You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

You Are a Badass®: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome LifeYou Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
Published by Running Press Adult

While I’m not hugely into self-help books, I can find them, ahem, helpful from time to time, especially when I hear they have applicable advice about issues that I truly struggle with. You Are a Badass promised exactly that – according to the publisher, the book should help you “Identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want, blast past your fears so you can take big exciting risks, figure out how to make some damn money already, learn to love yourself and others, set big goals and reach them – it will basically show you how to create a life you totally love, and how to create it now.” And it’s not that I dislike my life or hate myself or anything that extreme, but I struggle with insecurity and anxiety, am sort of bummed out about my job right now, and just kind of wondering if I should be actively looking to change anything about my life in order to be more successful. So – did the book help me at all?

In short, not really. I like Sincero’s message but I didn’t feel that she told me anything I didn’t already know. I could give myself this advice if I really sat down and thought about it, really took the time to think about why I’m unhappy at work and why I feel that I am not in a career that I absolutely love and was born to do. I also don’t feel that she had much to say about real issues, such as depression and anxiety, that aren’t cured by getting off your ass and doing something while loving yourself at the same time. This advice is great, and is meaningful to a lot of people, but for a person really struggling with depression and/or anxiety it may not help much.

That being said, I liked the book and found a few pieces of inspiration within its pages. I recommend the book for someone who needs a simple kick in the ass but not much more than that.

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Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest ChallengesPresence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
Published by Little, Brown and Company

Amy Cuddy is best known for her TED talk about “power poses” – the idea that standing like Superman or Superwoman for two minutes before facing a challenge (giving a speech, having a difficult conversation, going to an interview, etc.) increases confidence and improves performance. In Presence, she delves deep into that concept and so many more. She details meticulous research that shows, in many different ways, how we can impact the way we feel about certain things and become stronger, more present versions of ourselves in just about any circumstance.

The sociology and psychology nerd in me completely geeked out over this book. I loved all of the social psychology research studies that Cuddy went over and found so many of them to be insightful, interesting, and applicable to my own life. I am not sure how many of the things she recommended are actions I will actually take in real life situations, but I certainly found them to be things I should consider doing.

Something else I enjoyed was that Cuddy relates her own personal experience to a lot of what she discusses in the book. She experienced a traumatic brain injury as a college student, and that situation dramatically changed the way she thought of herself and fundamentally changed the way her brain worked. Through years of hard work and using many different techniques, Cuddy was able to recover from her injury and find a way of learning that worked for her and allowed her to accomplish all of the things she’d hoped to do prior to the accident. Her personal experience really added an extra touch to the book and I liked having that narrative alongside the research.

I listened to the audio of Presence and really enjoyed the listening experience. Cuddy narrates herself and has a very peaceful, soothing voice. She does a really good job explaining everything in a way that is easy to comprehend. I have to say that I do wish that I had the physical book, though, because this is the kind of book I would want to revisit and it’s not easy to revisit an audio when searching for a specific part of the book to reread. Still, I recommend the audio because it was a good listening experience.

Overall I really enjoyed Presence and can recommend it for those who enjoy these types of psychological, self-helpish books. I hesitate to call it self-help but truthfully, that’s the kind of book it is, and it has truly applicable tips and techniques that can really help a lot of people.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown
Published by Hazeldon Publishing

I’d long heard Brene Brown’s name mentioned as a writer similar to Cheryl Strayed or Elizabeth Gilbert (two of my favorites), so I was excited to pick up my first book by Brown and experience her thoughts for myself. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t quite what I was hoping for and I’m sure that’s the fault of my own and not of the writer, for a few reasons.

It’s funny that at the end of the book Brown explains that this wasn’t meant to be a self-help book in the traditional sense, but for me I found that it was a bit too self-help-y, so I almost laughed out loud when I got to the end of the book and heard that part (I listened to the audio, so yes I actually did “hear” it). The basic idea of the book is to give the reader a set of guideposts to learn how to embrace the idea that perfection is not possible or even ideal, and that we should be looking to embrace our true selves instead of being ashamed of our mistakes and shortcomings. This is something I truly need in my life, as I am guilty of trying to please everyone and being extremely hard on myself in just about every scenario one can dream up. However, I just found the book relatively dry and it didn’t do much to enhance my life or my attitude about myself.

Part of the issue, I think, was that I listened to the audio, and it may have been a combination of not loving the narrator and needing to actually see the words on the page, but I don’t think I absorbed much of the guidance Brown was trying to provide here.

Ultimately I’m still interested in reading more from Brene Brown, as I think there were some nuggets of truth within the book, and a few things that I will take away, but unfortunately this one just didn’t work for me.

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too)The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin
Published by Harmony

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, habits and happiness guru, is back with another book – this time focusing on the framework that she developed called The Four Tendencies. The basic idea is that these four types of people respond to expectations differently, and figuring out your tendency is a key piece in mastering your ability to create new habits and have a happy, productive life.

I’m not sure that writing a whole book about the four tendencies was Rubin’s best idea. I was interested in this subject when I first read about it in Better Than Before, and it certainly explains a lot about people’s behavior and how different people respond differently to expectations, but this book was a bit overkill for me. I’m just not sure that I need to know every single way each tendency can affect every single other tendency, how to “deal” with each tendency in every area of life, or which tendencies pair the best with others in romantic relationships, friendships, or as coworkers.

I listened to the audio of The Four Tendencies and it was pretty good. Rubin narrates it herself, and having listened to some of her podcast episodes I was familiar with her voice. She is a good speaker and I can see why she has been successful at speaking engagements all across the country.

The Four Tendencies would be a good choice for those who are huge fans of Gretchen Rubin’s work in happiness and habits, and I did find parts of it interesting. However, I felt it was a bit TOO much about these tendencies and I am not sure that writing an entire book about this subject was totally necessary. Recommended for fans of Gretchen Rubin; others, not so much.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own PersonYear of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes
Published by Simon & Schuster

From the publisher:

The mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder chronicles how saying YES for one year changed her life―and how it can change yours, too.

With three hit shows on television and three children at home, the uber-talented Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say NO when an unexpected invitation arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No.

And there was the side-benefit of saying No for an introvert like Shonda: nothing new to fear.

Then Shonda’s sister laid down a challenge: just for one year, try to say YES to the unexpected invitations that come your way. Shonda reluctantly agreed―and the result was nothing short of transformative. In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes chronicles the powerful impact saying yes had on every aspect of her life―and how we can all change our lives with one little word. Yes.

I loved this book. I loved it and cherished it and marveled at it the way that I did with Lean In and Tiny Beautiful Things – two books that inspired me and caused me to look at myself differently, to question if the way I was doing things and living my life was the BEST way, the most authentic way. That’s how I feel about Year of Yes – like a changed, more inspired, challenged person.

Shonda Rimes did something so brave, and that is that she challenged herself to say yes to every single thing that scared her in one year. If I did that … I can’t even fathom that. I am scared of a lot of things. So to say that her journey was inspiring to me is a huge understatement. I can’t even begin to go into detail about all the things that she did, but broadly speaking – she gave speeches, did a lot more publicity than she had ever done before, became more confident as a leader, eliminated friendships with toxic people, made a huge decision about her personal life, oh and also lost over 100 pounds and embarked on a completely new healthy lifestyle. The weight loss is SO not the point of the book, just one of many things that she said yes to, but it becomes a physical manifestation, a metaphor if you will, for all the other amazingly positive things that happened in Rimes’ life because of saying yes.

To get into how much I gleaned from the book personally would be too much to share here. Let’s just say that Shonda gave me a LOT to think about. A lot a lot a lot. I’ve been doing tons of thinking since the first chapter of the book, and I just finished it today, and let’s just say I’ll continue to do a lot of thinking for a long time. And doing. I want to do some doing, too.

I am a huge fan of Shondaland shows. I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder from the beginning of each show. But I don’t think you need to be a fan of Shonda’s shows, or even understand what she’s all about as a TV writer, to appreciate the book. I think a book this inspiring has the power to positively influence just about anyone to make some kind of positive change. I just had to put that out there in case you’re saying – but I don’t watch her shows, there won’t be anything here for me. Not true.

However. If you ARE a fan of Shonda’s shows, you will love this book that much more. The book is written how the characters on her show talk – the essence of Shonda Rimes just pours out of the page (and poured right into my heart and mind). It is a fantastic experience. And I listened to the audio, which she narrates herself. SO SO GOOD. I definitely recommend that choice if you’re an audio person.

So very very highly recommended. I wanted to hug the book when I was done with it. And find Shonda and hug her, too. And become her best friend. Love love love.

Hippiebanker: Bringing Peace Love and Spirituality to the Workplace, A 12-Week Guide to Becoming a Spiritual Activist in Your Little Corner of the World by Camille Sacco

Hippiebanker: Bringing Peace Love and Spirituality to the Workplace, A 12-Week Guide to Becoming a Spiritual Activist in Your Little Corner of the WorldHippiebanker: Bringing Peace Love and Spirituality to the Workplace, a 12-Week Guide to Becoming a Spiritual Activist in Your Little Corner of the World by Camille Sacco
Published by Smashwords Edition

Camille Sacco is a woman on a mission – she is here to show you that you can change the world from your desk at work. All you need to do is be intentional about your behaviors and how you treat others, and this 12-week guide will help you on that journey. Included here are detailed, easy to understand ideas for how you can create a happier, healthier workplace environment, along with journal pages to reflect upon your learnings from each section of the book. People need to understand that it is possible to create a healthy, spiritual workplace, even from at a corporate desk job.

Okay, full disclosure here – Camille is a co-worker and friend of mine. I didn’t read her book as any sort of favor, though – in fact, she never even asked me to read it, I asked HER if I could buy it from her. So these are my honest thoughts but do keep in mind that she and I are friends.

Most of you know that I am in a leadership position at work. I am the “boss”, if you will, of about ten employees. The way I try to run things at work is through compassion, kindness, honesty, and accountability. I take incredibly great care of my people but at the end of the day, we are there to do a job and so I hold them accountable for doing said job. What I love about Camille Sacco’s message is that it’s okay and in fact preferable to be this way. It is GOOD to embrace your employees and customers (if you are customer-facing) with love. It is the right thing to do to take care of your people because you will be rewarded with happy, productive employees and the workplace will feel better, lighter, and more joyful because of it.

I am so on board with Camille’s messaging here. Before I read her book, I was already a believer of most of what she’s saying, and her book reminded me to always keep those feelings top of mind when dealing with my employees and customers. I like that she includes a step-by-step guide to practicing what she preaches, a guide that is easy to follow and follows a very linear approach.

My only issue with the book, and I suppose it’s more of a question really, is that I’m not sure the people who really NEED this book will actually read it. You know who I’m talking about – the horrible bosses out there that just don’t get it, that don’t get how important employee experience is to the whole picture of running a business. Those bosses that just don’t seem to care at ALL about how their employees feel and what their wants and needs are. I worry that while those are the exact people who absolutely need this book, those are the people who would never consider picking it up in the first place.

Besides that I can absolutely recommend Hippiebanker. Camille is so right in what she’s saying here – to have happy, healthy workplaces those of us who are in leadership positions need to take care of our people. We need to look inside ourselves and figure out what we are doing that is preventing our employees from being the happiest and most productive they can be. While Camille is a friend of mine, I also have seen her at work and I believe she embodies what she is saying here. If you are feeling stuck in a rut at work, feeling like corporate culture doesn’t allow you to make a difference to anyone, do yourself a favor and pick up Hippiebanker.

Mini-Reviews: Advice/Memoirish Books

The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your LifeThe Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan
Published by Dutton

I picked up this book because I thought it might be similar to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book I loved and that I was actually able to apply to my life. And it somewhat lived up to my expectation that the two would be similar – Rubin spent a year focusing on being happier, while Kaplan spent a year focusing on how choosing to be grateful can be a catalyst for happiness and peace in your life. I liked The Gratitude Diaries well enough – it was compelling, read rather quickly, and was a good mix of interesting and funny.

I wasn’t in love with this book, though. It was one of those that was good but, weeks after reading it, I’ve forgotten most of what Kaplan had to say. In general, I try to look on the positive side of things and not let bad situations ruin my days and I do try to be mindful of being grateful for what I have and acknowledging that (sometimes only to myself) on a regular basis. So I think I may not have been quite the target audience of this book since I was already kind of buying what Kaplan is selling before I even picked it up? Anyway – I liked The Gratitude Diaries but it wasn’t the most memorable or impactful book I’ve ever read.

100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love by Lisa Leake
Published by William Morrow Cookbooks

Lisa Leake, creator of the popular food blog 100 Days of Real Food, decided one day that what she had been feeding her family for years was mostly processed, unsustainable, and unhealthy, and she and her husband gave themselves the challenge of eating (and feeding their two young daughters) no highly processed or refined foods for 100 days. This book is half the story of how they managed to do it, what they learned, and how they have sustained this lifestyle food choice over time, and half a cookbook where she shares some of their favorite recipes as a family.

I have to admit that Leake’s story is pretty inspiring. I am not sure that I could manage to do this just cooking for myself, and she managed to get her entire family eating this way. The rationale behind why she made this choice, and what exactly constitutes “real” food in her mind made perfect sense to me and is a philosophy that I can see myself at least incorporating into my diet. I can’t say that I plan on overhauling my diet completely but it’s certainly a starting point to a more healthful lifestyle.

The cookbook section has a surprising amount of variety, as well as recipes for things that I wouldn’t automatically think would fit into the real food lifestyle. There were quite a few that I wanted to make, but I only ended up making one – vegetarian chili – before the book had to go back to the library. The chili was really good, very filling, although I admit I doctored the recipe just a bit by adding canned pumpkin (hey, it’s fall and I had pumpkin to use up!). I don’t think the pumpkin made too much of a difference except maybe for the texture – it was a little on the thinner, soupy side before I added it.

I’d definitely recommend the book for anyone considering a change in eating habits or just wanting to know more about the real food thing. You can also check out her blog if you want to get an idea of what Leake is all about.

Mini-Reviews: Recent Nonfiction Reads

Bad Feminist: EssaysBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Published by Harper Perennial

I wish I had the energy or motivation to write an entire post about this incredibly smart, challenging, and at times witty book of essays but I’m struggling to find the right words to gush about it. I loved Gay’s style of writing – it’s intensely personal but in a way that made me feel like I was chatting with a girlfriend (a highly intelligent girlfriend who motivated me to think more deeply about things). The essays here are about all sorts of things, almost all relating in some way to feminism, but some more loosely than others, and many having to do with racism and sexism and how the two intersect in ways that most people don’t realize or even care to consider. My favorite essay in the book, hands down, is one where Gay lists rules for how women should be while in friendships with other women. It’s brilliant and so true that I want to share it with every woman I know. If you’re at all interested in feminism, read this book. If you think feminism is not necessary, read this book. If you think racism and sexism are not things that happen anymore, read this book. Or if you just happen to be interested in good writing, read this book. Bad Feminist is great and I’m looking forward to more from Roxane Gay.

Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why It MattersUnchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Published by Baker Books

The authors of this book did an extensive study on young people’s attitudes and beliefs about Christians. Not about Christianity itself, but Christians as people. The implications for what they learned – mainly that young people perceive Christians to be judgmental, hypocritical, homophobic, obsessed with politics and politicians that reflect their conservative beliefs – can have huge implications for the future of Christianity. IF the right people read this book, learn from it, and make changes. I agree with a lot of what Kinnaman and Lyons said here, and although I am a Christian I personally see a lot of what was reflected in the book and it doesn’t always make me feel good about calling myself a Christian. While I enjoyed reading this book, mostly because it confirmed for me a lot of things I already felt, I don’t see how it will make a difference because I just don’t anticipate that the people who need to read the book will actually read it. Church leaders who want to actively change the way Christians are perceived in the world should be reading Unchristian and doing something with the knowledge gleaned from it, but I just don’t see that happening. That being said, I think it’s a valuable read for those of us who try to represent Christ in the world while holding tight to a church that isn’t perceived to consistently do a great job of being Christ-like in its actions.

I Suck at Relationships So You Don't Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever AfterI Suck at Relationships So You Don’t Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever After by Bethenny Frankel
Published by Touchstone

The ONLY reason I read this book is because Bethenny Frankel wrote it. I have a slight obsession with her – I think she’s hilarious and smart, witty and incredibly tough, a person who doesn’t take shit from anyone but isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and have her heart broken (on TV, no less), and ultimately is the most genuinely real reality TV star out there (and I watch too much reality TV, so I have formed quite an opinion). Honestly this book was really silly and nothing that I could ever use or need in real life. But I appreciated her snark throughout and her attitude always puts a smile on my face. I can’t imagine anyone that would actually use this advice, but she’s sold tons of copies already so obviously those people are out there. I can’t say I really liked this one, but if you are a fan of Bethenny you’ll probably want to pick it up.

Mini-reviews: The Great Gatsby & Marriage Rules

I don’t have a whole lot to say about either of these books so I thought I’d treat you to a couple mini-reviews today!

Great Gatsby Unabridged, The By F Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Audio published by Caedmon, an imprint of HarperCollins

In anticipation of the movie coming out in May, I decided to reread The Great Gatsby, a novel I read in high school but haven’t picked up since. The audio was brilliantly performed by Tim Robbins, so it was an excellent listening experience, and I’m glad I reread this book because turns out there’s a LOT I forgot in the 13 years since I read it the first time. I forgot how utterly depressing the last part of this book is, and I got way more swept up in the characters and the drama of it all than I did when I read it the first time. Perhaps this is because I’m more mature than my sixteen-year-old self (I’d certainly hope that’s the case) or perhaps because it was required reading the first time around, but I enjoyed the book quite a bit more this time around. Also I definitely didn’t remember how absolutely gorgeous the writing is. At several points, I replayed portions of the audiobook because the writing was like poetry to me and I wanted to experience it again. Great book and now I’m even more excited for the movie.

Marriage RulesMarriage Rules: A Manuel for the Married and the Coupled-Up by Harrier Lerner
Published by Gotham, an imprint of Penguin

My marriage is incredibly important to me, and while I don’t read a lot of self-help books, I’m always open to hear about what the “experts” have to say about sustaining a healthy, happy relationship. My relationship isn’t in trouble, not by any means, but this stuff is interesting to me, and who doesn’t want an even better marriage than they already have? Anyway, I liked this book. The “rules” are super-simple, easy things that are truly common sense. However, if you’re in a bad place in your relationship (we’ve all been there), common sense when it comes to your relationship isn’t so common. We get these blinders on when we’re angry, hurt, or whatever, and these tips from Ph.D. Lerner really can help to see through the emotions and work on what really needs fixing in the relationship. The common theme here is this – the only person you can change is you, and here are things YOU can do to do your part in improving your relationship, or in maintaining the great relationship you already have. This book covers a lot of ground, and it didn’t give me a ton of insight besides what I already knew to be true, but I did get some stuff out of it. And I think for couples in trouble, this book could be really helpful.

Christianity 201: The Pursuit of Excellence by Amos Tarfa

Christianity 201 Christianity 201: The Pursuit of Excellence by Amos Tarfa
Published by Deep River Books
Thanks to Bring It On! Communications for the review copy.

Amos Tarfa has a mission, and that mission is to teach people what it means to live a life of excellence.  He writes that while most Christians feel that their Christian life and their regular life are two separate things, God should be a part of every aspect of one’s life – and we should be giving everything in life our all, in order to give God the glory for all of our accomplishments.

I chose to accept this book for review because I agree with the premise:  as Christians we should put our best foot forward in every aspect of our lives, we should be trying to achieve excellence, and we should recognize the fact that God is the reason for it all.  But all too often, I don’t act according to those beliefs.  So I was hoping for a kick in the pants from Tarfa to remind me of these things and inspire me to act on them.

Generally speaking, I found that Tarfa accomplished this in the book.  The book is organized very well – beginning with some of the basics of what being a Christ-follower is all about, and why certain things (such as prayer, a personal relationship with God, reading the Bible, etc.) should be prioritized in our lives.  He then builds upon that base to get to his central premise, and ends with a call to inspire the reader to go forth and aim for excellence in everything.  He also gives several tips on how to better manage one’s time in order to prioritize the important things and spend less time on less important tasks.

While I found Christianity 201 helpful, it was clear that I am not the target audience for the book.  Tarfa focuses very heavily on students, teaching young Christians how to balance school, work, family, and God.  As I haven’t been in school for years, that part of the book doesn’t much apply to me.  Of course I can always do better with balancing the different aspects of my own life, but as much of the advice in the book is targeted specifically toward students, I felt a bit like it didn’t apply to me.  In addition, I wasn’t a huge fan of the tone of the book – Tarfa comes across as very authoritative, almost preaching to the reader about what he/she should or should not do.  While I understand that the point of the book is to teach something, it got to be a little much at certain points.

Christianity 201: The Pursuit of Excellence is a book with an important message.  I think it’s best suited for young Christians, preferably students, as the information presented deals heavily with that demographic.  As I do not fall into that category myself, it wasn’t a perfect read for me, but I did gain some insight from it and can absolutely see the value in the book.  Amos Tarfa is an extremely intelligent and passionate person and I am glad I had the opportunity to read his work.