As usual and on schedule, I'm always reflective at this time of year when we're about to hit the reset button and start again. It's tradition for me to read and ponder one of my favorites quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald:
For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
I'd like to offer some book recommendations from my personal collection as well as from authors I've met in person and titles that have made an impact on my personal and business success. This list is in no particular order; I couldn't play favorites any more than I could choose my favorite child. That said, my intention is to offer you an eclectic mix of topics written on a variety of subjects, while creating a deliberate popcorn trail to help you become the person you'd like to be in life and in business. Fitzgerald's advice is timeless and is on point -- and here's my hot take: You can hit the reset button anytime you wish, not just at the start of a new year. That's not to say we shouldn't learn from our mistakes. We will certainly have to face the consequences of our own decisions (or lack of them, if we're stuck in analysis paralysis). But assuming you've built the ability to make mistakes into your plans so that you can come back another day to fight the good fight, you're going to be OK. My version of this is: Every day is a new chance to be my very best. Here we go!
1. Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown
There are few titles that have had as much impact on me personally as Brown's books. For me, it started with Daring Greatly and has been a steady crescendo of wows! with each new book release. If I were categorizing this book at the bookstore, I'd put it in the Leadership section. Don't let the flowers and giant heart on the cover fool you into thinking this is some mushy self-help book. While it's true this tour of your vessel will help you become a better human, the so-called soft skills (now a must-have for anyone in the C-suite) are the new mandatory required skills in demand. Don't sleep on this book if you manage a team. Brene's work is a culmination of 20 years of experience as a research professor at the University of Houston.
Despite her exceptional credentials, Brown's books have a personal, relatable tone that really resonates with me (and millions of her fans). I can almost hear her Texas drawl as I read the words on the page on topics like courage, vulnerability, shame, empathy, and leadership to name a few. Fair warning: Her stories will lull you in to a sense of comfort and new understanding on a topic, right as the hard truths you haven't wanted to confront punch you in the face.
Case in point for me was understanding more about vulnerability about 10 years ago. It turns out that (paraphrasing) "The depth to which we are willing and able to be vulnerable is the true measure of our courage." In short, I realized that soldiering through massive disappointment, heartbreak, stress, and trauma in silence is not a display of strength. It is in fact the exact opposite. To be clear, I'm not talking about stoicism, the conditioning of one's mind to perceive one's circumstances differently. I'm referring to an all-out burying of my feelings followed by detaching or sabotaging healthy relationships with far-fetched dreams of making things better for everyone. There's an old song by the Offspring with lyrics that comes to mind, "The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care, right?" No, wrong. Playing the victim or silent martyr is a fool's errand as well. I learned that I was not being brave enough to face problems head on and was living small as a result. Read Atlas of the Heart and Brown will take you on a tour to help you become your best self as well as improve your most important personal and professional relationships.
2. The Practice, Seth Godin
Godin's latest book is for anyone who struggles with wondering whether their work is worth doing or being appreciated and valued. Seth puts a great twist on a familiar question, "What would you do if you knew you could fail?" In other words, forget about the outcome and just do (or make) something remarkable. It's worth deep consideration because if you're like me, you sometimes get caught in the trap of comparing yourself with your peers and competitors who might be more successful than you. "If we try to attach ourselves to the outcome, we will sacrifice the process. The practice says, the outcome matters ... that's why I'm here. But I'm not sacrificing [doing] the work to reverse engineer some outcome that I have no control over. I have no control once I release it into the world. So all I can do is merely [do] the work."
Godin walks the talk here with penning more than 7,000 consecutive blog posts -- some of these mini ideas were later expanded into his bestselling books. Think MLB Hall of Fame player Cal Ripken Jr., the Iron Man of the Baltimore Orioles who played in 2,632 consecutive games over more than 16 years. Ripken surpassed Lou Gehrig of the Yankees, whose record of 2,130 consecutive games was the record for 56 years. It's about showing up and doing great work. The take away for me is, more isn't better, better is better.
3. Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell
No matter which book from Malcolm I'm reading, there's always a fascinating story within the story. Gladwell is a keen observer of people, culture, and society. He has an uncanny ability to shine a light in the dark where we discover something new about ourselves. I see Gladwell as one of the great writers of our time, like Fitzgerald was in his era, and I feel lucky to have spent time with him. On a separate note, one thing you may not know about Malcolm Gladwell is that he's a car guy. He currently drives a late model BMW.
4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo is proof that good things come in small packages. When you come to understand the KonMari Method, you'll see how it's much more than the popular trend of minimalism. Kondo's secret is a hyper focus on only keeping the things in your life that bring you joy. "Part of the magic [to my method] is that having an uncluttered space creates a sense of calm and peace that can reduce stress. The idea is to create your own personal sanctuary."
5. Pocket Full of Do, Chris Do
Chris Do is one of the best teachers I know. If you have a service-based business in any way shape or form, you need this. Chris has honed his craft as an award-winning graphic artist and commercial director and is determined to help creative entrepreneurs earn what we are worth. One of my takeaways is having the strength to say no despite the opportunity for a big payday. "The biggest mistake creative people make is when someone reaches out, they feel like they can't say no. They do mental gymnastics to try and close the sale. The pressure to sell is intense, especially if you need the money. But don't compromise your worth or standards. You may know the project or client is not a fit, so be an asset and help them find someone else. You'll be happier and make more money when you choose your clients."
6. Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Quick take: great for understanding why your great idea is working or not. Think about starting with the end in mind by evoking the kind of emotion in the audience you want them to feel.
7. Atomic Habits, James Clear
Quick take: How do you run a 26-plus mile marathon? Certainly not the first time you put on your new running shoes. You start with micro goals that are reasonable and achievable so you can build up mileage over time. Trying to improve just 1 percent over an extended period of time will likely yield greater results than trying to do it all at once.
8. The Daily Laws, Robert Greene
If you loved The 48 Laws of Power, you'll love his new book. Greene described it to me as a "whisky shot" of the iconic 48 Laws. Getting to know Robert a little better in person was one of the highlights of my year. I have to admit that I misjudged him at first. From the outside looking in, RG's books can seem rife with toxic masculinity and be used as a playbook for narcissists to prey on unsuspecting victims. While it's true The 48 Laws book is banned in most prisons over what I would assume is the fear-based reaction, Greene wrote this book (and others I suspect) for the underdogs. The prolific author wasn't always what he seems. Before he found his niche, Greene was a middle-aged alcoholic and failed screenwriter in Hollywood. He had to work 60 or more jobs during his career to make ends meet and was used an abused by (most of) his bosses. Greene changed the names in his books to disguise his abusers but channeled his revenge into an instruction manual of sorts to empower anyone who might meet the same challenges of his past. I see Greene as a Robin Hood figure standing up and stepping in for the oppressed in the dark forests of real world business.
9. The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel
Quick take: Being good with money isn't about more credits and fewer debits -- it's about a shift in our behavior. For me it has been about: Diversify, diversify, diversity. Making my money work for me while I'm sleeping. Case in point from my own experience: In 2016, I made $533.36 (from Adsense revenue) on YouTube. I doubled my efforts and in 2017, I made $7,509.55. In 2018, $9,177.07. In 2019, $34,248.50. In 2020 and 2021, the revenue is well into the high-six figures. Being better with my money wasn't on a spreadsheet -- it was more emotional and based on better decision-making. Now I have 800-plus videos with reoccurring revenue. I love what I do and feel fulfilled and create a positive impact in the lives of millions of my fans. The lesson for me is about the power of consistency and compounding smart decisions that translated into money to make my dreams scale.
10. Wired to Eat, Robb Wolf
Quick take: After being frustrated with doctors who couldn't solve my health issues (like chronic migraines), I started off on my own solo journey to hack my way to feeling better with diet and exercise. Robb's book is backed with science and a total game-changer.
11. This Is Marketing, Seth Godin
Quick take: Yes, another book from Seth -- it's that good! IMHO, Godin is the godfather of modern marketing. This book might be the last book on marketing you ever need to read. For some additional inside baseball, my video with Seth breaks it all down and has been watched by over a million people.
12. Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss
Quick take: As a former veteran FBI crisis negotiator, Voss is a boss who really knows his stuff. "In every negotiation, somebody is holding back. They are likely doing it out of fear because they've been exploited or defensive to hold their position. You need to know who you are in every circumstance." Voss says that you're either the Favorite or the Fool. The Favorite has the best reputation in the industry, is the best in class, a top-rated pro -- and should never cut her price. If you're not sure whether you're the Favorite or the Fool, you're probably the Fool. You can find out which one you are by asking the client, "Why me?" This simple question will reveal everything because if you are the Favorite the client will tell you why they selected you. If you're the Fool they will likely throw it back on you. In any case where budget is involved, Voss reminds us to remind our prospective clients and partners, "A professional is expensive, an amateur costs a fortune."
13. Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic, Paul Conti
Quick take: Conti's book is a must-have, especially if you don't believe you've had any trauma and think you're coping with hard things just fine. Let's normalize mental health. Let's normalize not being OK sometimes and needing help. Everyone has trauma, big-T or little-T at various points in their life. Conti's focus on this often misunderstood and misdiagnosed subject came after the trauma of losing his brother to suicide in his 20s. My aha! moment was learning that mental and physical issues are very likely to be causal and related. For example, if I have mental stress, there's a good chance it will manifest as a physical issue in the body like headaches or digestive problems. Moreover, if I'm suffering from physical pain like a back injury, it could cause increased anxiety, forgetfulness, short temper, etc. Run, don't walk, to get this book.
14. The Power of Regret, Dan Pink
Quick take: Dan is a master at zeroing in on exactly what we need right now. With everything that's been going on in the world, we might start drifting into a fog of confusion, not knowing how to reconcile our feelings. It turns out the power of regret cuts both ways and isn't as negative as we've been led to believe. "Regret is not dangerous or abnormal, a deviation from the steady path to happiness. It is healthy and universal, an integral part of being human. Regret is also valuable. It clarifies. It instructs. Done right, it needn't drag us down; it can lift us up."
Speaking from my own life, I've found this to be true. Many of you know that I'm adopted and searched for about 25 years before recently finding my biological parents. It was simultaneously one of the best and worst experiences of my adult life. My mom reacted badly but my dad was open to being in my life. When we started building our relationship as father and son, he would apologize profusely and express his regret for not trying to find me on his own and missing out on most of my life. My emotions are complicated around this, but I accepted his apology and we moved forward. I also felt like his reflection and feelings of deep regret helped strengthen our bond, because he had a new-found respect for the time he missed out on in my life. In 2019, my dad went in for back surgery to fix the almost unbearable chronic pain he was living with daily. The surgery was a huge success. But a few days later while in the rehabilitation center, he got a serious infection and died. He was 69 years young. We were apart for most of my life, and just when we were reunited I lost him. My grieving and thoughts of regret are painful, but it has also crystallized my gratitude for our time together and helped me live more in the moment.
15. Save the Cat, Blake Snyder
Quick take: The subtitle of the book is "The last book on screenwriting that you'll ever need." Don't worry if you're not a screenwriter -- we're all in the storytelling business now with our personal or consumer brands. I love how Snyder uses the work of Joseph Campbell (The Hero's Journey) to showcase the fact that there are a set number of storyline scenarios. Which one is us? Which story is best for our customers and clients? I refer to Save the Cat on the daily when I'm producing video for my YouTube channel or clients.
16. Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, Jaqueline Novogratz
Quick take: Acumen founder Jacqueline Novogratz has been passionate about changing the world since she was a little girl. As a child in school, she liked the stories of the saints and felt that they were examples of people changing their world one at a time. At 6 years of age, Novogratz knew she wanted to do something about poverty, but she wasn't sure what her path would look like. It's a unique gift to have that level of self-awareness so young and through her organization Novogratz actually is changing the world. Novogratz probably has more courage in her little pinky finger than I have in my entire body. This book is a roadmap to being brave and doing work that matters.
17. Why Design Matters, Debbie Millman
Quick take: Fast Company named Millman one of the most creative people in the world, and it's not hard to see why. My first impression of Debbie was that she is equal parts brilliant and kind with a dedication to her art. She is an incredible designer, author, educator, artist, and creative who is probably best known as the host of the Design Matters podcast. She has published many books, but my key take away is that we should be creating a 10-year plan similar to a mood board or wish list of who we want to be. The more specific we are about goals and achievements, the more likely they are to come to life.
18. The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday
Quick take: Holiday studied under Robert Greene for a while and it shows. He's a relatively young writer (compared to when Greene got his start) but prolific none the less. Holiday is a smart and research-oriented writer who has the ability to mash up and DJ ancient ideas from the likes of great minds like Marcus Aurelius (who ruled the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 CE) to help us apply the principles in modern time. Holiday probably deserves a fair amount of credit for fueling the on-going stoicism movement. My key takeaway from his curated collection of common sense is that we are in control of how we perceive the world around us. "Fools rush in, right? Don't rush in. Take your time. Think this over and then take the best shot. Take your best shot."
19. Beyond Diversity, Rohit Bhargava and Jennifer Brown
Quick take: Rohit is a former Ogilvy agency person with a ton of marketing experience. He's also an adjunct professor, world traveler, speaker, author of many books, and family man, among other things. Full transparency: I have a strong bias toward Rohit because we're friends and I'm a huge fan of his other books like those in the Non-Obvious series. We've also been working together for the past couple of years on my new book (more on that forthcoming). Regarding his latest, Bhargava writes, "My new book Beyond Diversity, which I co-authored with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) expert Jennifer Brown (and the support of six other contributors), aims to make a difficult and sensitive topic more approachable. Our collaboration started earlier this year, with a virtual summit that brought together over 200 speakers--including leaders, entrepreneurs, VCs and entertainers--to share their best insights into the ways that focusing on diversity, inclusion and equity might offer some surprising benefits for companies of all sizes." This is a timely book that is on the WSJ bestseller list and sure to be a perennial favorite. More details about the book in his Inc. article here.
20. Ready, Reset, Go, Mary Shenouda
Quick take: Mary is a boss and in her own [understated] way, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to nutrition. She's self-made and also one of the most thoughtful and generous people I know. Mary is a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur who transformed herself into a private chef for some of the world's top athletes, musicians, and taste-makers. When I was really searching for answers about my health, Mary treated me like a friend and without expectations shared her nutrition secrets that made all the difference for me. If you care about your health and want to look and feel better inside and out, Shenouda's gut-reset e-book is a must-read.
21. Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely
Quick take: I love price strategy and studying consumer behavior. As someone who runs a production company that lives in project world, it can be challenging to know how to cost out projects and price them at acceptable levels of fairness and margin. Ariely's book (published in 2008) has been instrumental in helping me decipher theories like the paradox of choice and how to help my clients see the fairness and value of the video production we offer.
22. Behind the Brand, Bryan Elliott
I'm going to leave this last slot as a teaser for my upcoming book. My first book is a collection of 40 to 50 of my favorite episodes, encounters, and stories from my show. I've tried to pull the most important and inspiring key learnings from some of the smartest people on the planet, while also adding in my take. It's one thing to hear a billionaire like Mark Cuban offer business advice -- it's valuable -- but at the same time we're not all billionaires. For this reason, each chapter also includes "my translation" of how to apply the ideas of these super-successful people into terms that the rest of us can understand and apply. I'm working hard to finalize everything with my team and hope to have a firm launch date in 2022 to announce soon. If you'd like to check out some of the mock ups and working book cover options I'm considering, take a look at a recent Instagram post here and vote for your favorite so far.