Professional/Personal Development (gross) Books that are Great for 2016

Hello all, I’m back at it with a few more book recommendations. This post is dedicated to that necessary evil we all love to hate—Professional/Personal Development.

I’ve written on the subject of self-help books before, though “Personal/Professional Development” sounds a little sexier, if not creepily hormonal.  Wouldn’t you know, there’s a brand new batch of great books for 2016 just waiting to be devoured. I’ve always been open to various genres (turning my nose up will likely result in me walking into something). So I’ve tried it all—from trashy romance novels to horribly angsty YALit to some really dry, difficult classics, and they’ve all taught me something valuable.

The thing about Personal and Professional Development books is they aren’t sly about their teaching—there’s basically a big ol’ neon sign flashing “this is going to teach you something” above each work. In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to feel bogged down, unmotivated, and overwhelmed, especially when you evaluate your career and life and come up wanting.

The thing is, everyone is a work in progress. Everyone could use a little extra boost. 

I’ve always been kind of obsessed with the topic of improvement. My shelves are lined with notebooks filled to the brim with neatly scripted to-do lists and goals and inspirational phrases painstakingly transposed from Google (is that endearing or just sad?). I’m a big believer in setting attainable goals and working my arse off until I can contentedly slide my pen across one less item on my ever-changing life list. No matter if you’re a CEO of a major corporation, a stay-at-home mama with a brood of lovely rascals, or a fresh-faced college grad with a little too much pluck, these books can help you and your  career develop (yuck).

1.) I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time

Laura Vanderkam

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I enjoyed this book so much I read it twice. Seriously, I did. Though I will say this book isn’t exactly the most beautifully crafted—Vanderkam’s turn of phrase won’t make you sigh with metaphysical understanding or laugh out loud. However, her advice is practical and her approach is pragmatic, and I love the book’s underlying theme. In the book she interviews hundreds of “mosaic women,” females who have young children but also have a career that earns them over 100K.  She simply asks these women how they manage their time without delving into the archaic, dried-up “how does she do it all” narrative. She discusses practical ways women can truly engage with family and grow their career while not falling prey to the harried, scary business mommy trope. She reminds us that we actually have 168 hours a week, and those hours can be spent catering to a hectic job, raising a loving child, engaging in meaningful connection with a spouse, and facilitating truly beneficial “me time.” She writes:

You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself. Recognizing that is what makes success possible.

and this little gem…

In life, you can be unhappy, or you can change things. And even if there are things you can’t change, you can often change your mind-set and question assumptions that are making life less good than it could be.

She also takes on the narrative we tell ourselves about how “busy” we are. In society business is a status symbol in the same way a lack of sleep seems to represent a life well-lived (more so, at least, than someone who happily clocks 7-8 hours a night). Vanderkam takes these assumptions to task and upends them, asserting that it’s okay to have leisure time and to be well-rested.

2.) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Marie Kondo

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Okay people get ready to have your world rocked. I understand that this book is very “in” right now. It’s very “buzzy.” It’s all the “rage.”

Unnecessary quotations are wonderfully awful.

Marie Kondo is a self-proclaimed tidier who has spent her whole life looking for efficient ways to store, manage, and enjoy her belongings. It’s kind of impossible to continue living in clutter after reading her engaging work. Yes, my purse is still a madhouse of fools and my car is kind of an embarrassment to the human race, but my cabinets…my cabinets are truly lovely. The same can be said for the majority of my house, although my closet tends to build up with clothes and puppy toys faster than you can say clutter. However, Kondo’s two-point approach to getting rid of stuff and filling your space with things that truly bring you joy is really compelling.

In a review of the book an author sums up her approach quite nicely:

First, put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it. Second, once only your most joy-giving belongings remain, put every item in a place where it’s visible, accessible, and easy to grab and then put back. Only then, Kondo says, will you have reached the nirvana of housekeeping, and never have to clean again.

When she says put your hands on everything, Kondo means everything. And she means do it all in “one sitting,” or a cohesive space of time, not spread erratically over a year or a few months. She divides up your tidying into different categories based on their degree of difficulty, with the last category, personal memorabilia, allowing you to put off throwing away your love letters and kindergarten poems until the end. Kondo’s method comes from a worthy place—according to her, your home should only contain the things that bring you contentment and joy.

I will say that her section on books was hard for me—she requires you get rid of books that no longer bring you joy. I must confess I didn’t go through my books as I should have because it is so hard for me to give away books. One day I may need them! Or worse, someone else may randomly need my extra copy of Southern Women Writers and I will be able to fill that void. I know I have a problem and I’m working through it, but I digress.

Kondo asserts that the things you don’t absolutely love are taking up the space that the more joy-bringing items could occupy.  She encourages people to toss or donate these misfit items. Donate and toss I did. By the end of my tidying I had 6 garbage bags filled with stuff I no longer needed. And as Kondo promised, I felt a lightness I could only describe as declutter detox.  The feeling was so strong, I told about 7 of my friends they absolutely had to read the book so we could talk about it at length.

The Life Changing Magic, is much more than a cleaning book. It’s a book about taking stock. It’s a book about assessing the life you have and how it measures up to the life you want, and adjusting accordingly.

So there you have it. Two books to fill up your brain and your Kindle, that will also help you professionally and personally. Happy reading!

 

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A Rant and a Book Review

I’m back at it again, and because life is, well, life, I’m going to flip the script and rant a little bit. Everyone loves good old fashioned rant, right? It’s just, there’s something I’m so over.  I’m sick of it hanging around or trying to burst my perfectly normal life bubble. And here’s the deal, it’s something everyone struggles with at one point or another.

Nope, it’s not a Netflix obsession, though many strong men and women have fallen at the feet of this powerful entity.

It’s fear.

Let me set the stage a little. As part of my job I am required to stay up to date with current events.  I’m also heavily involved with social media.  Although this helps me tremendously in the doldrums of small talk or at fancy parties (Can you believe what *fill in the blank of a politician’s name* said? The Kardashians are truly taking over. Why yes, the stock market does suck right now.), I also find myself inundated with some truly horrible and heartbreaking news on an hour by hour (or with social media, on a minute by minute) basis. This is tough even for the most stable and formidable person, though, I’ve never really described myself as stable or formidable, so occasionally I find myself feeling a teensy bit overwhelmed.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Recently, a news anchor who was fed up with violence and bad news said he was going to only post positive things for an entire day.

 It’s odd that something like this is odd, but it is.

Fear is just the worst. I think one truly horrendous aspect of it, is its ability to morph into anything.  Fear of failure, fear of death (ironic, because it’s the only unavoidable aspect of life), fear of looking like an idiot, fear of dealing with idiots, fear that you’ll never see Gwen Stefani on tour, fear your children will grow up and hate you, fear your children will never grow up, and on and on.

I think in today’s society the inundation of information is sometimes good, but sometimes it’s very, very dangerous.

We’re expected to absorb so much information from so many different avenues in so many different forms (long form rants on Facebook, airbrushed photographs on Instagram, flashing red news headlines on Huff Post, 140 characters of horrifying but weirdly tantalizing stories on Twitter), it’s no wonder our levels of anxiety occasionally topple the scales.

I have found really fantastic ways to combat anxiety and fear–there is nothing a big bowl of carbs and/or mug of the blackest of coffee with a best lady friend can’t heal.  Meditation, my faith, exercise, and trashy celebrity magazines help tremendously, as well–but sometimes I feel like the kid from Matilda who had to eat all the chocolate cake even though it was an impossibly large cake (too much freaking cake)–overstuffed and nauseated.

But yesterday I bought one of my favorite author’s book so that’s something to smile about.

Rising-Strong

I’ve talked about Brene Brown before because, homegirl is a boss lady. She speaks truth like this without a thought:

The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.

*drops the mic and walks away*
She so eloquently speaks to the fear of vulnerability everyone carries. She also talks about shame, an ugly little demon that loves hanging around in our psyches. In her most recent book, Rising Strong, Brown delves head first into the crap of life. She unabashedly goes there. She talks about how we, as a society, love a story of triumph.  We love a good underdog tale where the hero overcomes an obstacle and ends up on top. We just don’t want to know all the muck she had to wade through to get there.
Ouch. 
We love hearing about the CEO that started at the bottom, but fought her way up the ladder, achieving all of her dreams to the soundtrack of “Go the Distance” from Hercules.  But we as a society aren’t exactly ready to hear about the 6 months she was unemployed and how her depression got so bad she couldn’t leave her house for 3 of those months.

Talking about the dark stuff is uncomfortable and shabby and weird. Why is that?

Just because we avoid discussing the dark times, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In fact, I think when we don’t talk about them they grow larger, stretch out their legs, and decide to stay a while. Our emotions are amazing, but if we let them rule us, they will oblige most enthusiastically.

I think speaking the darkness is the only real way to combat it. It’s the only real way we can show up. In her book, Brown gives great advice on finding ways to communicate struggle and show empathy to others.

Fear can also hinder us from taking chances. It whispers that we should live small, shut our beaks, and hope no one notices us.  This comes from a place of people pleasing and worry, but it’s no way to live. When we speak our stories, we’re leaning into fear (fun times, right?).  The leaning in is big, it can even be life changing, but you have to pull your head out of the sand and face whatever it is that’s waiting for you.

Here’s a hint: It’s probably not as bad as your mind’s making you believe. If it is as bad, or worse, then that’s when you turn to your core support group to hold space for you.

And because Tina Fey is a genius,

LOS ANGELES - JAN 27: Tina Fey arrives to the SAG Awards 2013 on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, CA

Follow your fear, which in improv usually leads to someone making you sing an improvised song or rap, which is the worst thing that can happen. But the larger thing is the notion that if something scares you a bit, it means that you should follow it a little bit.

Let’s get our improv rap on and face fear with defiance.

How do you deal with fear? Have you read any Brene Brown? What books inspire you?