In the past several years, I have found myself struggling to better understand my own mind and motivations within the context of the world around me. I frequently experience day-to-day interactions and tasks as puzzles whose solutions seem just out of reach to me. While I am certainly still learning, adjusting my mindset and behaviors to achieve congruence with my values and goals, I want to share some books that have been meaningful to me in contributing to my own progress.

1. The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, & Courage – Brene Brown

Ugh. Brene! If you haven’t read any of her books, please start now and read ALL OF THEM! “The Power of Vulnerability” is the first of Brene Brown’s books that I downloaded, and I am not exagerrating when I say it changed my life. This book helped me find the vocabulary to describe feelings that had confused and paralyzed me for decades, and gave me tools to begin to take hold of my own story and move toward wholeheartedness. Just to give you a tiny sample, here are Dr. Brene Brown’s 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living.

  • Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
  • Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
  • Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
  • Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
  • Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
  • Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
  • Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
  • Cultivating Calm and Still: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
  • Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”
  • Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

This list continues to be such a beautiful tool for my life. I love checking in and thinking about which guideposts are a struggle for me right now, and which ones I’ve got on lock. I think my biggest projects right now are “Cultivating Authenticity” and “Cultivating Calm and Still.” Perfectionism and Lifestyle-Anxiety have been my walls for a long time. But every day I work on building strength in healthier places, and one by one I’m taking bricks out of those walls.

When you’re done with “The Power of Vulnerability,” please read “Rising Strong.” It is maybe my favorite, but you gotta lay your groundwork first. Where “The Power of Vulnerability” encourages us to be brave, “Rising Strong” helps us figure out how to get back up when we inevitably fall. You guys. It’s so good.

 

2. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – Elizabeth Gilbert

This book strikes such a chord with me. It appeals to my subborn sense that the world is a mysterious and meaningful place, as well as to my undying pragmatism. I am so affected by the call to live a life driven by curiousity. It seems such a completely obvious motivation, but one that I often feel pressure to abandon. Curiousity and creativity are best friends! Creativity and fear cannot coexist. Letting curiousity, not fear, drive me (in creativity and in life) is one of the fastest ways to joy and productivity.

To give you a little idea, “Big Magic” is divided into these six chunks:

  • Courage
  • Enchantment
  • Permission
  • Persistence
  • Trust
  • Divinity

See what I mean about mystery + pragmatism? I’m telling you, it’s an absolute dream. In the few weeks after finishing the book, I finally completed SO MANY projects that I had been sitting on for months (years?). It’s probably about time that I read it again. I could use a little extra magic! I bet you could, too.

 

 3. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – Angela Duckworth

Oh man. I listened to this one on a middle-of-the-night solo road trip and it just about did me in. It felt simultaneously familiar and revelatory. Especially as a teacher, but also as a human, I firmly believe that the sweet spot of success lies in the marriage of talent and hard work. Angela Duckworth shows this truth with research and so many amazing stories. One of my very favorite concepts from the book is this one:

Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius,” Nietzsche said. “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking. . . . To call someone ‘divine’ means there there is no need to compete.

This. Is. So. Important. It is phenomenally easy to give ourselves a pass if we believe that “genius” is something inevitable for some, and eternally elusive for others. Rather, genius is something that one becomes after years of searching, tinkering, tweaking, honing. Duckworth quotes Nietzsche again . . .

Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became ‘geniuses’ (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all pos­sessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to con­struct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.

Rather than feeling flumoxed (or worse, resigned) about our lack of genius, we can work on constructing the littlest parts of our someday great works, we can revel in the tiny details, and we can allow eons to pass as we do so – believing that the whole will be as stunning as each of its beautiful, miniature parts.

For continued reading on this subject, I recommend:

 

4. The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion – Elle Luna

This one is another life-changer for me. One of my dearest friends, Brit, recommended it, and I am forever grateful. I don’t know about you, but my childhood (ok . . . not just my childhood) was infused with SO MANY shoulds. Unfortunately, my personality is prone to rule-following, and I found myself broken, depleted, and devastated after years of trying to force my unique self into a million should-shaped holes. Now, I work every day to follow my “Musts.”

Not only does this book contain an absolutely transcendent message, but it’s full of exercises to help you separate shoulds and musts, AND it is simply, literally, a gorgeous book. Every page is illustrated beautifully. The pages themselves are thick and a little glossy. This is one you need to see and feel and breathe.

 

5. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know – Katty Kay & Claire Shipman

This one is geared toward women, but I think it’s a valuable read for all humans. The Confidence Code takes a look at the socialization, implication, and even genetics of confidence. What is it? Where does it come from? How can I get some? I’ve always been tempted to skirt around confidence and focus on competence, and I’m continually frustrated when this approach doesn’t work. As a mentor once told me, “nobody can see your work until you tie a big red bow around it.” Of course, the other side of that coin is that you can tie a big red bow around a mediocre offering, and people will often see it as excellence. Confidence matters. It REALLY matters. And this book is a no-nonsense look at how we can grow confidence in ourselves, in our work, and in our creativity.

On this subject, I also recommend:

 

6. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges – Amy Cuddy

I feel like there’s a pretty good chance you’re familiar with this one. Amy Cuddy is a Harvard professor and psychologist. In “Presence,” she presents research about how our bodies affect our minds (when we usually focus on the reverse process). One of my favorite concepts presented is Social Power vs. Personal Power. According to Dr. Cuddy, Social Power is power that exists between people (in hierarchies, for example). There is limited social power available, and you gain this kind of power at the expense of someone else. In other words, the more Social Power one person has, the less anyone else can have. Alternately, Personal Power exists inside yourself, and is limitless. When we are full of Personal Power, we understand that everything is better for us when the people we interact with are also deeply powerful. This creates a cycle where power inspires more power . . . I think we sometimes call it charity. 🙂 This book is all about taking up the space you deserve without trying to take space from anyone else. Taking your space, and encouraging everyone you meet to take theirs and fill it to the absolute brim.

Just in case you missed it, here is Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk!

I hope you will draw as much inspiration from these books as I have! I am always in awe of the ease with which we can explore our world with technology. I can “read” while I’m driving, cooking, cleaning, exercising, emailing . . . it’s awesome! I will keep reading and sharing. Please recommend your favorite development books below! I am always looking for new places to learn.

Happy Beauty Building!

EM