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My reading year, 2017

These are the books that stuck with me in 2017.

2017 is the year I learned how to do my job.

What is my job? It is to not tell grand stories to myself about how great and talented I am, how full of potential, how awesome the things I will achieve. But just this: to chop wood and carry water. To put one foot in front of the other.

Whenever my ambition turned into either overwhelm and anxiety, or hubris and entitlement, these books reminded me to just do my job.

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi (Audible)

I didn’t think much of it when I finished it early in January 2017. But it was a tiring year for me, and I thought about Andre Agassi’s words a lot. Specifically, this:

”How beautiful to dream. But dreams, I tell Gil, in one of our quiet moments, are so damned tiring.” He laughs. “I can’t promise you that you won’t be tired,” he says. “But please know this. There’s a lot of good waiting for you on the other side of tired. Get yourself tired, Andre. That’s where you’re going to know yourself. On the other side of tired.

It’s my quote of the year.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight (Audible)

Shoe Dog negated the delusions of easy success and taught me that great things — be it a business, a life, a character — take time. It taught me that shit happens, and the day you realize that is the day you become happy. Also, the story and the narration were just so freaking good.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

Just this:

No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine. The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.

Repeated for two hundred pages. Worth it.

2017 is also the year I learned about communication — how important it is, and how ignorant and incompetent most of us are at at it.

I read these books setting out to learn negotiation and leadership. Instead, I got an education in communication:

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz

Practicing empathy by labelling emotions. Actively listening by mirroring.

Instead of denying or ignoring emotions, good negotiators identify and influence them. … Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels. It gets you close to someone without asking about external factors you know nothing about (“How’s your family?”).”

Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life by Stuart Diamond

One day I will write about this… For now, let me say that truth is huge to me. In relationships and communicating with other people, what makes truth difficult is when the facts are painful. Getting More taught me how to state the obvious and be truthful in relationships. So simple, so obvious:

Great negotiators have a firm grasp of the obvious. If you are not getting along in a negotiation with the other party, you should say, “I don’t think we’re getting along here. Why not?” You might as well say it. The other party is thinking it. It’s like an 800-pound gorilla in the room.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

From Patrick Lencioni, I learned teamwork is key in making an organization successful. Teamwork begins with building trust. And trust is built by individuals overcoming our need for invulnerability, i.e. be willing to fight and to have uncomfortable, difficult conversations. I also learned what politics is, and that it is not the exclusive domain of “politicians”.

Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.

For example, if in a meeting, you gloss over your omissions in order to create the illusion that you are on top of things, you are practicing politics. Most of us, by intending to create a “positive environment,” slowly, inadvertently, build up unresolved issues, which leads to a political environment.

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

Didn’t they run out of things to talk about? Ninety minutes is a long time.” “That’s the funny part. Rich used to say that he wanted people to run out of things to talk about. Because that was when they would start talking about the important things.”

I consider Patrick Lencioni one of my greatest finds in 2017 (business fables are not that horrible!). I will study all of his material in 2018.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg

You know that famous quote from Man’s Search for Meaning that goes:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom?

Nonviolent Communication teaches you how to be responsible for how you respond — how you behave, think, and feel — and therefore, how to be free. Also… That you are not responsible for other people’s feelings. If that’s all you learn all year, it would be a good learning year.

Books that were useful and make a good reference

Books that were just a really good read

Finally, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.

I technically finished this in July 2016, but I read so much Ryan Holiday in 2017 that guided so much of the year that followed — from aspiring as an Olympic wrestler and then quitting it, to getting out of debt, to having a lot of things “click into place” and getting a lot of traction career-wise to not getting in my own way — that I have to include this.

The last line in the introduction to Ego summarizes how Ryan Holiday and his writing guided my 2017:

I hope you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and as a result, you will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.

Cheers, and happy reading in 2018!

Thanks to Austin Kleon (My reading year, 2017), Ryan Holiday (The (Very) Best Books I Read in 2017), and Sol Orwell (What’s your favourite book you read this year?) for inspiring this post.