2021 Reading List: Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

I think I have to stop reading books by Brene Brown. Don’t get me wrong, I love all her vulnerability work and I think she really has something there. But I looked back at the past few books of hers that I read and I didn’t love those ones either.

I love her as a person. I really do. I think she’s doing great work. I think she’s changing lives and organizations. I think she’s making a difference. And I’m sure her message and her books resonate for a lot of people.

But for me, I just can’t read about rumbling and wholeheartedness anymore.

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2021 Reading List: The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

Two days after I finished this book, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce. Since I loved this book and I suddenly felt irrationally close to Melinda after reading her words, I was heartbroken. I have struggled to finish this post ever since.

I admittedly don’t know very much about Bill and Melinda Gates, besides their involvement with Microsoft and the Foundation. But I will be the first to tell you that I don’t think you need to know someone’s entire biography in order to read their books, articles, media, etc. and listen to what they have to say. So I was excited to read Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.

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2021 Reading List: Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope by Wendy Holden

Every so often I pick up a book about the Holocaust. It’s a heart-wrenching reminder of the strength and fragility of human beings. I can’t remember where I saw this book recommended but it was probably on a list somewhere. Seems that other people find these stories to be moving as well.

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope, by Wendy Holden, is perhaps more impactful and meaningful to me now, as a mother myself, than it might have been a few years ago. This is a shockingly true story of three women who were in the early weeks of pregnancy when they were sent to Auschwitz in 1944. Amazingly, all three mothers and all three babies survived. This book is their story.

This book takes readers through each of the women’s lives, telling us where they grew up and went to school, how they lived with their families, their hopes and dreams, their skills and values and religious views. One chapter at a time, we learn about their backstory and who they were before the Holocaust changed their lives forever.

Every story of a Holocaust survivor is heartbreaking. It’s horrific and unimaginable. These stories are perhaps more so.

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2021 Reading List: Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo

Somewhere I must have read something good about this book. There has to be some reason why I thought it would be worth reading, why I thought it might help me succeed in life.

Maybe for someone out there, this book really was worth reading. But for me, it felt redundant and childish.

Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo is the basic pep talk you need if you are struggling, in general, with life, and maybe if you’ve never ever had a pep talk before and if you’ve never heard anyone else cheer you on and tell you that you have what it takes. But at the end of the day, that’s all it was. A pep talk. It was nothing life changing. There were no huge life lessons explained. There was nothing that the book told me that I didn’t already know.

I have had lots of supportive people in my life who have told me, in some way or another, that I am amazing and strong and capable and smart. And I have read books and articles that are far too similar to what this book ended up offering.

I wanted this book to actually help me figure shit out. I wanted this book to give me some mind-blowing insider knowledge about how to literally figure everything out. Things like how to change a tire, how to plan a wedding, how to fly to a foreign country. Actual, practical things. And yes, the book is telling you that those things are figureoutable. But it does so in a vague way that starts with setting your goals and managing your time and following your dreams.

There are plenty enough books out there about how to follow your dreams and achieve your goals. I don’t need another one, particularly this one. This book was full of platitudes and fluffy motivational quotes. As if she’s the first person to ever quote them. As if I don’t see those exact same quotes set against the background of a beautiful sunset at the beach every other day on Facebook. She starts the chapter with one of these Pinterest-y quotes and then she goes on to explain it as if she has all these deep, innovative, novel thoughts. All she did was take the same old tips for goal-setting and career-building and put it against the backdrop of a made-up word. She tried to make her philosophy seem new and different but it was the same-old same old framework.

I don’t think Marie Forleo acknowledged real life enough either. She mentioned that, yes, the working mom doesn’t have much extra time in her day. Or that, yes, there are setbacks or issues that happen in your journey to achieving your goal. But she almost completely ignores the fact that there are actual struggles that sometimes are beyond people’s control. You can’t just dedicate 20 minutes a day to your goals and get out of the cycle of poverty. You can’t change systemic racism with her figureoutable mindset.

At the end of the day, this was a cute little self-help book that was wildly naive and incredibly lacking in original thought and advice.

2021 Reading List: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Let me start by saying, I love Malcolm Gladwell’s books. I own a bunch of them, I’ve reread some (which is something I don’t do often), and I recommend them to anyone who’s interested.

That being said, I thought this book was going to be a little different. I thought this book would be about the chance encounters that human have with strangers every day – the barista at the coffee shop, the chic mom shopping at Target, the neighbor walking his dog, etc. I thought it would be more about the awkwardness that humans feel in certain situations with strangers, the way we interpret body language or facial expressions, the reason we’re afraid to ask for someone’s phone number even if we felt we had a great conversation with that particular stranger.

Someone should write that book.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, was actually an analysis of very certain types of interactions with strangers.

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2021 Reading List: What Great Brands Do by Denise Lee Yohn

I have always been intrigued by great brands. What makes us buy something, use something, do something, or go somewhere based on the brand name alone? What do those brands have that makes us recall them immediately when we need that product? What makes us trust them so implicitly that we don’t need to do the research or read reviews?

So I’ve had this book on my reading list for awhile, tucked away in my Save for Later cart on Amazon. (Ahhh Amazon…) I finally just asked for it for Christmas so I could really dive in.

And really I think that the seven principles discussed in What Great Brands Do: the Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest could actually be compared to what people are looking for in their own personal lives. The principles don’t just apply to brands – they apply to being human.

The principles are:

  • Great brands start inside
  • Great brands avoid selling products
  • Great brands ignore trends
  • Great brands don’t chase customers
  • Great brands sweat the small stuff
  • Great brands commit and stay committed
  • Great brands never have to “give back”

When you list them out like that, it feels like common sense. Of course you want leadership to walk the talk and to believe in their products before they tell their customers to. Of course you believe that ultimately your products aren’t just a product, they make life better! Of course you’re not just following the crowd. Of course you can stand on your own two feet and right customers will just come to you. Of course the details matter. Of course you’ve committed for the long term. Of course you want to make a different in the lives of those less fortunate.

When you talk about it like that, it sounds easy. But if it were so easy, then we’d have more great brands. More people would feel like the brands they were buying were authentic and trustworthy. More people would feel like their purchase choices matter. It’s not easy.

As a marketer myself, having worked for several agencies, I often get clients who want a social media campaign. Or a brochure. Or a new website. And they come to us with who they think their audience is, what they want out of the promotion (more customers, almost always), and what their message is. But rarely do they come to me with who they are. There is often a lot of disconnect between the true core of a company and the message they put out there. Leadership doesn’t always see the big picture. They don’t see the real customer journey, they don’t understand the emotions behind a decision, they don’t think it matters if they say something in an ad but can’t truly back it up as a company.

I think this book did a great job explaining why these seven principles matter. We can all sit here and say that yes they do, but if we don’t truly understand why it works or how it works, then we’re going to fall back into the same trap of chasing the customers, selling the features of a product, or skipping over the little details that show a company cares.

Now back to being human – aren’t these seven principles also things that you’d want to see in a relationship with someone? Not necessarily a romantic relationship. Just any human relationship. You want other people in your life to do what they said they’d do. You want them to understand you on a deeper emotional level. (You don’t just want a nanny who keeps your kids alive, you want a livesaver who will help raise your kids.) You don’t want someone who’s only around because it’s a convenient time and place for them, or because you make them look good. You want a relationship with someone who cares about the details and pays attention to the little things. (The husband who cleans the snow off your car in the morning before you even wake up.) You want someone who is committed to the relationship, through thick and thin. And at the end of the day, you don’t need that person to give you birthday presents or Christmas presents because just being in each other’s lives makes your lives richer.

Behind every great company and every great brand are just people. People connect with people. It’s not some mysterious puzzle that we’re solving here.

This book was actionable in a long-term planning way. You could sit down and do some of these exercises, but at the end of the day, the actions you need to take are bigger-picture. This book can give you the tools and steps to take, but also the reason behind it so that you can build a better plan for your brand and get the right people involved.

I had been hoping the book would focus a bit more on the examples, in more of a storytelling way, but that wasn’t the case. It was descriptive, but more technical and action-oriented, rather than storytelling. So if you’re in a position to build a brand, then this would be an excellent starting point to put you in the right mindset.

2020 Reading List: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

It shouldn’t surprise you, but this book is about three women. More specifically, three women and how they experience their own sexuality. One woman, Maggie, had a secret affair with her teacher when she was 17 years old. One woman, Lina, has a sex-less, presumably love-less marriage so she has an affair with a married man. The third woman, Sloane, has sex with other men and women while her husband watches or participates and she mostly enjoys it.

This book, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, is real, raw account of these women’s lives. I loved the way it was written; it felt unbiased and yet it was emotional and relatable. Relatable in the feelings and desires of these women, not necessarily lifestyle. It didn’t glorify or condone any lifestyle or decision but it also didn’t cast judgment or blame on anyone. It was an exploration of the real needs and wants of women that are so often ignored. Continue reading

2020 Reading List: Becoming by Michelle Obama

I have always admired the Obama family, particularly Michelle Obama. Throughout her time in the First Lady spotlight, she seemed to exude a certain presence, grace, compassion, and strength that is often lost or buried in mainstream celebrities. To me, their family seemed to be a solid representation of what a First Family should be.

I’m not here to be political or to force my opinions on anyone. I read Becoming, by Michelle Obama, because I wanted to hear about her life in her own words. I wanted a larger glimpse into the life of this First Lady who represented so many other things. I was not disappointed, and I think, whatever your political stance is, you won’t be either. Continue reading

2019 Reading List: The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

As someone who is about to bring a child into this world and will soon come face to face with all of the difficult questions of how to raise a kind, strong, independent human being, I found this book, The Coddling of the American Mind, to be an important lesson in what not to do.

This book is talking mainly about college students and universities – how young people, members of the iGen or Generation Z, believe they need to be “safe” from differing opinions, “safe” from guest speakers on campus, “safe” from offensive language. There is a pervasive trend in our current culture of people not wanting to have to hear diverse viewpoints. Their argument is that they may be “triggered” by someone else’s words or actions.

So the book explores what this means, how we got to this point and why, and what we can do about it. Continue reading

2019 Reading List: Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Are you currently looking for a good girl friend to tell it like it is, tell you the truth about yourself and motivate you to be better? Rachel Hollis is your girl, and Girl, Wash Your Face is like having her in your living room telling to get off your phone, off your ass, and change your life.

I have heard of Rachel Hollis and of course her recent nonfiction books, but I am not a follower, I don’t read her blog, and I don’t know too much about her. But I was hoping this book would be a nice little pick-me-up and it did not disappoint. Continue reading