from other cities on his travels for work), it was clearly evident that reading could be both for learning and enjoyment.

One book Pops read in his later years was Devil in the White City, a novel-like historical non-fiction by Erik Larson, about the times leading up to and during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. When Pops suggested I read it, I was in college. My time was overwhelmed with a challenging engineering curriculum and all of my extracurricular activities, so it went unread for several years. In 2007, my grandfather died from an unexpected illness shortly before fall break of senior year. Over that following Thanksgiving, feeling devastated by his absence, I finally tore through Devil in the White City. Of course, Pops was right that I would love it.

Books are a powerful connector of people. Not only can they provide information, but also deep emotional associations. When you can share that raw feeling with another person, it opens you up not only emotionally, but intellectually and to the world beyond your own bubble. Books aren’t just an escape from our day-to-day; they are bigger than that. Reading serves as a bridge in relationships and our perceptions.

The value of reading helps to break up the monotony of business emails and technical reports that can drain us mentally. As communication has transformed to a greater digital focus and definitely more visual, reading can help keep the brain stimulated and primed to think differently. Imagine how much that can help with improving problem solving. What do you see in the value of reading? Did you learn to love any activities from a favorite family member?

The other five stories will be published in coming days. Please check back soon!

11 Techniques to Spark More Ideas in Your Life

As I’ve been on this quest of creativity, I’ve been focused on developing more ideas that I can execute on. However, if you ever talk to my husband, he might tell you that the last thing I need more of is ideas. Though I am a believer of quality over quantity, some quantity of ideas can beget even more ideas. Why shut off the faucet if the water is desired and flowing? A lot of quality ideas can cascade down into a few great concepts worth pursuing. We should strive to come up with as many ideas as is possible if we desire to create anything and have success.

But what to do with these ideas?

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All you need is a little ambition and courage to put your ideas out into the world. I’m still experimenting with this, and am excited about the big splash one certain idea made in my world with self publishing a book later this year. Writing is certainly one outlet, and so is the traditional creative endeavor of art. With the rise of innovation, creativity is entering and transforming not only the workplace, but how people live, use products, transport themselves, and interact with humans, animals, and robots alike.

If you’re inspired to make change in the world around you but aren’t quite sure where to begin, here are some thoughts about coming up with more ideas:

  1. Reading. Take risks with genres you wouldn’t normally pursue, try new authors, and read about things you may have never heard of before. Diversifying your selections allows exposure to new concepts, beliefs, and understandings. Most of my reading revolves around non-fiction, like leadership, management, and personal improvement. But mixing in fiction gives me an opportunity to treat my brain to a break and think about life from someone else’s imagination.
  2. Listening to lyric-free music. As fun as lyrics make songs fun to sing along to, I listen to lyric-free music at work. I find I can be more focused and take the energy of the music and apply it the energy I need to work with and get things done. Some examples I enjoy are movie scores (anything by John Williams is a winner for me), college fight songs, and some of my favorite composers like Tchaikovsky.
  3. Walk or run outside. Either of these activities allow you to get away from the daily grind. Being physical in the fresh air, sunshine, and breeze is freeing and mind opening for me. It is also time away from distraction. On early morning workouts, I often find peace and quiet on the track to think through challenges I need to work through or what excitement is coming in my day.
  4. Meditate. Despite haphazard implementation into my own life, I see multi-day impacts from just one three or five minute session. I am able to think both more broadly and with greater clarity. It gives the ability to assess new and different concepts I couldn’t before. When I am frustrated in both personal and professional settings, I find that the meditation practice, even intermittently, helps me step back and re-frame the situation.
  5. Share the ideas you do have. Expressing ideas to receptive listeners (and especially the devil’s advocates in our lives) forces us to think through details, challenges, and how we might execute. Sharing with someone who asks thoughtful questions can put your idea on a new axis of orientation and spin it in a new direction.
  6. Writing in a journal. Writing down thoughts on a regular basis can free up your mind for a task, have therapeutic benefits, and preserve your ideas for future reference. I like to spend fifteen to twenty minutes a day, sometimes less and sometimes more, reflecting on the events immediately past or upcoming. This writing lets me connect with my feelings and gives an outlet to express and explore. It forces me to come to terms with where I really stand, good and not so good, and practice self-awareness.
  7. Be bored. Creating the optimal time and space to think without anything else going on around you can be tough to carve out. Put your phone away. Close the laptop. Even hide the headphones in the drawer. Being bored lets the brain have a rest from constant stimulation. However, I find that my brain focuses on my thoughts in a relaxing and non urgent manner, unlike meditation, where thoughts pass through. Growing up, being bored forced my imagination and creative side to activate. We made up stories and new sports – boredom forced us to be adventurous in a variety of ways. This can be true as adults, too!
  8. Have interesting conversations. Dig deep, be curious, ask questions. Talk to strangers (carefully). Examine your values with others. Play the contrarian instead of agreeing. Explore the “why” all around you. Get rid of small talk, and truly get to know about someone’s history and purpose and place in this world. Take the topic of weather, a typical point in small talk. Addressing snow or sun might lead to discussing hobbies that are weather based, then onto the entry into those sports, and what benefits someone gets from a lifetime of skiing or hiking.
  9. Try new experiences. How do you learn and adjust to changes? Whether it is trying Thai food for the first time or actually going to explore Thailand, find something in your budget that takes you out of your comfort zone. You may see (or taste) things very differently going forward.
  10. Don’t let anything get in your way. We can be our own worst enemies with ideas. They don’t need to be realistic yet when they are just ideas. Start with no judgment, expectation, or requirement for you ideas. Just let them “be” to begin, and you can take next steps, next!
  11. Practice, practice, practice. I am a horrible free throw shooter, not that I’m a great basketball player anyhow. I loved the game in high school, though, and I experienced the joy in the desire to get better. Practice, when consistent and done whole heartedly, can be a path toward excellence. Ideation takes practice too – pretty soon you’ll be practicing the execution of ideas.

 

One of my personal goals in the coming months is to experiment more with execution, to go beyond the idea phase. Most, if not all, ideas are not perfect on their first iteration, or in theory only. By getting to “ship stage,” execution allows the idea to come to life, to figure out what adjustments are needed to meet the desired goal, and figure out if it will fail or has a chance at successful impact over time. I hope to be a catalyst for positive change in the worlds around me, whether work or home or socially or with organizations I volunteer for. This experimentation goal will take some courage to put myself out there. It might be the same for you.

Coming up with new ideas can be invigorating if you welcome the opportunity to think and try the eleven techniques listed. New ideas excite my passion for life. Ideas ignite the possibility that anything can be possible if I believe it to be so.

What methods do you find best for coming up with ideas? Are you pursuing execution of any of your ideas? Are there additional methods you would add to the list?

 

The Top Reads of 2017 in the Second Half

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Earlier this year I set myself a goal of reading 35 books. Given that I read only 11 in 2016, it seemed like an audacious goal, but attainable and worth striving for. Reading for me encompasses many needs and desires. In almost every situation, reading opens my mind in new ways, to new possibilities, no matter if fiction or nonfiction. I feel more creative, or develop skills, or end up laughing. All things I desire in life!

I not only met my goal of reading 35 books, I smashed it! The total as of today is 41, an increase of 17% over the goal! The goal was certainly helped by some books that were not only shorter than most, but also more of a booklet than you would consider a typical book.

Everything I read was on an e-reader (I use the Kindle, but ‘m sure you can find one you like!) and for me it made everything a million times easier because I knew it fit in every bag I use on a day to day basis. That made it easy to carry, and the sales on ebooks tend to result in a lower price, so it is more affordable and easier to buy more over the course of a year. Even if the average price was $5 for an ebook (and this feels high to me for what I actually spent), it compares to a typical $15 I might spend to purchase (non fiction) paperbacks and $25 that I might spend on hardcovers, which is rare. Over the total of all books, I spent $205 and saved $410 versus all paperback and $820 versus completely hardcover. Those savings are not small numbers! Of course, the library is cheaper than spending any money at all.

Since I shared my favorite books in the first half of the year, I thought I would share my best reads over the last six months. The books I read and found worth sharing are below, in no particular order.

Beyond the Label, by Maureen Chiquet: The former CEO of Chanel shared her career path and lessons learned in both the office and at home. She is a compelling storyteller and shares some good advice applicable to anyone. I’m not a lover of fashion and still found this book quite relevant. You feel like you are in the room during certain stories, because the people and situations are so well described. There were a few moments where I found myself wondering how she balanced everything going on, and Ms. Chiquet described several times when she was working through the imbalance of being not just an executive, but a person.

A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: This was part of the Alpha Gamma Delta book club and was perhaps the most insightful, eye-opening read in the past six months. The authors take a detailed look at what makes service, volunteerism, and most especially charitable giving work best. They encourage research and more attention to decision making, and highlight a number of causes that either haven’t worked well or have worked tremendously. While the authors stop short of promoting which specific charities you should support (they do highlight some high-performers), they note some objectives we should think through and work with what is most important to the individual donor. The important thing is to do what you are able to do to help! Anything is better than sitting back.

The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking: Knowing quite little about the Danish culture, this book was not only a great primer but a window into the lifestyle of what makes the Danes tick. I was enamored of the concept of Hygge (“hig-eh”) and would love to create a version of it in my own life – surround myself with good people, good lighting, good design, comfy clothes, and enjoy the outdoors when possible! This is a simplistic summary, as there are recipes and stories and details that make the “Danish secrets to happy living” meaningful to those of us outside Denmark.

How to be an Imperfectionist, by Stephen Guise: As a recovering perfectionist, this book was a great read because it captures everything I am missing about previous and current efforts, actively trying to not be perfect. The author stresses the importance of imperfection to anything, along the lines that any action yields us results that lead to success in some variation. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by perfection – life is better when imperfect!

Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman: This book is notable because it forced me to confront the fact that I still have to learn about and improve upon my leadership style. Everyone who reads it wants to identify as a Multiplier, but there are aspects of the Diminisher and Accidental Diminisher that seem to haunt all of us in one way or another until we take action to correct over the long term. Being that uncomfortable from self reflection and taking the hit to the confidence is not something I necessarily aspire to, but I do aspire to be an impactful leader. This book encourages honest reflection and provides the insight needed to make the improvements.

The Crossroads of Should and Must, by Elle Luna: This was the shortest book I read all year, and did so in an entire sitting of waiting for a doctor’s appointment that was running behind. The illustrations were what really made the discussion of considering a “should” versus a “must” and which makes the most sense for your life and what you want for your personal outcome.

In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honoré: This book impacted me so much I wrote a blog post earlier this year on it – check it out to see what it exposed me to and what my reactions and life benefits were!

The two books I was reading at the time of the posting of my mid year were put on hold so I could truly focus on them for a couple hours at a time. The Joanna Barsh book on Centered Leadership needs attention because of what look to be impactful introspective activities. That may be a good, low-key weekend activity and read.

I’ve already downloaded a half dozen books for next reading, and the genres are all over the map. Winter is a great time to cozy up with a tea or hot chocolate, maybe a soft blanket or a cuddly puppy, and a book or device that emulates a book, and escape reality. Maybe we learn ways to improve and gain inspiration for setting new goals, and perhaps we just gain a few minutes of peace. Whatever joy reading brings you, may you feel much of that joy this season in all areas of your life!

How Slowing Down is Improving Life

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One thing my dad always jokingly reminded me about with my “athletic skill” (or lack thereof) was how slow I am. It wasn’t mean, only a reminder of the facts and that I needed to work harder than the competition to be able to play. I’m just not built for speed, no matter how hard I worked at it.  My all time best mile time is 7 minutes, flat. I don’t ever recall timing a 100 yard dash, or I’ve forgotten the times and buried them deep in a place where I don’t want to be reminded. In sports and in business it is all about speed. But earlier this month I finished Carl Honore’s book about embracing a different pace of life, In Praise of Slowness. This book was captivating from the start, and the author enhanced the academic and medical arguments for slowing down with his own experiences and the anecdotes of those he meets on his journey to study the slow movement.

The book takes compartmentalized adventures through different areas of our lives and environment, but ultimately all connect back to why slowing down creates benefits for each and for all who embrace the concept. While I won’t be starting campaigns to turn my city into a “Slow City”, there were a number of practices to take away and try in my life. At the same time I was reading this book, I began exploring meditation. My director at work had recommended an app called HeadSpace, and the recommendation combined with the convincing storytelling by Carl Honore compelled me to try the app also. While I have only used the guided meditation app four times, I’ve realized it is a critical tool not just for stress management, but life and health management.

In addition to the mind/body inclusion of meditation, at least irregularly for now, I began looking differently about how I approach everything. While I was near finishing the book, my husband Tom and I went out for a brunch in Boston. We had no plans for the day and took our time ordering. Either despite or because the restaurant was quiet with Bostonians and weekend brunchers escaping the city for Labor Day weekend, drink and food came quickly. With Massachusetts barring liquor sales on a Sunday before 10am, we did have to wait to order a cocktail.

Now before I continue, I have to point out that Tom is generally and perfectly a relaxed and low-key person – practically my foil to those who have known my intensity. To take in a brunch without being rushed is more in his nature than mine. I kept commenting to Tom how nice it was to relax and enjoy and not feel rushed. His reaction was less in awe than mine, to the effect of, of course, this is brunch, it is supposed to be relaxing!

And what were the results of my slow brunch? I tasted the flavors more intensely than I usually do. I ate less and only what I wanted (you know, the crispiest of the home fries are the only ones worth having!), resulting in a feeling of being satiated but not overfull. There was time for conversation with Tom, to notice the interior architectural details, and to wallow in the smells of coffee and toast. I was more aware of my surroundings and more immersed in the moment and where I was. And this is just brunch! And inspired by a book I wasn’t even done reading yet! The descriptions of the four to five hour dinners in Italy sounded confusing at first, but lounging through a 90 minute brunch when breakfast during the week is scarfing down some eggs and coffee started to change my view. Slowness is not about time, but about experience. Forget time. Being slow allows more ways to enjoy life and those we love and spend time with.

The “slow way” spilled over to work this week. With the approach in mind and meditation on my side from the night before, I focused singularly on tasks, ignored phone calls until I was in a mentally productive place to take them (not interrupting my task, and then wasting time – for both people – orienting to the needs of the caller), and took time out to properly plan the day and days ahead. My to do list was ambitious for the week, but I accomplished or made significant progress on almost everything. I was calm. Relaxed. Cool under pressure, even! Wow – what a change from stressed, harried, exhausted, and ragged. When I took my scheduled vacation day on Friday, there was little to worry about in escaping the office.

A good book, and especially the great ones, can be powerful motivators and influencers. When the topic influences the way you live almost immediately and with what seems to be (or I hope) long lasting behaviors, you know it is a good one. I would highly recommend this book, and even gave it 5 stars on Amazon. I’m usually not a five star person unless I am blown away, and In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore certainly made an impact. Because there is so much good reading to be done, I rarely re-read books, but anticipate referring back to some areas of this book as a reminder to slow down and take in life more fully.

I’m surprised, and shouldn’t be upon reflection, that slowing down is helping me achieve and accomplish more. While I may take breaks from work or side projects, I’m more refreshed and thoughtful during those breaks. Less TV, more walking. Social media is meant to educate and enlighten and share what piques my interest rather than get lost and be envious of others’ lives. I’m more motivated to execute on the workouts I’ve planned for myself, because I’m not worried about other things I could be doing. Instead, I’m focused on how great I feel during and after, filled with maybe an inappropriate amount of pride and accomplishment, but also satisfaction and feelings of better health (or at least on the road to it!).

The slow life must be welcomed rather than forced, but try reading the book In Praise of Slowness and filling your life with routines and actions that make you better personally, with others, and for others. I feel wildly improved over a short period of time and hope the same for you!

What life-altering books have you read lately? Are you living in praise of slowness also? Let me know in the comments!