Book Review: It’s Not About You

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“Give people something good to live up to—something great—and they usually will. In fact, often they’ll even exceed those expectations.”

This book reads like a novel. It’s a lovely, heartwarming, story about a manager trying to coordinate a merger between a small family business and a larger corporation.

He’s there to convince people, persuade them to do what his employer wants them to do. He’s there to meet his own career objectives. While he achieves his goals, he also learns crucial lessons about doing business both ethically and effectively – about negotiating a win-win situation and about leading a people toward goals that may not be clear to everyone involved.

“The single biggest challenge to any organization is the constant cloud of fear and doubt that swirls around the heads of the people involved. As a leader, your job is to hold fast to the big picture, to keep seeing in your mind’s eye, with crystal clarity, where it is you’re going—that place that right at this moment exists only in your mind’s eye. And to keep seeing that, even when nobody else does. “Especially when nobody else does.” Your people count on you to do this. It’s the biggest job you have.”

This isn’t the business management version of a Christmas Carol. The main character is a far cry from the wicked Mr. Scrooge. In fact, he’s essentially a really good guy with some rather standard perspectives on management and business. This is a story about a good guy transforming into a better guy – a better manager and a better person.

“Building a business takes skill, work, and materials . . . but those are details. More than anything else, building a business—really, building anything—is an act of faith. Because you’re creating something out of nothing, you see?”

It’s a light read filled with truly useful advice, making it the perfect business book to pick up over the holidays.

It’s Not About You: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business by Bob Burg, John David Mann

Book Review: Women and Career Decisions

There are a lot of books focused on women in the workplace. Most are written by women who are CEOs, successful entrepreneurs or otherwise well know for their professional achievements. Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction by Marcia Reynolds is not that book.

Wander Woman is filled with facts:

What most surprised the managers was that the top-performing women did not stay and fight. These days, strong women take their expertise and knowledge to greener pastures.

Their workplace wish lists rarely state “being promoted” as a prime motivator. Instead, my survey respondents told me they look for (1) frequent new challenges that stretch and grow their ability to achieve; (2) the opportunity to be flexible with their schedule; (3) the chance to collaborate with other high achievers; (4) recognition from their company; and (5) the freedom to be themselves.

And with highly quotable and inspirational statements:

If you want to change how you relate to others and run your life, you have to first transform your concept of self. If you try to change your behavior without first transforming who you think you are, the changes will last a few days until you quit thinking about them.

But the real strength of this book comes from her personal experience. She describes being an overachieving teen who gets into trouble that very nearly destroys (or ends) her life:

I learned one of my greatest life lessons—if you don’t know who you are, you will never be content with what you can do—in one of the darkest places on earth, a jail cell. A year after high school graduation, I ended up spending six months in jail for possession of narcotics, an experience I swore would never happen to me. In truth, the sentence saved my life.

And delves into her struggles as the daughter of a man who was so tied up in his self-imposed identity as a man-who-works that he was unable to handle retirement:

The day the doctors told my father he could no longer work was the day he accepted his death sentence…In my anger for his leaving me, I somehow missed the lesson in my father’s passing. My father could not be a retiree. He could not free himself from the identity of being a successful businessman. When he could no longer hold on to that identity, he quit…When he had to give up his formula for prestige, he gave up his will to survive. I desperately tried to help him see what else he could accomplish if he redefined his goals. I didn’t see that his addiction to achievement was killing him.

There are pages upon pages of down-to-earth realistic advice pulled from the life of a highly-relatable professional woman. Reading it feels like sitting down for coffee or tea with a friend and hashing out the day-to-day frustrations every one of us has to face. I came away with advice that I regularly use:

I choose my work based on what I have defined as my purpose and say “no” to everything else. When I am buried under a to-do list, I prioritize and let some things go with no guilt. My exercise and fun time can’t be compromised. These are the good days.

This isn’t grandiose advice handed down to the masses by a woman who has achieved dizzying heights. It’s perspectives, thoughts and ideas that actually apply to the challenges of daily life, provided by someone who has been through it herself.

Evaluating a Favorite Fiction List

What does a favorites list say about a specific individual?

When a college recruiter, potential employer, first date or an acquaintance inquires about a favorite book, they are usually trying to get a sense of who the other person is on a more personal level.

I love the discussions that can develop out of this sort of question. I also remain extremely cautious about using the list itself as proof of personality, ethics or beliefs.

Beware! You have entered the land of dangerous assumptions.

There is no ‘should’ in a favorites list. It doesn’t matter what a person’s inner circle or society as a whole thinks; each person chooses according to their own private, gut reaction. The books placed on that very special shelf within my house are not the same as the books proudly displayed on the favorites shelf in your house. Every list is different. Every. Single. One.

It is impossible to evaluate an individual, based on a list of books, titles without knowing why those titles were selected.

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My Favorites List

As an example, here is a selection of titles from my own favorites list (roughly in order according to publication date):

Just glancing over this list, what jumps out at you? When this list is evaluated without discussion, the following details are usually the center of focus…

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Common literary cannons utilized by most universities:

  • Women’s literature: 3
  • Multi-cultural literature: 3
  • Native American literature: 1
  • African American literature: 1
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction: 1
  • LGBT literature: 1
  • Pulitzer prize winners: 1
  • Not recognized by academic circles: 2

The authors:

  • 5 women
  • 2 Men
  • 4 Americans

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    • 1 African American
    • 1 Native American
    • 2 White
  • 1 Czechoslovakian
  • 2 British

While this numeric evaluation is interesting and easy to identify, it is most important to remember that it has little to nothing to do with the process of selecting a favorite.

Favorites Selection Process

To understand the selection process we must examine an individual’s primary categories. For example, my definitions are as follows (links are to my in-progress book lists on GoodReads.com):

Favorite: Any combination of the following:

    • Highly memorable books that provide a strong positive feeling.
    • Books that are re-read or referenced regularly.
    • A person can’t imagine life without a copy of that text.
    • Useful to the point of being necessary for day-to-day living.

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  • Impact: Titles that significantly changed perspective or left a strong impression.
  • Enjoy: Fun to read. Highly forgettable pulp fiction that is perfect for a few hours of mindless relaxation.
  • Enjoy Plus: Somewhere between Enjoy and Favorite.

My definition of Favorite allows for the inclusion of any genre of text, not just novels. This is important to know because, under these circumstances, the question “what is your favorite book” could be answered with a cookbook, auto-maintenance manual, reference manual or anything else that happens to be particularly useful at that moment.

Reasons Behind Fiction Selections

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Because favorite novels are so intimately personal, the only possible way to truly understand the ‘meaning’ provided by a favorites list is by delving into the reasons why the individual made those selections.

In my case, every one of the novels in my list has one or more female characters who defy society’s norms to carve out a self-determined life for herself.

Sometimes the life-path resulted in catastrophe (e.g.: Wuthering Heights)  and other times it provided the best possible outcome a character could have hoped for (e.g.: Their Eyes Were Watching God). In some cases she was sexually free and aggressively confident (e.g.: Rubyfruit Jungle) and in others she was a virgin who refused to give in to peer pressure (e.g.: Voices of Dragons).

They are warriors (e.g.: Lord of The Rings), cautiously defiant and politically subversive teenagers (e.g.: Truckstop Rainbows) and strong young women who choose to live according to traditions and culture of their people (e.g.: The Ancient Child).

Whatever the circumstances, dangers or personal objectives, every one of these stories describes at least one woman who took life head-on and blazed a trail of her own making. This is a specific scenario that I am drawn to on a deep level, so the titles are placed on my favorites list.

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Properly Using a Favorites List

If you ask a potential employee, new friend or long-standing acquaintance for their favorite books list, remember that the list is the beginning of the conversation and not the end of the analysis.

Work and the Aftermath of Abuse

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For most people, work is central to their survival—it’s how they make a living for themselves and those they care about and how they pay their way in the world. Work is also about belonging to something larger than oneself, and the relationships that are part of the workplace support that sense of belonging. When work is recognized as central to survival and belonging, it’s a lot less surprising that many victims don’t easily get over workplace mobbing and go on to develop symptoms of PTSD and/or depression.

Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying by Maureen Duffy Ph.D., Len Sperry Ph.D.

No Rest For The Creative

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“When you’re a creative person, you have to create. Retirement isn’t part of that mentality. The mentality is, What is inspiring you next?

The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It into a Global Brand by Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Booth Moore

From the first chapter:

We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the glitter plan.

Can’t Have It All

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“The age-old question about women and the workplace is, Can you have it all? The answer is no. When you’re driven, something in your life does always suffer.”

The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It into a Global Brand by Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Booth Moore

From the first chapter:

We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the glitter plan.

Passion and Success

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“The trick to our success—and any success—is passion; you can’t manufacture that.

The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It into a Global Brand by Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Booth Moore

From the first chapter:

We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the glitter plan.

The Myth of Overnight Success

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“Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you’ll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance. Building a substantial body of work takes a long time—a lifetime, really—but thankfully, you don’t need that time all in one big chunk. So forget about decades, forget about years, and forget about months. Focus on days.”

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

Entrepreneurs vs Suits

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“And that’s the absolute difference between corporate and entrepreneurial mind-sets. A suit looks at reports. If reports say this is selling, it’s design more of this. The entrepreneur says, “I feel a change coming around the bend, we need to get out of this and start getting into that. That is the new trend.” The corporate mind-set won’t do that unless they take a survey of one hundred people. The entrepreneur says, “It doesn’t matter what they say they want because they don’t know they want it yet.”

A good management team is able to meld what the entrepreneurial mind says is coming next and what the corporate mind says is working now. One is gut and the other is report.

The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It into a Global Brand by Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Booth Moore

From the first chapter:

We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the glitter plan.