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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Lady Love: 2 Reasons Peggy Olson is the Cat’s Pajamas

Well hello there. We’re off to the races with another Lady Love post because we all need a little motivation during the summer months. Especially when some mornings, the alarm is your arch nemesis. Especially if you walked out of the house wearing two different shoes.

Adulting is tough, y’all.

So for those who have been snoozing beneath a rock or another heavy object, Peggy Olson is one of the main characters (the main character? Ah, now there’s an argument) on AMC’s uber popular show, Mad Men. The show’s about a glamorous advertising agency filled with exciting clients and unstoppable people brimming with business acumen…oh yeah and alcoholism, depression, addiction, infidelity, and egregious, never-ending sexism toward women each time they try and, you know, use their brains. Peggy Olson goes from a meek lil’ secretary to a BAMF copy editor with her own money, her own office, and her own set of lucrative clients…in the 1960s…when women were basically seen as shiny, skirted baby making housemaids without the capability of having ideas.

Wherever Peggy goes, the tunes of Destiny’s Child plays faintly in the background.

So because inspiration is good and showing some lady love is better, here are 2 reasons why copying my girl Pegs is a good idea.

She has Confidence

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Peggy knows what she’s worth. She understands her value and her talent and she doesn’t shy away or demur from her successes. This wasn’t really the case in the beginning of the show, but soon after taking a job as a secretary it becomes evident that Peggy has a good case of the believesinherself.

Even though we live in a time where women are kicking butt and taking names, I think it’s so easy to fall silent when someone asks “Who wrote this?” or “Who made this happen?” It’s so easy to strive for being liked.  Make no mistake, this happens with men, too, but it happens way more with ze lay-deez. As a lay-dee, I would know. Though being a total toolbag is not something for which I advocate, I think being likable will only get you so far.

Gasp.

This is such a difficult concept for a born again, recovering people pleaser, but the older I get the more I realize this.  Being liked is nice, it’s comfortable, and sometimes, it’s necessary. Heck, everyone wants to be liked! From childhood we are taught to make friends and play nice, but the kind of like-driven striving I’m vying against is the kind that comes at a price.  Because y’all, there’s a big difference between being liked and being respected. I think we owe it to the world to be kind and selfless; however, when we sell our souls and our futures at the altar of people pleasing (maybe a little dramatic?), the next thing you know you’ve forgotten who you are and what you’re worth in the process.  For example, you may be a super capable employee, but out of fear of standing out or showing off, you hide, you put your head down, you keep your mouth shut.

This is no bueno.

Peggy is a fabulous illustration of this because there are many times over the course of the show when her coworkers, friends, and family don’t really like her. Her family thinks she’s too wild, her coworkers think she’s too ambitious, her friends think she’s too busy, but when copy needs to be written you can bet they call Peggy. Peggy understands her worth; by season 7 she walks into her office with purpose and swagger. It’s her confidence that allows her to be seen, and then, respected…and then RICH. (muahahaha)

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She’s Willing to Change

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The Peggy from episode 1 of Mad Men is most definitely not the confident, talented Peggy at the end of the show.  Yes, the culture around Peggy shifts and moves, but Peggy changes, too. Her wide eyes grow harder, more astute, and through her experiences with Don Draper, Joan, Pete Campbell (what a twisted, perfect friendship) Sterling Cooper (then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, then SCDP Cutler Gleason & Chaough, then SCDP and Partners…whew) she grows. Over the course of the show it’s evident that Peggy is a good person and that stays true, but she definitely transforms; there’s a very obvious arc to her character.

Peggy is open to change. She’s willing to see when she’s wrong, when she isn’t giving herself enough credit, when she trusts too much (or not enough) and she learns from it and adapts. Let’s not forget Peggy was the one who both (briefly!) doted on Don as his secretary and later became his rock, saving him with tough love and empathy on numerous occasions.  If she wasn’t willing to change, to see both Don and herself through a new lens, their relationship wouldn’t be what it was at the end of the show.

The show itself is obsessed with change. Changing identities, changing marriages, changing jobs, changing fashion (I die for the 70s fashion), and I think Peggy’s strength comes from that change. NPR agrees with me on this!

The show’s main fascination, of course, is change: whether it’s possible, what it does to people, and who pays the price for it. Holmes, NPR

In Mad Men, if you don’t change, you get left behind. We see this with Betty (poor, poor Betty) and Rodger, at times. Seeing Peggy successfully navigate life’s many shifts and shift with them is liberating. She chameleons her way to the top,and it’s awesome.  I mean the cigarette smoking, dirty painting wheeling, late for work Peggy that saunters into her new job is not the same little mouse that squeaked into Don’s office in episode one.

It’s kind of nice knowing I’m not expected to be exactly the same person for the rest of my life, because, you know, the shoe incident of 2015 was pretty embarrassing.

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