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Sometimes, the books that help us do our best work aren’t about careers or job hunting at all.

Don’t get me wrong—my personal library is full of books about careers and professional development. My favorite is The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. They do a fantastic job of outlining practical, tactical things we can do each day, week, and month to advance our careers.

However, the "career books" that have inspired me most are by authors who share the challenges they faced growing up and place their experiences in the context of larger social or political changes.

I’ve noticed certain themes in these kinds of books: how little we know about the people we spend a lot of time with; what it takes to create personal boundaries and a new vision for your life when it feels impossible to do so; and the challenge of accepting people as they are—flaws and all. These resonate with my own journey, help me relate more to others, and make me feel part of something bigger.

One of my favorites is The Force of Things: A Marriage in War and Peace by Alexander Stille. He writes about the unhappy marriage between his mother and father, as well as their lives before they were married (he, a journalist who fled Italy during World War II and she, a mid-western girl from a well-to-do family). Stille not only explores why his parents may have treated each other the way that they did, but also the impact their decisions had on his life.

These kinds of books also remind that everyone has a story and that we should listen before we try to help. Important lessons for those of us trying to change the world.


by Allison Jones

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