Some Book Recommendations
I read a lot. A lot. The bookshelves in my bedroom are overflowing, I’m 99% sure there are boxes in the attic filled to the brim with books, there are a dozen scattered across this office, and another handful buried under fabric in my crafting space. Mostly fiction, which is how I like it. But every once in a while (read: once a week), I pick up a non-fiction book and work my way through a few chapters.
This post is going to focus on a specific category of book—non-fiction productivity and/or career books. I don’t love many, but the ones I do have had a measurable impact on my life. I’ll list them out here with a handy Bookshop.org link (not affiliated), and a little background on what they’ve done for me.
Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams by Barbara Sher
This book is probably my most recommended book of all time, in any category. When I say it changed my life, I’m not kidding. All of my life, I’ve wanted to do, well, everything. I don’t know if you’ve noticed (I have), but the current consciousness (western, at least) tends to think everyone needs to pick one thing and stick with it. This isn’t an accurate representation of the world, obviously, but it’s out there, the same way that “boys can’t like pink” is out there, and inaccurate, to say the least. For me, “pick one thing and stick with it” was as damaging as “boys can’t like pink” can be. I spent my childhood being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up; every time I’d have a different answer and the adult asking would say, “Didn’t you say you wanted to be an insert-other-job-here?”
“Well, I want to be both and/or all of those things,” wasn’t an answer.
Enter, this book. Barbara Sher points out that this “one thing and one thing only“ approach doesn’t fit everyone, and in fact never fit some of the most well-known minds in history. The first part of the book is focused on helping people like me come to terms with the fact that we are normal even if we don’t fit the current mold. For the first time in my life, I felt seen. The second part of the book is focused on figuring out how people like this think, focusing on different iterations on the theme, from people who have 17 different things they want to do every day, to people who want to dive into a career for 5 years and then move on to something else for another 5 (or 10 or 2), then rinse and repeat. The best part? Within this section, Sher explains different productivity or focus methods for each archetype, and never once says “Just pick one.” I personally fit a few molds, and pulled tactics from every archetype.
Even if this doesn’t sound like you, I’d bet reading this book would give you insight into some people you know who can’t seem to choose. Maybe they’re not made to.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
Next in The Books That Changed My Life, we’ve got a classic (can it be a classic after only 3 years? 🤔). A trend in productivity books is to hand you a system from top to bottom and tell you it’s the only thing. Not so in this delightfully simple book. Everyone knows what a habit is, but do you know how it’s formed? How it’s broken? After reading this book, you will. On top of it, you’ll learn how to tactically deploy habits until they become a part of your life.
I’ve got bad habits like anyone, but I’ve made more progress breaking them since reading this book a few years ago (and then again last year to refresh myself). Perhaps even more importantly, I’ve built up a stack of good habits that take me from when my alarm goes off at 6am to about 9:30am. I’m still working on building out more habits to help me out, but even the dozen I have are working wonders.
I’ll likely dive deeper into my habit stack in another post, but for illustrative purposes, I went from listlessly drifting through my morning until I felt like diving into a focused task to being done with my top 2 must-dos before I finished my first cup of coffee.
James Clear provides examples, stories, and multiple ways to use habits to improve your life, whatever system you’re currently using. Just consider habit-building & -breaking another tool on your belt.
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal
This book leans a little more self-help than anything, but you know what, it doesn’t matter. You should read it, it’ll change you. Ever wonder why you reach for the chocolate at the end of the day when dinner’s on the stove and will be done in literally 5 minutes, can’t you wait? The answer is probably, no, you can’t, because you’re tired, you’re hungry, and your brain knows that chocolate = the best substance on Planet Earth.
McGonigal dives into why we can’t resist chocolate, or social media, or your own personal vice (hint: we’re not programmed to resist), then goes about teaching you, step-by-step how to build up your willpower muscles. The book is written to work like a weekly program, and though McGonigal recommends you follow this, she also says that reading through the book cover-to-cover can’t hurt either.
I’ll willingly admit, the first time I read it, I just read it. The second time, I planned to go week-by-week, and stopped halfway through. But, that’s okay because I still own it and I can try again until it sticks. I’ve already noticed the effects in my life, and I’m willing to bet if I got through the program, the change would filter in the same way habits have.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
Now, we’ve passed out of the Life Changer area and into the Changed My Perspective zone. If my parents had read this book or Duckworth had focused on adults a little more, this may have been a life-changer, but it’s still worth a read. Grit, as defined by Duckworth, is our ability to hard things, and it’s essential. It seems self-explanatory, of course, but all big truths do.
The book goes into research into grittiness and its relationship to success, happiness, and other important areas of our lives, then into how to develop grittiness. Duckworth, being an educator, focuses mainly on grit and children, so a lot of the application section is focused on building grit in children. It was a source of frustration, but at the same time, a lot of what she talks about is applicable if you work for it.
A lot of it could be boiled down, but I still think it’s worth the read.
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson, Lou Aronica
This book is a follow-on from Sir Ken Robinson’s first TED Talk, and it’s worth a read as well. Having first seen the talk in a college lecture with an amazing professor, I never forgot it. Robinson described my experience in schools, as I’m sure hundreds of people can attest. Now, some of the examples in the book are taken right from the TED Talk, but that’s okay, the message is still worth it.
In the same vein as Refuse to Choose!, Robinson attests that children (and us adults) were shoved into a mold because schools weren’t built to teach us to be individuals, and this is having manifold effects on a culture that’s beginning to see that creativity is the new life-blood of our economy. It has to be.
Don’t think you’re creative? After this book, you will, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be angry that you were ever taught to stifle it. I hope it helps you find your Element(s)–Robinson goes to great pains to point out that not everyone is one thing, for which I’m forever grateful.
The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Goden
This one is a relatively new addition to my recommendable books list. I picked it up a few months ago and have been working my way through it very slowly. It’s written in the form of microscopic essays, all of them focused on creativity and what Goden calls “The Practice” of creative work. In it, Goden argues that everyone is creative, and that being creative in public is both necessary and brave. The themes build from there, but every essay makes me pause and think. I’m going to reread it multiple times, I can feel it, but first I’m going to let it simmer, and see what happens.
I don’t agree with everything Goden says, but I appreciate the work he’s doing.
Overall, this book is more a motivational coach than practical advice in becoming creative, but who doesn’t need someone to cheer them on and encourage them to move forward step-by-step?
Now, I might not write another recommendation post for a while, but in case you want to keep up with it live, here are some options:
- See my recommendations on Goodreads
- Follow this RSS feed to get updates whenever I add a book to my recommendations list