5 Lessons my 2020 Reading List taught me going into 2021

There are so many books out there. It is easy to get distracted and just keep randomly jumping from reading one book to the next. It is also one thing to read a book, another thing to recall what you have read and another to think about how the key learnings or lessons will change your life.

About my reading strategy: I prefer to read intentionally by picking themes that I want to learn more about and then searching and finding the best books in these areas. I also read multiple books at a time to get the crossover effect of my combined thoughts on the different subject areas or perspectives from different authors.

I also believe an effective reading strategy needs an effective note-taking strategy. I make notes whilst I read (in the margins if the book is physical or in my iPhone notes if on Audible) to share my reflections, thoughts and opposing arguments.

So here are the 5 lessons my 2020 reading list taught me, that I am taking into this new year.

Lesson 1: Appreciate the Present

I enjoyed re-reading a few Eckart Tolle novels (Power of Now, Practising the Power of Now, A New Earth) as he really emphasises the importance of being present in the now, letting go of material items and disassociating from the world’s labels. Tolle emphasises that to do this, awareness is the first step, awareness that your number of likes on your latest Instagram post affects how you feel or awareness of that feeling you get inside when someone says they like your outfit. Similar concepts are mirrored in Awareness by Anthony de Mello, one of my favourites from 2020.

I also loved reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle which asked the big question ‘What is the biggest most beautiful life you could live?’ — and why aren’t you living it?. Filled to the brim with interesting anecdotes from her life, quotes and positive affirmations. I love it and this is one I will definitely re-read again.

These books taught me to see the bigger picture of our current situation and regardless of the hecticness going on externally remember to focus on what I can control. Despite everything, we have to be the owners of our happiness.

Lesson 2: Building good consistent habits and understanding career navigation and leadership

2020 was a struggle for us all. From a productivity perspective, during lockdown, there was a 300% increase in people searching ‘how to get your brain to focus’.

If you have struggled with your motivation and productivity recently, I cannot recommend enough Atomic Habits by James Clear. Having a quick skim of his Twitter will showcase his simplistic and straight-forward writing style and in the book, he strips back productivity and habit formation to the basics. I love the focus on creating a system (rules, non-negotiables and clear plans) rather than just ambitious goals.

Build identity-based habits! It’s not about having something but becoming someone. Focus on WHO you wish to become. — James Clear in Atomic Habits

From a career perspective, I also loved reading True North which taught me about leadership and shares so many useful case studies about leadership styles and understanding your value as a leader regardless of your age. Great read especially as we have seen some clearly good and bad examples of leadership during the pandemic.

Future-proofing yourself is a concept I have been increasingly interested in. The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman is a great read to get into the mindset of understanding how you take an experimental but focused approach to building your career, like a founder would building a start-up from scratch.

Along similar lines, I also enjoyed reading Career Rehab by Kanika Tolver which is perfect for anyone looking to think and reflect more intentionally about their career.

I also regularly tune into Minda Harts’ Linkedin Live ‘Secure the Seat’ Career Discussions as well as the Squiggly Careers Podcast and the Inside the Strategy Room Podcast.

Overall, these books have helped me with managing starting a new role, embracing leadership as well as remaining productive during the pandemic.

Lesson 3: Embrace New Perspectives

To learn about new perspectives, I enjoyed reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking To Strangers and loved his emphasis on the risk we take as humans defaulting to truth when we meet others to be able to operate and survive in the world we live in. I also supplemented this with regular podcast episodes from Alex Wolf’s Podcast which explores interesting conversations about innovation, economics, culture, history and philosophy for curious minds. Highly recommend this episode on ‘Being A Homemaker Is More Important Than Being A Tech CEO’ to kick you off.

Although I disagree with a lot of her arguments, I read Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation by Candace Owens. She talks a lot online and I was keen to understand more about her perspective. Really interesting read and I think it is healthy to read books from those you don’t necessarily agree with.

Stretching your friendships, chosen family, friend webs, Facebook friends vs real-life friends. If you are looking for an easy read about maintaining long-distance millennial friendships I would recommend Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. Lovely mix of stories and academic literature on friendships, a relationship type you don’t often read about.

I am now half the way through the mammoth A Promised Land by Barack Obama, I’m a big fan so this was a planned read for me but I really love the high level of introspection throughout the book, he is literally sharing his thoughts at the time and with hindsight across key moments of his life and this is just volume 1! If you have read any other Obama novels you will know he is a fantastic writer too.

Overall these powerful non-fiction reads have helped me learn more about the importance of introspection and self-awareness, recognising that it is always useful to learn and embrace others perspectives.

Lesson 4: The Power of Storytelling

I made a conscious effort to read more fiction in 2020 to help me remember the power of creative storytelling. I read Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid which was a nice summer read, about a young black woman who is incorrectly accused of kidnapping a white child when she is in fact her nanny. The book is more funny than it sounds and provides a light modern perspective on heavy topics such as race and privilege.

I also loved Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola which includes several reimagined intricate short stories from around the world and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (as recommended by Oprah’s Book Club), both of which are pretty spectacular listens on Audible.

Storytelling is such a powerful art form and I truly appreciate how these authors brought these stories to life.

Lesson 5: New thinking is required

Given the craziness of this past year, I wanted to read a few books on entrepreneurship and innovation. I loved reading Banking on It by Ann Boden which details her journey building Starling bank from scratch and all the lows and highs of her journey to date and some surprising stories about theft, travel and what it takes to raise funding for a startup in a stubborn industry like banking. Such a fantastic read!

I have also enjoyed reading The Startup Way by Eric Ries which shares the startup principles all companies should hope to drive regardless of their size or the economic environment.

Summary of the Lessons I Learnt

Lesson 1: Appreciate the Present

Lesson 2: Building good consistent habits and understanding career navigation and leadership

Lesson 3: Embrace New Perspectives

Lesson 4: The Power of Storytelling

Lesson 5: New thinking is required

What will I be reading in 2021?

Some books on my 2021 Reading List. Do feel free to send me other suggestions or recommendations!

Innovation: Non-Bullshit Innovation, High Growth Handbook, Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them

Confidence: Brag Better: Master the Art of Fearless Self-Promotion, Sabotage: How to Silence Your Inner Critic and Get Out of Your Own Way, Unapologetically Ambitious, F*ck Being Humble

Psychology: Psycho-cybernetics, Who Not How

Fiction: The Girl with the Louding Voice, Transcendent Kingdom, Black Sunday

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Blog covering all things personal development and careers from a 20-something millennial making her way in the Management Consulting industry

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