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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3 Real Jobs You Can Get with an English Degree

Hello guys and dolls. I hope wherever you are, there’s a nice cup of coffee and a bag/plate of carbs within arm’s distance. Today we’re going to deviate a bit from recommendations and into a darker territory.

The real world.

Now, before you go crawling back into your Netflix-laden hole, hear me out. The real world is kind of scary, yes. Bills and taxes and job interviews and termites are all equally horrible, and they’re all things “adults” have to deal with.  However, everyone hates dealing with blandly adult things. Moreover, most everyone longs for that sweet time when they were able to ask the adults in the room to wave their magic wands and make all the bad and boring disappear.

Sadly, the wand is gone, folks.

For those who’ve just graduated with a Liberal Arts or English degree and find themselves in the hire me hell hole (a term I coined while I resided there), the wand seems like damn lie.

Anyone who has decided to pursue a Literature or Writing Degree has inevitably undergone the questions that accompany them. What are you going to do with that degree? and Are you silently judging my grammar? The answer to the latter is yes, but the first question can give even the most overconfident bibliophile pause. I would argue that even those majoring in “safe” degrees like Accounting or Biology often find the question stumps them, too. Does anyone really know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives in their early twenties? Really? Even people in stable jobs question that decision from time to time (or all of the time), so why the book major bashing, people?

No matter, the question is a valid one (kind of) so it’s only appropriate you provide a (kind of) valid answer. Below are three fields I’ve come across that match the skills of most English majors quite well. And people are catching on.

Enjoy, my coffee drinking compadres.

 

1. Social Media Manager

Social Media Doodles Elements

Before you give me the bird and start your tirade about how social media is the downfall of our society, wait. Hear me out. Then, by all means, continue tirade-ing.

  • Writing about topics you’ve never before known. 
  • Figuring out the perfect turn of phrase. 
  • Understanding the essence of something and communicating it to others in a way that makes them laugh, makes them think, and/or makes them want more. 

Do any of these tasks sound familiar? The answer, of course, is yes. Chances are, you’ve had to accomplish all three of these tasks in one or all of your Literature or Writing courses. Social Media may not seem similar to analyzing a Jane Austen work through a feminist lens; however, the skills that allow you to do so are quite compatible. Similar to a time when you’ve been met with texts you’d never before read, managing social medias for businesses require you to dig a little (or most often, a lot) deeper.  Social Media Managers often are met with clients who are professionals in areas they never in their wildest dreams thought they’d deal with, though they’re able to do the relevant research in order to represent them. Personally, I’ve managed social media accounts for funeral directors, pest control specialists, mortgage lenders, and a brand of vodka.  I’ve learned a lot from them and have been able to use those skills garnered from my Literature courses.

I’ve also had to put on my researching pants and dive head first into the ever-shifting terrain of digital marketing. Researching what interests people, what trends, and what turns people off is actually fascinating.  Moreover, finding the perfect way to reach an audience is extremely satisfying, no matter if it occurs through a thesis or a tweet.

 

2. Content Creator

Young Woman At Her Desk Taking Note

This position probably sounds a little more enticing. The title flutters; however, the job itself is tough, relevant work. Creating relevant, SEO friendly content about, say, a plumbing company may seem daunting, but Content Creators eat stuff like that for breakfast. Their content comes in the form of website content, blogs, informational brochures or press releases, just to name a few.  The title itself shifts from Content Writer to Content Creator to Content Developer; however, the tasks are similar. Create content for a company, individual, or brand in order to draw more attention, gain sales, and provide a well-written narrative. For this job, it’s important that you have a background in research and you’re willing to expand your knowledge base in order to understand seemingly unusable information.

For example, writing 500 words about teeth whitening and cavities for a dental office while implementing key words is just another day in the life for a Content Creator. Content creation can be fun; however, it can feel mind-numbing if you have to consistently create content for fields that don’t interest you at all. That’s where creativity comes in! As a Literature or Writing major, you’re asked to really examine a text—even one that doesn’t interest you in the least—through different lenses, which allows you to expand your interest and gain confidence in the subject matter. The same can be said for tackling a subject for content writing you’ve never before tackled. Content creators must have a handle on the audience, as well, so they know the type of content wants to be read.

 

3. Technical Writer

Cooking Pasta. Step By Step Recipe Infographic

Remember that (other) moment you told you parents you were going to major in English, and they asked, “How will you make money?”

Me too!

At the time I recall yelling, Let me be me!!!!! and running up to my room, slamming the door, and blasting Avril Lavigne or something equally angsty. But I digress…

Technical writing can make you real cabbage (aka money). We aren’t talking brain surgeon or engineer money, but we are talking this kind of money. On the flip side, technical writing is aptly named.

It’s technical. Writing.

Not creative, not stream of conscious, not implementing awesome words like cabbage, but technical. Many technical writing jobs require the writer compose directions, explanations or instructions about a difficult subject, or process in an understandable way. Technical writers work in, you guessed it, primarily information-technology-related industries.  Types of documents technical writers compose are customer service scripts, training course materials, contracts, policy documents, white papers, etc. If you think, I’ve never written customer service scripts, training course materials, contracts, policy documents, white papers, etc. fear not! That’s where that trusty research background comes in. Also, in many cases English majors have to take a Technical Writing course where they learn the basics of formatting and audience for these types of documents.

 

So there you have it—three sound counterarguments to the illogical questioning of your life choices. Next on the list, how Netflix actually makes you a more well-rounded critic. Or maybe I’ll just write more about books I’m reading…

What are other ways you think your Liberal Arts degree prepares you for the “real world”? Any other career suggestions?