Idealist Staff Get Caught Reading!
Here at Idealist, we know all too well how easy it is to get so caught up in our work, lives, and social obligations that we forget to slow down and enjoy the pleasure of a good book. This month, we asked our colleagues to share books they have recently read (or are reading) that have been a resource for them - whether in their career choices, how they approach their work, creating their optimal work-life balance, or generally inspirational. By creating this diverse list, we had the opportunity to reflect on our choices and share new resources with each other.
This 2-part article has our reading recommendations organized by three categories - career specific, creativity and inspiration, and personal impact. “Career Specific” books are either specific to a certain type of career or explicitly deal with the theme of careers. “Creativity and Inspiration” books deal with themes such as creativity, artistry, reflection, and consciousness. “Personal Impact” books have to do with culture, social impact, and the interconnectedness of people.
Here is what our Idealist staff members had to say about each of their contributions to the list:
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
Jill Adams: This book was immensely helpful to me, and I give it to all college grads in my life. Newport makes the case that it's a lot of pressure to find your "passions" and follow them, when our labor market is made up of many good, satisfying jobs, that it would be very hard to be conceptually passionate about... especially when you're in your 20s, and often low man in the pecking order. BUT: that shouldn't be depressing. Finding your work bliss is more about satisfaction of a job well done, and that determining to shine in any environment can lead you down career paths where you earn confidence, which leads to better opportunities to make your job / work life what you want it to be, in the corner where you are. Basically, as a young person or new in the field, don't let it get you down. Master what's in front of you, be excellent, and look for ways to do more of what you want to be doing, little by little.
The Customer Support Handbook by Sarah Hatter
Sarah Vhay: I read this in preparation for the Elevate Summit in Austin. It's an examination of the history of customer service, how it's evolved, and how we can improve it in the future. The revolutionary idea is that CSRs, with their immediate customer contact and insights into product usability, have an important role to play in product development and QA. I also appreciate the concept that all service contact with customers should be both helpful and authentically invested in their satisfaction. Hatter also runs the ES conference, which fleshes out these ideas in practice. While there I saw a speaker who identified himself as a Customer Advocate. That's his job title, and I love it. That's what I try to be for our users, and this book had some great ideas about how to do that.
The Episodic Career by Farai Chideya
Jhia Jackson: I recently attended a panel discussion on “Art & Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Creative Person.” As both a professional dancer and academic, I am always looking for guidance on how to thrive creatively, build a sustainable life, and feel like I am making a positive contribution to the community. After hearing the panelists and Farai Chideya speak, I immediately began reading her book. Her book features a short career personality quiz that helps you recognize what types of careers and work-life balance situations you thrive in, and then uses stories of real people in each archetype to show how they used their qualities and life situations to build their career. What makes this book unique is that the stories are not your generic success stories. They are honest accounts of how people have had their careers disrupted - through natural disasters, loss of a loved one, new interests, etc - and how they were able to then switch directions entirely through resiliency, creativity, and preparedness! It completely reshaped how I sought out opportunities, viewed my own story, and valued where I’m at in my career today.
Creativity and Inspiration
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Karl Johnson: It's really great. The premise is basically that the primary influencing factor in ongoing success is mindset, and that people fall into two big categories: "fixed" and "growth." Fixed mindset people believe that people have an innate set of skills, level of intelligence, and kinds of talents; growth mindset people see themselves as constantly in process and are much better equipped to handle adversity, setbacks, and all the other things that can very easily get people down who operated from a fixed mindset perspective. She's specific in saying that people are welcome to stay in their fixed mindset if it works for them, but the overarching emphasis is on growth as the mindset that is conducive to ongoing success.
I'm finding that much of what's been in the way of my creative discipline has to do with my fixed mindset: I grew up thinking that my talents were innate, and when I had to expend effort, it felt like I was a failure for not being able to do those things well already. In other words, "success shouldn't feel like hard work." What that's done is make me dread starting a new writing process for fear that I won't already know how to write something new, when the truth is, each new piece teaches you how to write it as you go along. I've been struggling with creative paralysis for a while, and even just halfway through the book, I'm finding the confidence to be able to start on a new work that's been asking to be written for years.
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, with Amy Wallace
Ryan Johnson: Not too long ago I finished a book called "Creativity, Inc." written by Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar. I found the book to be a fascinating and unusually deep reflection on what nurtures, sustains, and protects a culture of creativity, and it inspired me to think about how to apply and realize at least some of that approach in the area of software development.
The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz
Allegra Cafarchio: A few years ago, I read a really fantastic book, The Blue Sweater. The author is an American who helped to start microlending banks in Africa. If you're not familiar with microfinance, it's a truly revolutionary way to tackle poverty and I personally believe it will transform the way we think about global inequality and access to resources. The Blue Sweater addresses lots of these issues head-on and is written with a hefty dose of humility. We, "The West," can certainly help the developing world, but we are not the ones best positioned to make radical change—the locals in the community are.
The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto
Bradley Michelson: I tell everyone about this book. It is a historical account of New York City from the seventeenth century when the city was controlled by the Dutch. From a jobs perspective, it touches on how this controversial purchase of an island from Native Americans actually set the grounds of how Americans think of work and industry today. The diversity of culture influenced by Amsterdam, Netherlands' own forward thought, paired with an international interest in trade was the beginning of true entrepreneurship and openness of the workforce in America. As one reads details of the mindsets of characters, the governance structure of the town, and understands the overarching wonder of opportunity from the rest of the world, they can see, from the beginning, why Manhattan has drawn people from a vast variety of backgrounds onto a tiny piece of land. This migration and world events surrounding it shaped the American dream and the careers and businesses in our country for centuries thereafter.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Emily Hashimoto: Janet Mock's memoir was such a great read! She takes you through her story -- hard moments, growing pains, a struggle to be herself -- and through to who she is today: an amazing advocate living in her truth, supporting waves of other trans women and women of color. I continue to be inspired by Janet through her social media presence.
As you can see from the list and responses, our Idealist community consists of a variety of people who all respond to different types of information and guidance. Just from collecting these responses, I’ve been inspired to open up my own reading preferences past anything involving Kurt Vonnegut or female comedians. We hope our selection has inspired you as well to get caught reading!
Stay tuned for Part 2!
By Jhia Jackson