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Inspiring Professional Books: Think Differently about your Career & Life

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What’s next for you and your career? Are you thinking about a new direction? Are you feeling “stuck” and want some help thinking outside the box? Maybe you know it’s time for something new but you need inspiration to be brave enough for that first step?

When I quit my “real jobs” and decided to consider self-employment, I took a purposeful pause. I gave myself about 3 months to think about what might come next without feeling bogged down by stressful work. I still earned a side income with some work-from-home sales, but for a short time I didn’t have a “career-like” job.

During my pause, I asked friends and career coaches for suggestions on inspiring professional books I should read to influence my path. I searched out those books, and then looked at the “people who liked these books also read…” suggestions. I read about a dozen books during that time – some directly related to career choices, and some that I had been meaning to read but hadn’t had time for (how was I so late to read Michelle Obama’s Becoming?)

I kept those books in a stack by my desk, and eventually decided on the 5 books that had done the most for me during my pause. These books inspired me toward possibilities, got me to think outside the box, and eventually lead me to feel confident in becoming a self-employed consultant with multiple fun side gigs (a “multi-preneur,” if you will). I share them here, in approximately the order I’d suggest reading them.

My 5 Favorite Inspiring Professional Books (2021)

Book #1: Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break by Rachael O’Meara

I mentioned that I took a 3-month pause to consider my professional options. One of the first books I read to shape that pause was a book by the same name: Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break. Rachel O’Meara’s inspiring permission to take a “pause” in your professional life is what inspired me to think carefully about how I would spend my time, and made reading one of my top priorities. The great thing about this book is that O’Meara shares many ways to take a pause that don’t all involve quitting your job or being unemployed (which simply isn’t possible for some). The idea is to give yourself permission to slow down enough to make space for new possibilities to emerge. From the “purposeful pause pledge” to the “pause playground” and “pause moments,” O’Meara provides a plethora of tools for making your pause meaningful.

Book #2: You are a Badass by Jen Sincero

I needed a little kick in the butt to get me started, so I began by re-reading a book I had picked up before: You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. Call it my beach read, call it my self-help option, call it what you will – but it got me out of my funk and set me on a path toward expanded thinking. After all, the subtitle is “How to stop doubting your greatness and start living and awesome life.” Tucked in the cover of this book is my “manifesto” written in present time about my “freaking awesome” ideal life – I wrote it a few years ago while taking time for myself at ski lodge while the kids were in lessons. And guess, what, it is exactly what started to happen during my pause. Some may think this book is cheesy, or that it is filled with self-help mumbo jumbo, but I personally think self-help mumbo jumbo is just what we need at some points in our lives. Give yourself a break and start by telling yourself how awesome you are so that you can begin to believe it.

Book #3: Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Moving into something a bit more intellectual, but equally empowering, I picked up Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed. This book is part memoir, part instruction manual, and is awesome for women who feel they’ve lived their lives a little bit too cautiously. While I didn’t directly relate to everything that Glennon Doyle shared about her life (she lived some crazy times), this book was the first that became part of my pause journal – particularly in part two of the book in which she shares her 4 keys to freedom. I highly recommend putting the book down and writing in a journal after each of these keys – they will make you think differently about who you are and who you are meant to be.

Book #4: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Ok, so if you only pick up one of the books on this list to inspire you, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is the one I want you to grab for yourself. I had started to read this book at another time in my life and didn’t finish it (it was a book on tape during a car ride that ended too soon). Now, I was ready to focus in on the book and really see what it could offer. I was in the right frame of mind (ready for change, ready to open new doors), and this book seriously captured my attention. I couldn’t put it down. While the subtitle “Creative Living Beyond Fear” speaks to those who might be interested in “creative” pursuits (I immediately recommended this book to my amazing friend who is a painter – check out, it is not JUST for creative types. And besides, any life can be creative if you want it to be! Gilbert gives you permission to feel entitled to a life filled with creative magic that defies perfectionism and makes you feel worthy.

Book #5: Designing your Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

Once all of the women who wrote the books above have inspired you to be a kick-ass, self-directed person capable of creating the life they want for themselves, it’s time for your design that life. Pick up a copy of Designing your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans. This book is going to take all of that openness to possibility and help you translate it into a meaningful plan (or plans) for truly building a life and career you love. If you truly take the time to do all of the exercises that the authors present to you, you will be amazed at how ideas come to you. From brainstorming and mind-mapping to prototyping and writing dream job descriptions, this book offers a number of ways to help grab the inspiration from your mind and put it to paper. There is also a Designing your Life website with additional resources and follow-up books to deepen your exploration.

Note: this book was recommended to me by my professional coach, Jen Hayslett.

Want to Read & Think about these things with others?

If you love these inspiring professional books and want to interact with someone who can prompt your thinking and help you to explore deeper, consider professional or life coaching as an option. I was lucky enough to work with a professional coach during my pause and found that my conversations with her led me to truly embrace my role as a consultant, facilitator, and coach myself. I now offer coaching services as part of my professional work, and would love to work with you on your journey!

You can also consider joining or creating a book club with others who want to think differently about their career and professional life path.

Whether you decide to read on your own, or with others, giving yourself permission to explore what’s possible is the entire point. Enjoy it, embrace it, and see where it leads.

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