Five Books To Read In 2021

With the way the last year played out, books served as an essential resource to help people living through the pandemic continue to learn from stories of leadership, reflect on challenges, build resiliency and even escape from the news, even just for a little while.

1. “Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation”

By Anne Helen Petersen

Claire Wasserman, founder of the Ladies Get Paid career-development community and author of a forthcoming book, says this book is a good way to reflect on the shifts in social and work culture that have contributed to the burnout epidemic.

Stemming from Petersen’s viral BuzzFeed article in 2019,  “Can’t Even” examines how millennials reached the current state of burnout due to forces including capitalism and changing labor laws, and how burnout impacts various aspects of living, including how people work, parent and socialize.

Wasserman adds these are crucial themes to consider during the pandemic and beyond.

2. “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life”

By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

The authors, both part of the design programat Stanford, discuss how the same kind of design thinking responsible for innovative technology, products and spaces can be used to build your career and life.

Wendy Braitman, a certified career coach at the outplacement firm Randstad RiseSmart, says she’s used a lot of the exercises included in the book with clients as they figure out their next job move or major career transition.

3. “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”

By Greg McKeown

This book discusses how essentialism can be channeled as a discipline to regain control over how you use your time and energy — at work and in life. McKeown explains that it’s not necessarily a productivity or time management strategy, but rather an outlook that can help readers do less, but better.

“It’s a ‘decluttering your life book’ that’s helped me tremendously,” says Jackie Mitchell, founder of Jackie Mitchell Career Consulting. “It’s about doing things that make sense, which could be small things, that help you get to where you want.”

“I read it in one weekend — I couldn’t put it down,” she adds.

4. “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”

By Brene Brown

Sarah Sheehan, co-founder of the career coaching app Bravely, considers herself a “huge Brene Brown fan,” and recommends her 2012 book, which she’s found helpful to read during the pandemic.

In the book, Brown rejects the idea that vulnerability is a sign of weakness, and instead argues that it is a measure of courage. Vulnerability, she writes, can come from both a place of fear, as well as a place of empathy that can spark innovation and creativity.

“It really drives home why vulnerability can be transformative in all areas of our life,” Sheehan says. “For those who can’t find the time to read right now — me! — I also recommend her podcast.”

5. “A Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership”

By Steven B. Sample

Alexi Robichaux, CEO and co-founder of the professional coaching platform BetterUp, considers this “one of the most under-rated leadership books.”

In the book, formercollege president Sample, who turned the University of Southern California into one of the most highly rated universities in the country, challenges many of the traditional principles of leadership and offers alternative ways to empower workers. For example, he suggests, among other things, that leaders should sometimes compromise their principles, not read everything that comes across their desks and always put off decisions.

“It’s a fresh and breathtaking view of leadership as it diverges from the traditional leadership model,” Robichaux says.

He adds the book helped him when was a first-time manager 10 years ago in addition to other reading he did on the subject: “No leadership book is be-all and end-all, but it’s a good counterbalance where you’re encouraged to think more radically about what you’re trying to affect. We used it at an offsite with the leadership team recently and geeked out over two chapters.”


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