Inside Inferno, Insight September 8, 2021

Lessons on Life and Leadership Plucked from the Pages of My Books

Reading is my passion. I have always loved it. There’s something exciting about the heft of a book in hand, the smell of ink on paper, and the anticipation of cracking into a new tome.

As far back as I can remember, reading has sparked so much joy, inspiration, and curiosity. I started reading very early and never could put down a good book.

The Baby-Sitters Club. Goodbye, Mr. Chips. The Great Gatsby. Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. My first loves all have a place on my bookshelves. And every year my collection continues to grow. When I think about how to discuss my lifelong love of reading, one quote comes to mind.

“I am every book that I ever read.”

A quick glance at my bookshelves gives you a window into my ongoing education. These are the books and authors I have loved. Each volume has taught me so much, through content, writing style, and of course the personal experiences shared.

I like to think that every book can teach us something vital about life, but in my experience, there are a few lessons which are learned. Here are a few things I learned, not just from books but from always reading books.

A lesson in empathy.

Stray by Stephanie Danler

“Loving liars, addicts or people who abuse your love is a common affliction, and we are all mostly the same. We have a gift for suffering silently. No one taught us how to trust the world or that we could, so we trust no one. We’ve never developed a sense of self.”

This book speaks to Danler’s life, which has been greatly impacted by her parent’s addictions. It’s the kind of book that teaches me so much about human suffering and gives me empathy for those who experienced vastly different circumstances than mine. The human experience is complex beyond our wildest imagination. Finding ways to understand others’ experiences is what I believe will make me a better mentor, leader, and member of this community.

When I immerse myself in a good book, I go into it with the goal to understand the characters and their motivations. I’m not there to judge the characters, but to understand their circumstances and how those circumstances affect their emotions and actions. The more I read this way, the easier it is to connect with the characters…to understand their decisions. And that experience helps me empathize with the people in my life.

How to become a better leader.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.”

It’s critical to know exactly the kind of leader you want to be and what kind of culture you want to build for your organization. Without this awareness, you are simply flying by the seat of your pants. And each and every employee deserves more. They deserve intentional leadership that will drive the organization to the promised culture.

Employees aren’t robots slaving away for the good of your company. In my experience, good leadership relies on self-awareness and emotion just as much as or maybe more than, crunching the numbers. Reading provides insight to help you make decisions based on more than just logic. It helps you understand the wide variety of backgrounds, emotions, or motivations that drive people, so you can make better qualitative decisions.

The art of resilience.

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

“Accepting feedback is easier when you don’t take it personally. Being open to criticism means you get even more feedback, which makes you better. Even when you get an F for the situation itself, you can still earn an A+ for how you handled it.”

This book gave me healing during a tough time as well as lessons in resiliency. So much of what I learned from this book can be applied to relationships and situations both inside and outside the office walls.

It’s not just the advice in this book though. I feel that immersing myself in the successes – and failures – of the subjects in the story has taught me how to react when the worst happens. Books give me the blueprint for how to manage a wide variety of experiences that I personally have never experienced. I like to think of it as getting advice from a friend who has been there before – but with the added benefit of putting yourself in their shoes through it all.

Eloquence that inspires creativity.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

“Taste, Chef said, is all about balance. The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter. Now your tongue is coded. A certain connoisseurship of taste, a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet.”

This is just plain gorgeous writing that stretches my mind and feeds my creativity. In order to grow and thrive in business – especially this industry – you need to be able to innovate and bring creativity to many situations.

Reading, by nature, opens our minds to new and different ideas, opinions, and solutions. As you flip through the pages, you’re getting a glimpse into the author’s mind – which often differs from your own. Each book is an adventure into the unknown. Picking up a variety of different books gives you a broad spectrum of inspiration to draw from, both in your work and life outside the office.

My mom once said that there are actually two hobbies – buying books and reading books. To be transparent, I think I could say I have both as hobbies. My shelves are stocked with books both read and unread. But how exciting it is for me to look at those shelves and know how much more there is to learn, how much more insight I can gain about the world around me, and how much more I can bring to my employees and peers because of it.

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