Need a fresh start? If you are trying to overcome disappointment, failure or grief or just want to give yourself a kick in the pants, I have started this list of books that are helping me reboot. Have a recommendation to share? Email me or share it in the comments below.
Updated March 2018
Where to start, especially if you need a butt drop:
Pretend you have a plain-speaking, colorful friend who is super smart and worldly. She’s been there and she’s figured it out and now she’s willing to mentor you and tell you that you are a badass. You’ll get that and more from this book. The best part of the book is her recommendations on other books to read depending on your needs.
I also recommend the You Are a Badass page-a-day calendar. This is a great way to start the day and the calendar part is not central to its utility meaning that you can tear off a page as needed. Even if that means you go through a week in one day. We all know some days are like that.
It’s not a book for everyone and it’s a bit dated at this point but I think Tim Ferris provides a good butt drop in The 4-Hour Work Week. He will challenge your excuses and your assumptions. If you have a nagging feeling that there must be more, it’s worth a read to at least open your mind to a different path for your life.
Where to start if you feel busy but not productive:
Deep Work by Cal Newport
If you feel like you are drowning in email, inundated with to-dos, busy but not productive and distracted by everything, this book is for you. Computer science professor Cal Newport will help you examine what it means to do deep work and why it matters. Quitting the distractions isn’t easy but it’s worth doing, especially if you feel like you are jumping from thing to thing but getting nowhere.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
This book profiles the daily habits and rituals of more than 150 artists. If you ever wondered how to be a prolific writer, painter, etc., the answer is simple. Do the work every day. This book illustrates the importance of habit in getting things done. (There are some cautionary tales among these profiles, too.)
The profiles are short, a page or two or even less and you can skip around the book for inspiration or just to satisfy your curiosity about a favorite artist.
Where to start if you feel stuck:
A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley
Thinking about the path not taken? The path you would have like to take if only you were good at math or languages or something else? This is the book is the compass to help you rediscover the road not taken or the road you never dreamed possible. Professor Oakley is an inspiration and she has practical advice for helping you learn anything. Knowledge is power, my friends.
Don’t Pay for Your MBA by Laurie Pickard
You can DIY almost everything, why not your education. This inspiring book helps you see the possibilities of charting a new career course without adding degrees or debt.
The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness by Emily Esfahani Smith
As the title suggests, maybe we are barking up the wrong tree in our search for happiness. Using a wide range of sources and experiences, Smith builds four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence to help the reader chart a different path through unhappiness.
The All or Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work by Eli Finkel
This was really a fascinating book about the history of marriage along with a practical how to guide for creating a better marriage for yourself including a chapter on love hacks for your marriage. (You can also check out Try These ‘Love Hacks’ to Fix Your Marriage in The New York Times.) It’s good for all of us to examine what we expect from marriage and whether those expectations are actually reasonable. Check out the feature article in the Northwestern Magazine, too.
Where to start if you want to be more resilient:
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
It’s humbling to realize that you lack grit. But it’s reassuring to know that you can develop grit. And grit helps you in so many areas of life. Give your grittiness a regular workout and you’ll be amazed at what you are able to accomplish and overcome.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
The sudden death of her husband send Sheryl Sandberg on a journey to find a way forward for herself and her family. This book is for anyone who has faced or is facing adversity and wants to build resilience in their lives and find joy again.
Fostering a growth mindset in yourself and your kids (or other young people)
Definitely, read the appropriate chapters of Grit, above, if you elect not to read the whole book.
Also check out chapter 7 of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.
Crafting a better work life
I am sorry to admit that I had this book for more than three years before reading it cover to cover. Thank you again, Learning How to Learn, for helping me cultivate the ability to read more. If you want to create amazing teams, it’s worth thinking about Sinek’s call to create circles of safety at work.
Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations by Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton
This was another game changer for me. If there is one takeaway from the book it is this: people are suffering and we need to cultivate the most generous interpretation of that suffering that we can in order to build compassionate organizations.
It’s worth printing out a copy of the radical candor framework as a reminder to care personally and challenge directly to stay in radical candor — and, I would argue, best human — quadrant.
Crafting a better life in general
The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
by Daniel Levitin
This book was really a game changer for me. It validated in a final way what I have known for a while: multitasking is impossible and frequent task switching comes only at a huge cost. Understanding how memory works — that it’s more like a file that gets saved over and over again and less like a perfect truth has caused me to be more of a skeptic with my own memory and what I think I remember.
This book also has a number of practical suggestions for offloading things from your brain into systems that you can use to reserve that brain power for things that really matter to you.
If you don’t have the time to read the book right now, I suggest one his lectures on YouTube. I liked this one at the Aspen Institute.